Michael Leppert recently blogged at Contrariana about the advertising campaign for Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch. According to Leppert, whose blog is seen at several Indiana-based publications, the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) is paying in some states for ads that call on the public to pressure their Senators to support the confirmation of the president's nominee. He states:
I’m pretty sure the JCN media buy was not national, though. I predict these ridiculous ads are running exclusively in states with Democrat senators who are up for reelection in 2018. Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly fits that bill.
Whether political advertising is appropriate for Supreme Court nominees, who after all are not elected, certainly provides a fruitful area for discussion. But it joins a long list of such questions under the 45th President of the United States. Rather than jump into that poisonous morass, I propose instead to follow the JCN money and ask what its sources may be.
JCN says it is "dedicated to strengthening liberty and justice in America." It's led by Chief Counsel Carrie Severino, whose most important qualification seems to be that she clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. He is the Justice who barely two weeks before the presidential election, in a speech to the right-wing Heritage Foundation echoed the Republican candidate's mantra that Washington is "broken" and that American institutions are being destroyed.
Perhaps most important is that, according to Stephanie Mencimer writing in Mother Jones last spring, the leading funder of JCN is the Wellspring Committee, which has given a full 25% of the money JCN has raised in its history, including $6.6 million in 2014. The gift was about 85% of all the money Wellspring granted that year. And who was behind the 2008 founding of Wellspring? Surprise, surprise, it was the brothers Charles and David Koch, according to the Center for Responsive Government.
Since Wellspring gives its money to other organizations, it may say with a straight face in filings with the Internal Revenue Service that it does not engage in "political campaign activities on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office." However, Wellspring gives virtually all its money to organizations that in turn spend virtually all that money supporting or opposing such candidates.
The intentions of the Wellspring Committee are perhaps most fully revealed by some of its spending in Wisconsin during the 2011-2012 investigation of alleged illegal coordination of activities among the Friends of Scott Walker and "dark money groups" (that do not reveal their donors). In 2011, Wellspring gave $400,000 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth to fund efforts to impede the investigation. The Wisconsin Supreme Court majority, who were themselves elected with the financial support of the same shady organizations, ruled that there was no violation. The effect was to eviscerate the state's election finance rules.
Ann Corkery, president of the Wellspring Committee was "instrumental" in the founding of the JCN. Her husband Neil is its treasurer. Neil has a host of other affiliations with right-wing groups, such as the National Organization for Marriage and ActRight Action.
Conclusion? JCN makes it difficult to follow the money by getting nearly all its money from an organization not required to identify their donors. But examining the other "causes" supported by that organization and by its principals makes the purposes of these donations clear: to install in Federal and state courts a harem of ideologically "pure" judges thought likely to advance these causes in the judiciary.
Judge Neil Gorsuch is being praised by some as the "least bad" of those the president might have nominated to the SCOTUS. But to move the nation beyond polarization about issues that reach the Court, we need a justice who can work effectively to build consensus most of the time. Support from groups like JCN makes it difficult to be confident that Gorsuch can do so.