We Still Don’t Know Who Is Paying For Trump’s SCOTUS Seats
The conservative front group backing Amy Coney Barrett already spent $27 million to remake the Supreme Court. We have no idea where the money came from.
This story was written by Andrew Perez.
Having already spent tens of millions of dollars to install two of President Donald Trump’s justices on the Supreme Court, a conservative dark money group now says it plans to spend millions more to confirm Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett, who has issued rulings favorable to corporate interests.
The money raised by the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) comes from untraceable sources — and Barrett previously rebuffed a Democratic senator’s request that she ask outside groups to refrain from spending big money to try to influence a congressional review of her appellate court nomination.
JCN previously spent as much as $27 million to block President Barack Obama’s 2016 Supreme Court pick and place conservative jurists Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh on the high court. As The Daily Poster previously reported, JCN received $15.9 million from a single anonymous donor between July 2018 and June 2019, the tax period covering the Kavanaugh fight.
Now, JCN says it will spend at least $10 million supporting Barrett’s confirmation. That’s in addition to astroturf lobbying campaigns by the Koch Network’s Americans for Prosperity and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber plans to encourage its members to “elevate Barrett's platform and explain why her confirmation is aligned with the business community’s priorities,” according to Axios.
JCN is the darkest of dark money groups. While nonprofits aren’t required to publicly reveal their donors, some contributor names generally drip out over time — usually in tax returns filed by other nonprofits, or in voluntary political contribution disclosures by big corporations. That hasn’t happened with JCN.
Despite its massive spending, the group’s funding sources remain a total mystery. JCN’s doesn’t show up in the corporate contribution database compiled by the Center for Political Accountability. A thorough review of Internal Revenue Service nonprofit data by The Daily Poster did not turn up any donations to JCN, either.
Barrett Silent On Dark Money Spending
JCN is closely tied to Trump’s top judicial adviser Leonard Leo, a longtime executive at the Federalist Society, the conservative lawyers network based in Washington, D.C. The Daily Beast reported in 2018 that Leo “effectively controls the Judicial Crisis Network.” Since 2017, the group has reported paying more than $1.4 million to a Virginia LLC linked to Leo.
Shortly after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, JCN announced it was launching a $2.2 million ad campaign calling on the Senate to “follow precedent” and “confirm the nominee,” who hadn’t been named yet. On Saturday, JCN said it was spending $3 million on ads promoting Trump’s pick, Amy Coney Barrett, and ultimately “expects to spend at least $10 million on the effort.”
JCN’s first TV buy supporting Barrett is a slick candidate-style ad that makes it look like she’s running for office.
In 2017, after Barrett was nominated by Trump to serve on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked her: “Do you want outside groups or special interests to make undisclosed donations to front organizations like the Judicial Crisis Network in support of your nomination?”
Barrett responded: “I am unaware of any outside groups or special interests having made donations on my behalf. I have not and will not solicit donations from anyone. Indeed, doing so would be a violation of my ethical responsibilities as a judicial nominee.”
Pressed about whether she would “discourage donors from making such undisclosed donations” or “call for the donors to make their donations public,” Barrett referred Durbin to her previous answer.
In 2018, liberals formed their own dark money group, Demand Justice, to be Democrats’ counterweight to JCN. Although the group has pledged to spend $10 million to block Barrett’s nomination, its influence doesn’t compare to the right-wing courts network.
JCN has the benefit of working with a party and conservative outside groups that are firmly committed to stacking the courts by all means necessary, while some Democratic lawmakers have signaled preemptive surrender and others appear more interested in demonstrating their respect for apolitical norms.
Durbin, for example, said on Saturday that Senate Democrats won’t be able to prevent Barrett’s confirmation: “We can slow it down perhaps a matter of hours — maybe days at the most — but we can’t stop the outcome.”
“Special Interests Scheming”
For years, much of the money raised by JCN was funneled through a dark money group called the Wellspring Committee. The group is basically another black hole — its donors are completely unknown, too. The group shut down in late 2018 and only sent $35,000 to JCN that year.
Although JCN’s funding sources remain secret, it’s clear that the group deals in huge dollars. The group brought in six anonymous seven-figure donations between mid-2018 and 2019, including the $15.9 million gift. In 2016, the Wellspring Committee received nearly 90 percent of its revenue from a single $28.5 million donation, and passed $23.5 million to JCN.
All of these massive, anonymous donations have been used to help install deeply conservative judges on the high court for the rest of their lifetimes. Much of the media focus on the court battles has revolved around the potential of future abortion restrictions, for good reason.
But the John Roberts-led Supreme Court has been churning out victory after victory for corporate interests since 2006, siding with the U.S. Chamber, the nation’s top business lobby, in 70 percent of cases. Corporate influence over the court will likely only become more pronounced with a 6-3 conservative majority.
“A baked-in bias within the federal judiciary for special interests scheming behind dark money front groups is a rotten situation,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., tweeted on Monday. “It inflicts long-term harm on our judiciary.”
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