By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: March 15, 2021 ~
Last Wednesday, March 10, a Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing of critical importance to every American on the growing tsunami of dark money that is corrupting the U.S court system, up to, and including, the U.S. Supreme Court. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who has written extensively on the corrupting influence of dark money on American democracy, chairs that Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action and Federal Rights.
One would have thought that every major print and broadcast news outlet would have covered that hearing. Instead, the silence was deafening and smacked of censorship. The one peep that was heard from a major news outlet was a snarky attack on Whitehouse himself on the day of the hearing by the corporatized, right-wing Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal, part of the Rupert Murdoch empire.
The “Editorial Board” wrote this about Whitehouse:
“On Wednesday the Rhode Island Democrat will hold a Judiciary Committee hearing on ‘What’s Wrong with the Supreme Court: The Big-Money Assault on Our Judiciary.’ Subtlety is not Sheldon’s speciality [sic]. The hearing is intended to advance his Amicus Act that would force the Court to change its rules on amicus briefs, which the Justices invite to inform them on the law and facts on cases.
“Note the disrespect for the Court. The title of the hearing signals a foregone conclusion that the Justices are corrupted by money. This is a running theme of Mr. Whitehouse, whose preoccupations in the Senate have been undermining judicial independence and restricting the First Amendment rights of private citizens to influence their government.”
Had a truly objective Editorial Board at the Wall Street Journal taken the time to read the full written testimony of Lisa Graves, President of the Center for Media and Democracy, that was presented at this hearing, there would be no doubt in their minds that the Federal court system in the United States has been obscenely corrupted by dark money, coming predominantly from fossil fuels billionaire Charles Koch and his dark money network.
As the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board well knows, the reason that legislation is needed to reform the rules on the filing of amicus briefs is because Koch’s dark money network is flooding the courts with dodgy amicus briefs paid for by dodgy special interests.
Graves’ courageous testimony named names and backed up her charges with hard facts. Graves explained the campaign to seat Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court as follows:
“Just seven months ago, billionaire Koch’s political arm, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), launched a ‘full-scale’ campaign to get Amy Coney Barrett confirmed to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court on the eve of the presidential election. Koch was not alone in this, but the length and depth and intensity of his focus on remaking America’s laws to suit his image is unmatched.
“AFP is only one part of the influence machine Koch Industries’ CEO has built up to capture the Supreme Court—and, with it, the meaning of our Constitution. The network he funds includes the Federalist Society. Koch has sought to keep the press from reporting on the names of the other billionaires and millionaires that fund his agenda, but leaks have revealed that it has included many extremely wealthy fossil fuel industry executives and heirs of corporate fortunes.
“AFP deployed deceptive rhetoric designed to assure Americans that Barrett would be a judge who ‘puts the Constitution first, interprets the law as written, and protects our freedoms.’ They also claimed she will ‘uphold the rule of law’ and ‘not legislate from the bench.’
“But the real reason the Koch machine and its close allies were ‘all in’ for Barrett was because of their belief that she would be a sure vote for their radical pro-corporate, anti-regulatory agenda. They believe she will help usher in a legal revolution that will reverse a century of post-New Deal precedents they dislike.”
Graves writes that Leonard Leo, the Co-Chairman of the Koch-funded Federalist Society “sits at the hub of a secretive scheme to capture the courts and remake our laws, with a cadre of his confidantes and groups.” Graves says that “more than $400 million” was received by this dark money network between 2014 and 2018.
Graves list the following as part of the dark money judicial nominations influence network, in addition to the Federal Society:
“CRC Advisors. In 2020, Leo announced he was moving from executive vice president to co-chair of the Federalist Society to lead a for-profit company called CRC Advisors. It advises wealthy donors on judicial appointments, state officials, and policies. Its CEO is Leo’s friend Greg Mueller, who led Creative Response Concepts (CRC), a public relations firm that Koch groups have hired. CRC has been a major contractor of the Federalist Society since at least 2007 and has been paid by numerous Leo organizations in recent years. Jonathan Bunch serves as its executive director and is a former Federalist Society staffer, according to a CRC press release.
“Judicial Crisis Network/Concord Fund. After the 2004 election, the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) was conceived at a small dinner party Leo attended with Neil Corkery and others. Justice Antonin Scalia was a guest. Launched as the Judicial Confirmation Network, it was created in anticipation of the Supreme Court vacancies that George W. Bush ultimately filled with Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Corkery was one of three original board members, with Gary Marx (a Ralph Reed operative) and James Hirsen (an advisor to Mel Gibson’s splinter Traditionalist sect). Corkery has acted as a treasurer of several Leo-linked groups, in addition to helping to lead the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage.
“JCN is led by Carrie Severino, a protégé of Leo’s who used to clerk for Justice Thomas, out of the Federalist Society office. But, according to a former media relations director for Leo, ‘The JCN is Leonard Leo’s PR organization—nothing more and nothing less.’ The groups serves as a major conduit of money to the Republican Attorneys General Association, its sister group the Rule of Law Defense Fund, and the Republican State Leadership Committee (which has spent millions to try to capture state Supreme Courts, including on hundreds of thousands of ads in 2020).
“During the Trump administration, JCN received massive infusions of cash from one donor, whose identity was not made public. Subsequently filings by a group called the Wellspring Committee, discussed below, showed it provided similarly large grants to JCN, and Wellspring in turn received most of its funding from a single secret source. For example, in 2018, Wellspring made a $17.1M anonymous donation to Judicial Crisis Network (78% of total revenue of $22M in dark money that year). The year before that, it made a $21.5M anonymous donation to JCN (84% of revenue of $25.6M in dark money that year).
“Wellspring Committee. The group was created and run by Ann and Neil Corkery. Its origins are in the Koch donor network. Then, after Justice Scalia died, it got more than $28 million from one donor. In 2016-17, it gave JCN $38 million, as JCN blocked [Obama nominee Merrick] Garland and backed Gorsuch. After much scrutiny and Kavanaugh was confirmed, it closed its doors. In all, it gave JCN more than $58 million.
“Rule of Law Trust. As Wellspring was being closed down, Neil Corkery created this group in 2018. Leo is listed as its only trustee, and almost all its known expenses are related to BH Group reimbursements, another Leo group. Rule of Law Trust brought in three contributions (possibly from one, two, or three individuals) totaling $80 million in 2018. It distributed two grants in 2019: $500,000 to People United for Privacy and $895,000 to America Engaged.
“America Engaged. Leo is this group’s president, and Bunch is a director. Other board members are C. Boyden Gray and Todd Graves, a former state attorney general. It has given nearly $4 million to Charles Koch’s Freedom Partners. In 2017, it gave nearly $1 million to the NRA as it backed Gorsuch.
“Judicial Education Project/85 Fund. This is a Neil Corkery entity tied to Leo. JEP’s other fictitious names are the ‘Law and Policy Forum’ and the ‘Honest Elections Project’ (HEP), which has been criticized for peddling voter fraud claims. JEP has filed amicus briefs in Severino’s name siding with Trump on emoluments, and in cases on abortion, the Affordable Care Act, Deferred Action for Parents of Dreamers, the Voting Rights Act, and attacks on workers.
“BH Group, LLC. This was created by Corkery after Scalia died. As of the last known publicly filing, Leo controls 35% of it, and he has been listed as an employee. Since 2016, it received $2.37 million from JCN and $2 million from JEP. It also contributed $1 million to Trump’s inauguration. Wellspring gave it over $1.5 million for PR, yet it does not have a website.
“BH Fund. Leo is the president; Bunch is a director. It was launched with a secret $24 million donor and gave $20 million to George Mason University’s law school, securing Scalia’s name and Leo’s special influence.
“Freedom and Opportunity Fund. Leo is president, with Graves and Bunch on the board. It gave $4 million to the Independent Women’s Voice as it sought to keep Scalia’s vacancy open and supported the Gorsuch nomination. It received $400,000 from BH Group in 2017.
As for the Federalist Society itself, Graves traces its two largest funders to Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, “which were created specifically to hide the identity of the real donors who fund right-wing groups. These DAFs’ secret donors have given the Federalist Society a combined total of over $28 million between 2015 and 2019, according to a CMD analysis of IRS filings.”
In 2010, Wall Street On Parade traced the creation of the Donors Capital Fund to the doorstep of Charles Koch. Donors Trust is a sister organization.
Graves explains the motive behind the involvement of the Federalist Society as follows:
“The Federalist Society is also stacked with corporate attorneys whose day jobs are to defend some of the biggest corporations in the world. Through its publications and events, the Federalist Society advances a pro-corporate agenda to limit the ability of Congress and federal agencies to regulate corporations and to thwart the mitigation of climate change under the guise of a merely neutral philosophy.”
Graves also provided written testimony on a memo that was sent by the Koch network to tout its success in getting the Trump administration to enact its agenda. Charles Koch’s late brother and long-time ally, David, had written in the memo: “Our efforts have been aligned with the Trump administration’s efforts to use Executive Orders to direct agencies and departments to dismantle regulatory overreach.”
When the Koch network and the Wall Street Journal use the word “overreach,” they mean the laws that protect average Americans’ rights to breath clean air, drink clean water, seek redress at the nation’s courts, and have an equal voice in electing their chosen representatives at the local, state and national level.