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Meet the dark money group spending millions to confirm Amy Coney Barrett

The Judicial Crisis Network is pulling out all the stops to get the far-right judge on the Supreme Court.

By Daniel Boguslaw - September 30, 2020
Mitch McConnell, Amy Coney Barrett

A dark money group is pumping millions of dollars into Republicans’ efforts to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court before November.

In 2016, the Judicial Crisis Network spent a staggering $7 million to oppose President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court — a move that Senate Republicans successfully blocked.

In 2017, after Donald Trump was sworn into office, the Judicial Crisis Network spent another $10 million in the fight to confirm Neil Gorsuch.

In 2018, the group spent $3.9 million on television advertising in support of Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee.

Now, the dark-money group is bankrolling a $3 million ad blitz in support of Barrett’s confirmation to the country’s highest court.

So, what is the Judicial Crisis Network, and who are its donors?

The group was first founded in 2004 as the Judicial Confirmation Network. Its first project was funding a campaign in support of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, the two conservative judges nominated by President George W. Bush to serve lifetime appointments on the Supreme Court.

At its start, the group was led by Ann and Neil Corkery, two fierce opponents of abortion and marriage equality, and Robin Arkley II, a California real estate mogul with ties to Charles and David Koch, the billionaire conservative brothers.

Because the group was set up as a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” group, it does not have to disclose its donors. But deep-pocketed conservatives — from the Koch brothers, to the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo, to hedge fund mogul Paul Singer — have all been linked to the group.

Judicial Crisis Network has proved exceptionally deft at securing Supreme Court confirmations — or blocking them, as the case may be. Now the group is at it again, this time in support of Barrett.

The group is run by Carrie Severino, a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush in 1991. During Thomas’ confirmation hearings, Anita Hill testified that Thomas had sexually harassed her when she was an aide in his office.

After helping to confirm two of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, the group is finding that its initial investment in blocking Garland’s confirmation is still paying dividends.

Before 2015, the organization had never reported more than $6 million in revenue. Then, at some point in between 2015 and 2016, it reported receiving $17.9 million from a single undisclosed donor, according to tax filings first obtained by MapLight. That single donation accounted for 96.6% of the group’s revenue.

Judicial Crisis Network has also received funds from the Wellspring Committee, another 501(c)(4) dark money group funded largely through a shadowy network of conservative donors.

With a conservative majority secured by Barrett, it’s safe to say the Supreme Court would likely uphold laws that allow dark money organizations such as the Judicial Crisis Network to flourish. If Barrett is confirmed, five Supreme Court justices tasked with ruling on campaign finance — Barrett, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Alito, and Roberts — will all have directly benefited from the same dark money group.

In addition to supporting the last four conservative justices confirmed to the Supreme Court, the group has also spent heavily to help Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell realize his goal of total conservative control over America’s legal system. Judicial Crisis Network has already donated millions to the Republican Attorney General Association, and has spent heavily to advance Republican judges in both state Supreme Court and circuit court elections.

Should the Senate vote to confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court, the Judicial Crisis Network will have played an integral role in ensuring that unlimited dark money spending will continue to shape the U.S. justice system for decades to come.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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