Senate Dems Demand JCN Disclose Donors, Ignore Own Dark Money

Dems tied to, and aided by, dark money groups they decry

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) / Getty Images
July 11, 2019

Senate Democrats pressuring the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), a right-leaning organization, to release a list of their donors have close ties to liberal dark money groups themselves and receive help from such outfits for judicial fights.

The Daily Beast reported Wednesday that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.), and several other Democratic senators released a letter calling on the JCN to make public the names of individuals who have given the group more than $10,000 since 2017. The demand responded to a $1.1 million ad campaign JCN launched calling on 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to release their supposed secret "list" of judges.

Within the letter, the senators criticize the organization for "[continuing] to conceal the identity of their donors" who "have contributed tens of millions of dollars used to fund political advertising campaigns in support of nominees like Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch." In addition to asking them to reveal their donors, the Democrats want JCN to release the total number of individuals who have given to the group in the past two years.

However, the Democratic senators decrying JCN over its funders—and demanding their names— are themselves closely affiliated with dark money groups, including those that work in the same realm as the JCN.

Sen. Schumer is tied to Majority Forward, which hides its donors and was the biggest dark money spender throughout the entirety of the 2018 election cycle. Majority Forward is a Democratic nonprofit incorporated in 2015 by Marc Elias, the go-to attorney for national Democrats who acted as the top lawyer for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign and filling the same role now for Sen. Kamala Harris's (D., Calif.) campaign.

Majority Forward is closely affiliated with the Senate Majority PAC, a political action committee aligned with Schumer. The two organizations share office space, staff, and count J.B. Poersch, a Schumer ally, as their president. Additionally, the Senate Majority PAC marks its contributions from Majority Forward as rent, salary, and insurance. Watchdog groups have described the relationship between Majority Forward and the Senate Majority PAC as "ridiculously cozy."

Majority Forward poured $46 million into supporting Democrats and opposing Republicans during the midterm elections, which saw liberal dark money groups far outpace conservative dark money groups in total spending, 54 percent to 31 percent. Majority Forward accounted for nearly a third of the combined $150 million in dark money pushed into the midterm elections by both Democratic and Republican groups.

Senate Democrats additionally rely on groups such as Demand Justice, another liberal dark money group, in fights against President Donald Trump's federal judicial appointments.

Demand Justice vowed to spend millions fighting Justice Brett Kanavaugh's Supreme Court confirmation. Led by Brian Fallon, a former top aide to Schumer and Clinton campaign spokesman, the group poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into advertisements highlighting the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford during the Kavanagh hearings; the ads ran in Washington, D.C., and on cable and broadcast networks in Alaska and Maine.

In April 2018, before the group publicly launched, Fallon was spotted by the Washington Free Beacon at an Atlanta gathering of the Democracy Alliance, the left's largest donor collaborative whose members have funneled $1.83 billion into progressive infrastructure since its founding. The Democracy Alliance counts billionaire financiers George Soros and now-presidential candidate Tom Steyer among its members. Fallon was a featured guest of the group and appeared on a panel.

Sen. Whitehouse, one of the co-signers of the letter calling for JCN to release its donors, is a frequent critic of dark money in politics, but has never called out Demand Justice for its role in court fights.

Demand Justice is also a project of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, an entity that acts as a "fiscal sponsor" for 501(c)4 nonprofits, and a pass-through entity for donors. The fund is an arm of an intricate dark money umbrella that has facilitated $1.6 billion worth of spending in recent years.

In 2017, the year prior to the court fight, the Sixteen Thirty Fund received nearly $80 million in donations, almost entirely provided by just six anonymous donors who passed $73 million to the fund, tax forms show.

The Alliance for Justice, a liberal judicial activist group that also does not disclose its donors, announced in June that it would be undertaking an initiative called "Building the Bench," which would seek to create a list of judges that the next Democratic president could nominate to federal courts.

Sen. Schumer's office did not respond by press time to inquiries of his ties to liberal dark money groups, or Democrats using dark money groups themselves for judicial fights.