August 15, 2018

Whitehouse Calls on Kavanaugh Dark Money Campaign to Disclose Donors

Washington, DC – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, pressed a trio of secretive conservative groups for information on who is backing their multi-million-dollar campaign to select and confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.  Whitehouse’s letters to the Heritage Foundation, the Judicial Crisis Network, and the Federalist Society raise a number of questions about their fundraising practices and anonymous donors, including whether they have received large donations from organizations designed to launder the identities of wealthy ideologues, like the Wellspring Committee and Donors Trust.  As the Judiciary Committee prepares for Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing in early September, Whitehouse notes the public’s growing recognition that the Court serves the interests of corporations and the ultra-wealthy over those of all Americans, and calls for accountability for those trying to influence the Supreme Court nomination process.

The groups’ “secret money campaigns have politicized the judicial nomination process and cast a cloud over recent nominees,” writes Whitehouse to the Judicial Crisis Network.  “By a ratio of 7:1, Americans already believe the Supreme Court favors corporations over citizens.  A multi-million dollar advertising campaign supporting a Supreme Court nominee further exacerbates the perception that corporate special interests have captured this Supreme Court.  Corporations or ultra-wealthy individuals with millions of dollars to spend in secret on a Supreme Court nomination presumably invest their money wisely and expect to see a handsome return on that investment.  Here, that means a justice who will reliably vote in favor of their narrow interests, and not fairly consider the interests of all Americans.

On top of the public’s increasing unease with special interest influence over the Court, the Supreme Court itself has ruled that major donors spending massive sums of money to help install sympathetic jurists can raise constitutional concerns.  Writing for the 5-4 majority in Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal, Justice Anthony Kennedy provided the swing vote in ruling that it was unconstitutional for a state supreme court justice to sit on a case involving the personal financial interests of a major donor to the judge’s election campaign. 

Similar ethical concerns loom large over the nomination of Kavanaugh, who has cultivated close relationships with the special interest influence groups propping up his nomination and was intimately involved in political fights of the 1990s and 2000s as a Republican attorney and aide.  He served for years as President George W. Bush’s staff secretary in the White House and a key part of Special Counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton.  As a federal appellate judge, he has attended and spoken at numerous events for conservative outside spending groups, including delivering over 50 speeches to the Federalist Society—the anonymously funded group that effectively controls the Judicial Crisis Network and hand picks virtually all key Trump judicial nominees.

Whitehouse also details the Judicial Crisis Network’s lavish spending on sophisticated campaigns to boost its favored nominees for the Court.  “On January 9, 2017, before President Trump had even taken office, JCN announced that it expected to spend it at least $10 million to support the confirmation of President Trump’s yet unnamed Supreme Court nominee,” Whitehouse writes.  “This $10 million campaign came on the heels of JCN’s $7 million campaign encouraging Republicans to block President Obama’s choice, Judge Merrick Garland, for the same vacancy.  JCN ran advertisements thanking Republican senators for their unprecedented partisan obstruction of Judge Garland, and then ran millions of dollars of advertisements targeting Democratic Senators to support Judge Gorsuch.  In fact, you threatened that Senators who opposed Judge Gorsuch would ‘pay a heavy price in 2018.’  Subsequently, JCN’s tax return revealed that a single, anonymous $17.9 million donor accounted for 96.6 percent of its annual revenue.”

Text of Whitehouse’s letter to the Judicial Crisis Network is below.  PDFs of the letters are available here:

Heritage Foundation

Judicial Crisis Network

Federalist Society

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