Senate Democrats detail web of front groups intended to obscure right-wing donors’ dark-money machine
The DISCLOSE Act, which all 50 Democrats have voted for and all 50 Republicans have filibustered, would end the influence of dark money in our politics
Washington, DC – Senate Democrats, led by Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC) Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Senate Judiciary Courts Subcommittee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), released a new report in their Captured Courts series on the dark-money group the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) and its role in right-wing donor interests’ scheme to capture and control the Supreme Court.
Even before President Biden picked his replacement for Justice Stephen Breyer, JCN launched a multi-million dark-money ad campaign to attack the nominee. The group’s assault escalated with the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, including a new multi-million dollar ad campaign smearing Judge Jackson. During her confirmation hearings, Senate Republicans, JCN, and their dark-money allies used Judge Jackson’s confirmation hearing to escalate attacks even further. The attacks are part of a strategy to muddy the waters about right-wing dark money’s influence over the Court, the senators write in the new report.
“The Judicial Crisis Network lurks at the center of a web of right-wing front groups built to control the Supreme Court. With President Biden in charge, JCN is launching ugly smears against Biden nominees like Judge Jackson as part of an effort to distract from their own dark-money operation,” said Senator Whitehouse. “This report shows how JCN and its dark-money donors operate, and reveals why it’s time to end anonymous special interests’ hold on the Court.”
“Right-wing dark-money groups captured the courts to push their extreme agenda. Now, groups like the Judicial Crisis Network, are flipping the script and attacking Judge Jackson to distract from their own actions. This new report outlines how the Judicial Crisis Network and dark-money donors have spent millions of dollars to influence the judiciary. Democrats are committed to ending dark-money corruption and strengthening the voices of all Americans,” said Senator Stabenow.
“For years, Republicans have worked hand-in-hand with Right-wing special interest groups like the Judicial Crisis Network to pack our courts with judges who represent big special interests rather than the interests of the American people. This report shines a spotlight on the influence of these dark money groups and the millions they’re spending to pack our courts with radical Right-wing judges who are willing to roll back decades – if not a century – of progress,” said Leader Schumer. “As Majority Leader, I am committed to holding a Senate vote on the DISCLOSE Act, so we can end the dark money machine and show who stands with the big donors and special interests and who stands with the American people.”
“The credibility of the Supreme Court is on life-support,” Senator Wyden said. “Dark-money groups like Judicial Crisis Network have long been used as a front for various right-wing and corporate interests working to undermine voting rights, workers’ rights and the rules that keep our air and water clean. The Republican-appointed justices have fulfilled the wish list of these groups, gutting the Voting Rights Act, weakening the power of unions, and allowing polluters to poison our air and water. Thankfully, Ketanji Brown Jackson has shown a commitment to upholding these rights and will bring integrity to the Supreme Court. Congress must end the influence of dark money in our government by passing the DISCLOSE Act and by putting an end to large dark-money machines like the JCN.”
“For too long, secret money has influenced our democracy – from our elections to our courts. This report highlights right-wing donors’ attempts to once again interfere in our judicial process, and it underscores the hypocrisy of Republicans’ attacks on Judge Jackson during her hearings. If they were serious about ridding dark money from our elections, Republicans would join us in supporting and passing the DISCLOSE Act at once,” said Senator Van Hollen.
“We must address the torrent of ‘dark money’ that Citizens United unleashed,” said Senator Ed Markey. “Until we act, right-wing special interests like the Judicial Crisis Network will continue to spend millions of dollars corrupting America’s courts as they push their far-right agenda and attack supremely qualified nominees like Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.”
“More than any other branch of government, the judiciary relies on public trust to operate effectively,” said Senator Smith. “That trust is at an all-time low in large part because Americans have legitimate questions about the influence of outside money and special interests. We must pass the DISCLOSE Act to restore public confidence and protect against dark-money influence.”
“The promise of 'Equal Justice Under Law' carved above the doors to the Supreme Court is deeply undermined by billionaires and special interests waging dark money campaigns to shape the judiciary with no attribution or accountability,” said Senator Merkley. “Groups like Judicial Crisis Network should not be allowed to influence any nomination processes with anonymous donors and dark money, but this report shows how influential special interest groups are. We need to end the dark money that is drowning out the voices of ordinary Americans—now.”
“The so-called Judicial Crisis Network is at the center of the right wing’s coordinated attempt to capture our judiciary,” said Senator Hirono. “The real crisis is the millions of dollars in dark-money spent by JCN and others to pack our courts with far-right judges and undermine the independence and integrity of our judiciary. This report highlights the corrosive influence of this dark-money campaign on our democracy, and highlights the need to pass the DISCLOSE Act to finally get dark money out of our politics.”
“For years, Republicans have used dark money to pack our courts for wealthy corporations and special interests. This report highlights why we desperately need to overhaul our campaign finance and judicial ethics laws—and why we need to do it now,” said Senator Warren.
“Nearly unfettered injections of dark money drowns out the voices of everyday Americans and pervert our system into ‘pay for play’ politics,” said Senator Cardin. “There was a time when getting money out of politics was a bipartisan goal. We must be united in our efforts to defend our electoral system and safeguard our courts from the corrupting influence of dark money that threatens their independence and ability to dispense impartial justice.”
“The perverse influence of special interest groups and their dark money only serves to weaken and undermine our democracy, effectively silencing the voice of the American people,” said Senator Menendez. “The millions of dollars in dark money spent by groups like JCN to pack our courts with far-right judges and erode the independence of our judiciary is at the center of the crisis that made the January 6 insurrection possible and threatens the very foundations of our Union. Our democracy works better when it works for everyone, not just those at the very top. Congress must not languish in passing the DISCLOSE Act.”
“You would think Republicans would agree on taking dark money out of our courts system, but you can’t call for blind justice when your eyes are too busy staring at a bucket of corporate money. The type of corporate influence that the Judicial Crisis Network is pushing has no place in our courts. Diluting the respect Americans hold for the highest court in the land in order to advance corporate interests is a dangerous new low,” said Senator Heinrich.
“No organization is more pernicious when it comes to further capturing and corrupting our independent judiciary than the Judicial Crisis Network. This report details the Judicial Crisis Network’s years-long dark money campaign to block Democratic judicial nominees and prop up Republican ones – most recently culminating in a disgusting smear campaign against Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Shining a light on the Judicial Crisis Network and the corrupt network of related groups opposed to fair and equal justice is the first step. Next, we must pass the DISCLOSE Act so that neither the Judicial Crisis Network or its accomplices can continue attacking our democracy from the shadows,” said Senator Blumenthal.
The report identifies JCN as a central player in a much larger dark-money machine to pursue their right-wing donors’ policy agenda through the courts – an agenda they cannot achieve through the branches of government accountable to voters. That agenda comes at the expense of working Americans – jeopardizing health care and reproductive rights, blocking climate action, denying equal justice under law, and more.
Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Gary C. Peters (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Mark R. Warner (D-VA) cosigned the report.
Under Republican Presidents, JCN mobilized to propel judicial nominees, all screened by the Federalist Society, through the Senate confirmation process and into the judiciary. Once there, GOP-appointed judges and justices are free to support unpopular policies pushed by the right-wing donor class. JCN and its staff also file amicus curiae briefs before the Supreme Court to make explicit their donors’ views on the issues.
JCN reorganized in late 2019 as the Concord Fund to better hide its assets and identity, and subsequently took in “nearly as much in 2020 as it did in the entire decade prior.” This dark-money funding, combined with the coupling of 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofit entities, allows organizations like JCN to influence the levers of government while masking the identities of their funders.
Now that President Biden is appointing judges and federal officials who are not beholden to any special-interests, JCN has shifted to attacking these nominees. At the same time, Republicans in the Senate have filibustered each attempt by all 50 Senate Democrats to pass the DISCLOSE Act, which would end the scourge of dark money in our politics.
In 2020, Stabenow, Schumer and Whitehouse led senators in releasing a series of Captured Courts reports on the right-wing takeover of our judicial system. The reports showed how, working hand-in-hand with the Trump administration and anonymously-funded outside groups, the Senate confirmed more than 200 life-tenured federal judges to aggressively remake the federal courts and rewrite the Constitution. Now, right-wing dark-money groups have shifted to muddying the waters and attacking President Biden’s nominees as their captured Court blocks the President’s legislative and regulatory agenda.
Read the new report here.