Senators appeared to agree during a hearing on Wednesday to eradicate anonymous political donations to judiciary candidates.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, DR.I., speaks at a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 28, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo / Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
WASHINGTON (CN) – The tide of dark money that is flooding the American judicial system and those who direct and direct those funds were all examined in depth Wednesday during a hearing of the Senate Justice Subcommittee.
As he has warned for years, Rhode Island Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse sketched that “huge gout of anonymized money through covert political influence” is detrimental to the American judicial system.
Groups like the Federalist Society and the Judicial Crisis Network put their thumbs on the scales with these donations and helped steer key appointments from Republican justice officials to those who approve of conservative views.
“A whole new political infrastructure has been put in place in our country to manage the dark money cascade and hide donors,” said Whitehouse. “It is a covert operation worth several hundred million dollars that has released more than a billion dollars in political dark money in our republic, resulting in what is known as a slime tsunami.”
Whitehouse was ready to admit that for years the influence had been largely Republican but had also caught up with Democratic dark money – with groups like Arabella Advisors and the Tides Foundation playing a mirror role with some members of the Democratic Party.
“Now Republican colleagues are facing massive attacks by Democratic front groups,” said Whitehouse. “Maybe this slime machine can be a non-partisan problem.”
Wednesday’s hearing specifically focused on the impact of this dark money on the government’s judiciary. Lisa Graves, a senior fellow at the Center for Media & Democracy, testified Wednesday that the US Supreme Court was involved in dark, untraceable funds.
“Over the past decade, Special Interest has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into sophisticated campaigns to sway the nominations of judicial officers, court decisions, and judges even through a dizzying array of nonprofits and limited liability companies,” said Graves. “How [Centers for Media & Democracy]Arn Pearson, Executive Director of ‘s, noted that the cash tsunami is not a positive sign of civic engagement, but an exercise in raw power. “
Ben Jealous, a former Maryland gubernatorial candidate who leads the nonprofit people for the American Way, noted that the court, as ordered by Chief Justice John Roberts, was a judicial activism. In particular, when the court ruled its landmark Citizens United dispute, the pro-corporate court had compromised Congress’s ability to protect elections from unlimited spending and donations.
These and other decisions have helped the power of the corporations by aiding this deluge of money and secret spending, Jealous said. The Chief Justice’s decisions had an even greater impact on the rights of workers and the companies they worked for.
Wednesday’s hearing was largely bipartisan, albeit a moment of tension between jealousies and the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee in senior federal judge John Kennedy. The Louisiana Republican asked Jealous to respond to comments he had made that indicated that Roberts had been influenced in certain court judgments because of his donors.
But Jealous said his comments were only intended to indicate that there is a “rigged system”.
“You have made some pretty serious allegations. Are you saying that … the Chief Justice is voting as he is voting because of this dark money and corporate money?” Asked Kennedy.
“Partly, sir,” replied jealously.
Whitehouse said Wednesday he was interested in finding a non-partisan way to find out the identities of donors on both sides of the aisle. The issue is more important than the bad partisanship between Republicans and Democrats, he said.
“What’s a lot more lazy than the partiality between us is the influence that nobody sees because nobody knows who’s behind the money,” said Whitehouse. “And I don’t care which side comes down, it’s wrong and I want to work with anyone who is willing to get rid of this stuff – it’s poison in our democracy.”