Whitehouse Calls on Dark-Money Organizations to Disclose Biggest Donors
Washington, DC – Following a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Federal Courts last week, Subcommittee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) released today three letters he sent to groups that defend anonymous influence over the federal judiciary. The letters call on the organizations to follow the lead of the president of People For the American Way, Ben Jealous, who committed to disclose his group’s top five donors and, along with other hearing witnesses called by the majority, threw support behind stronger transparency requirements for organizations spending to influence federal courts. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) had asked the majority witness to release the donor information.
Chairman Whitehouse’s letters went to the Federalist Society, the Judicial Crisis Network, and the Capital Research Center. The former two organizations are central to a massive anonymously funded “dark money” network seeking to rig the federal judiciary in special interest donors’ favor. The Capital Research Center participated in the hearing to defend judicial dark-money spending.
Whitehouse writes to the groups, “In the spirit of equivalence advanced by Senator Cruz and others, and in the interest of mutual transparency, this letter requests that you provide the same disclosure that People For The American Way agreed at our hearing to provide; to wit, to identify to the committee your five largest contributors, or in Senator Cruz’s language, your ‘five top donors.’”
Last week’s hearing was entitled, “What’s Wrong with the Supreme Court: The Big-Money Assault on Our Judiciary.” It addressed the growing problem of special-interest influence over the federal judiciary, especially the U.S. Supreme Court. Witnesses testified to the web of dark-money organizations seeking to control the selection and confirmation of judges for powerful life-time appointments, and highlighted the need for stronger ethics rules and disclosure requirements to increase courts’ credibility. Chairman Whitehouse announced plans to delve further into these issues in future hearings.
To combat dark-money influence over the courts, Whitehouse has introduced the Judicial Ads Act with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). The bill would identify donors who fund advocacy campaigns aimed at confirming their favored nominees. Whitehouse included a version of the legislation in his broader campaign finance disclosure bill, the DISCLOSE Act.
Whitehouse has also introduced bills to strengthen judicial ethics requirements and impose stronger disclosure of funders of amicus briefs used to lobby the courts.
Full text of the senator’s letter to the Federalist Society is below. PDF copies of the letters are available here:
March 12, 2021
Mr. Eugene B. Meyer
The Federalist Society
1776 I Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
Dear Mr. Meyer,
As you know, I have long championed funding disclosure measures that would bring transparency to dark-money spending on both sides of the aisle. At this week’s hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action and Federal Rights, my Republican colleagues worked very hard to draw equivalency between dark-money political influence by groups like yours and the work of anonymously funded left-leaning groups.
At the hearing, my Republican colleague Senator Cruz pressed Mr. Jealous for a commitment that People For The American Way would disclose its top five funders. Mr. Jealous readily obliged. Mr. Jealous and other majority witnesses at the hearing also reaffirmed their commitment to disclosure reforms, such as my DISCLOSE Act and Judicial DISLCOSE Act.
In the spirit of equivalence advanced by Senator Cruz and others, and in the interest of mutual transparency, this letter requests that you provide the same disclosure that People For The American Way agreed at our hearing to provide; to wit, to identify to the committee your five largest contributors, or in Senator Cruz’s language, your “five top donors.” If you can deliver this information to us by April 1, 2021, that would be appreciated.
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