Anonymous donors spend millions on Kavanaugh fight

By Richard Lardner | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Millions of dollars from anonymous donors are helping shape the fight over President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee as Republicans and Democrats undertake a bruising battle for ideological control of the nation’s loftiest tribunal.

Even before Trump’s announcement Monday that he had picked Brett Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge, advocacy groups had begun lining up for and against the nomination and said they would spend heavily to influence the outcome of what’s expected to be a tumultuous confirmation process.

One of the most prominent groups on the right, the Judicial Crisis Network, said it’s prepared to spend as much as $10 million or more in a pro-Kavanaugh advertising campaign that includes targeting vulnerable Senate Democrats. The liberal Demand Justice has spelled out plans for a $5 million effort to oppose Kavanaugh, beginning with ads aimed at pressuring moderate Republicans.

While the groups’ positions on Kavanaugh are clear, their sources of cash aren’t.

The anonymity is made possible by federal rules that permit groups structured as tax-exempt social welfare organizations to shield the identities of their benefactors. The upshot is that deep-pocketed donors may wield significant influence without ever revealing who they are, unless they choose to.

Brendan Fischer of the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center said the arrangement is problematic because the public has no way of knowing whether the donors have a specific interest in a matter that may come before the Supreme Court. It also allows the donors to be rewarded by strategically disclosing their donations to people in positions of authority in Washington.

“This secrecy prevents the public from evaluating these messages and keeps legislators from properly weighing the lobbying pressures to which they are subjected,” he said.

Demand Justice and the Judicial Crisis aren’t the only advocacy groups mobilizing around Kavanaugh’s nomination, but they’re two of the most visible.

Demand Justice launched shortly after Trump introduced Kavanaugh on Monday night. The website described his nomination as “the biggest fight of our lifetimes.” The Judicial Crisis Network set up , calling Kavanaugh “a person of impeccable character, extraordinary qualifications, independence, and fairness.”

The Judicial Crisis Network has received robust financial support for years from the Wellspring Committee, an obscure nonprofit founded a decade ago. Conservative activist Neil Corkery is Wellspring’s president and sole board member. He previously was treasurer of the Judicial Crisis Network. His wife, Ann Corkery, ran Wellspring before he did, according to federal tax return records.

Both groups are registered as social welfare organizations, which are permitted to engage in limited political activities as long as politics isn’t their primary focus. Known by their IRS designation as 501(c)(4)s, they often include civic-minded groups such as homeowner associations and volunteer fire departments.

“Involvement in political campaigns is not social welfare activity,” according to the political money website Open Secrets. “But it’s allowed as long as it is less than half of what the organization does.”

Wellspring donated $39.3 million to the Judicial Crisis Network between 2010 and 2016, according to the tax filings. The single largest contribution, $23.4 …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics


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