All three witnesses invited by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) to testify at a hearing on the destructive impact dark money has had on the Supreme Court have significant ties to liberal dark money groups.
Whitehouse is scheduled to preside over a Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday afternoon on "What's Wrong with the Supreme Court: The Big Money Assault on Our Judiciary." Among the witnesses he called is Ben Jealous, who is currently the president of People for the American Way, a liberal group that does not disclose its donors. Jealous will be joined by Michael Klarman of Take Back the Court, a judicial advocacy group that does not identify its donors, and Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group that discloses some donors, but takes a significant portion of its funding from sources that conceal contributions.
The hearing is Whitehouse’s latest attempt to push dark money groups to disclose their donors. Although he frequently attacks the role of dark money in politics, Whitehouse himself has relied on groups that conceal their donors throughout his tenure in the Senate.
Take Back the Court does not identify who bankrolls the group in its tax forms. The Center for Media and Democracy has identified some of its donors, but a significant portion of its cash has come from sources that conceal contributions, such as the Schwab Charitable Fund.
The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board notes that the hearing will likely be used to advance Whitehouse's Amicus Act, which would require groups that file briefs in Supreme Court cases to disclose their donors. Whitehouse has consistently attacked conservative dark money groups, particularly those who work on Supreme Court fights. He and other Senate Democrats have demanded such groups release lists of their funders.
But despite these attacks, Whitehouse and Democrats rely on a host of dark money groups for support in judicial fights. Demand Justice, a left-wing group that fights Republican court nominations, is sponsored by the Sixteen Thirty Fund. The fund is a subsidiary of Arabella Advisors, which manages a network of funds that raised $715 million in anonymous cash for left-wing causes in 2019.
Demand Justice recently joined a larger coalition called Unrig the Courts, which includes seven other dark money groups, including Take Back the Court. The coalition seeks to add seats to the Supreme Court, impose term limits on justices, expand the lower courts, and create "improved ethics and transparency requirements."
"It's impossible to take Senator Sheldon Whitehouse seriously on the issue of dark money when liberal groups raise, spend, and benefit from more dark money than other organizations," Caitlin Sutherland, executive director of Americans for Public Trust, told the Washington Free Beacon. "As he rails against conservatives, liberal organizations such as the ACLU and NAACP are fighting in court to protect donor privacy. Mr. Whitehouse may have a gavel and chair, a subcommittee, but he's living in a world all his own."
The battle over dark money and the Supreme Court has erupted due to the push from Whitehouse and Democrats. Sutherland's group launched a six-figure ad buy Wednesday hitting Whitehouse over his dark money ties.
Whitehouse's office did not respond to a request for comment by press time.