Court Confirmations and the Influence of Dark Money

The public deserves to know if Sen. Whitehouse is exerting any influence to benefit his investments over the American people.

“There’s a small group of billionaires who are working very hard to influence and even to control our democracy” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) stated during the Gorsuch confirmation hearing, who followed up with, “I don’t know who they are.” 

The confirmation process over the last few years has yielded loud and raucous debates in the halls of the Senate chamber, and this year will be no different. And while there will be no shortage of outside groups taking sides, one thing that remains the same is that Senator Whitehouse is silent when it comes to the progressive groups influencing the confirmation process.

During the confirmation hearings of Neil Gorsuch in 2017, there was a collective effort by dark money groups to create “hub of action to leverage the unprecedented grassroots activism that has been created by the Trump Administration’s agenda and direct it towards defeating the Gorsuch nomination.” Through their efforts, groups like Center for American Progress Action Fund, MoveOn.org Civic Action, End Citizens United, EveryVoice, and Stand Up America, planned grassroots “days of action” in advance of the confirmation hearings and released ads to garner opposition. Additionally, some groups sent a letter to Democrat Senators on the Hill, asking them to oppose the nomination. One group, Indivisible, was founded by former Democratic congressional staffers that target town halls across the country.

In 2018, Demand Justice, a trade name for Sixteen Thirty Fund, emerged as the latest dark money  group to oppose judicial nominations by the Trump administration. During Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, over 3,200 ads were run by Demand Justice alone. The targets were mainly Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and their potential support of the nomination. Additionally, the group was the only dark money group that focused on running ads for Democrats in swing states.

Even now, the current debate over the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett will be taken to close Senate races. Again, Demand Justice is planning to spend millions of dollars running ads in swing states, such as Iowa, Arizona, North Carolina, and Colorado. In Colorado, a project of left-leaning group Rocky Mountain Values, Cut the Strings CO, is spending $1.5 million against Senator Cory Gardner, urging him to vote against the confirmation.

While the judicial confirmations involve the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government, outside groups, such as Demand Justice, have significant funds to influence public opinion. In doing so, they ultimately hoping to draw influence on the Senate races to help thwart further confirmations. Given the significant role played by progressive outside groups in past Supreme Court nominations, Senator Whitehouse’s silence is deafening.   

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