Democratic dark money kingmaker pumps millions into ‘nonpartisan’ Supreme Court watchdogs
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Democratic dark money kingmaker pumps millions into ‘nonpartisan’ Supreme Court watchdogs
Gabe Kaminsky November 20, 06:27 AM November 20, 06:27 AM Video Embed
“Nonpartisan” Supreme Court watchdogs demanding conservative justices disclose more about their finances hauled in millions of dollars combined in 2022 from the largest Democratic-allied dark money network in the United States, tax forms show.
The cash transfers, which became public Wednesday upon the release of new financial disclosures, underscore how groups leading a campaign targeting Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito over trips and gifts they accepted, but did not report, rely on influential left-wing grantmakers to help keep their lights on. Several of these self-described watchdogs took heaps of cash from nonprofit organizations managed by Arabella Advisors, a consulting firm overseeing an anonymously-funded network that spent over $1 billion last year propping up liberal causes.
Washington D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb (D) is investigating Arabella Advisors and its offshoots, including New Venture Fund and Sixteen Thirty Fund, and his office issued subpoenas to the network in September for information on financial mismanagement allegations. The consultancy also manages Hopewell Fund, North Fund, and Windward Fund, which, like others in the network, sponsor little-known groups that aren’t required to file their own tax forms with the IRS.
“Arabella Advisors and the dark money groups it advises specialize in cultivating pop-up front groups to make their extreme agenda sound locally-run or nonpartisan,” Carrie Severino, president of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, told the Washington Examiner. “It’s no surprise they’re behind the campaign to discredit originalist justices.”
JCN, the judicial advocacy group also known as Concord Fund, is affiliated with Federalist Society co-chair Leonard Leo, a conservative activist who, along with GOP businessman Harlan Crow, could face congressional subpoenas over their ties to Thomas and Alito. Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats decided against a vote on the matter last week after Republicans, including Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), dangled the idea of an Arabella subpoena.
But Schwalb also recently opened an investigation into tax-exempt organizations linked to Leo. It came after Campaign for Accountability, a “nonpartisan watchdog” helmed by left-wing activists, alleged in an April IRS complaint that the nonprofit groups Concord Fund, Rule of Law Trust, Wellspring Committee, 85 Fund, Federalist Society, Freedom and Opportunity Fund, and Marble Freedom Trust paid excessive compensation to Leo.
Campaign for Accountability, a former Hopewell Fund project, pocketed $450,000 in 2022 from New Venture Fund, tax forms show. That donation adds to the more than $2.3 million New Venture Fund wired between 2016 and 2021 to CFA, which has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Open Society Foundations, the vast liberal grantmaking network bankrolled by Democratic megadonor and philanthropist George Soros.
In September, CFA joined over 40 “Supreme Court watchdog and accountability organizations” in sending a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts demanding he “ensure” Thomas and Alito recuse themselves from cases purportedly tied to conservative hedge fund manager Paul Singer and the right-libertarian Koch Network.
CFA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith sits on the board of Fix the Court, a “transparency” Supreme Court watchdog that unwittingly leaked its donors, including New Venture Fund, to the Washington Examiner in May. Fix the Court, which was previously a project of New Venture Fund, admitted to failing to disclose lobbying after tax attorneys said in July that Fix the Court likely violated federal law.
The September letter to Roberts was led by Accountable.US, another “nonpartisan” watchdog staffed by Democratic operatives, including its founder and senior adviser Kyle Herrig. He runs a group seeking to push back on House GOP investigations called Congressional Integrity Project, which has been almost entirely funded by Sixteen Thirty Fund, the Washington Examiner reported in December of last year.
Congressional Integrity Project did not return written requests this week from the Washington Examiner for its 2022 tax forms. Accountable.US did not return a request for comment.
In 2022, Accountable.US raked in more than $2 million in 2022 from New Venture Fund for “civil rights, social action, and advocacy,” according to financial disclosures. And between 2019 and 2021, Accountable.US received a staggering $8 million from New Venture Fund, which used to fiscally sponsor the watchdog.
On Nov. 1, Accountable.US and other left-wing activist hubs called for “Clarence Thomas’s immediate resignation in the face of a growing Supreme Court corruption crisis,” according to a letter, which cited reporting from ProPublica on the conservative justice not reporting travel with Crow.
Republicans have long pushed back on allegations of impropriety, noting there were no laws at the time requiring disclosure of the travel. Meanwhile, major donors to ProPublica, including the Sandler Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Ford Foundation, in turn, fund watchdogs that have called on Thomas to resign or be investigated, the Daily Caller reported.
“These groups lie through their teeth claiming they are nonpartisan, good government watchdogs,” Mark Paoletta, ex-general counsel for the Office of Management and Budget under former President Donald Trump, told the Washington Examiner.
“In fact, they are partisan propagandists doing the bidding of their left-wing billionaire donors, who have given these front groups the assignment of attacking the constitutionalist justices at all costs by manufacturing phony ethics scandals to undermine trust in the Supreme Court,” Paoletta, a close friend of Thomas and his wife, Virginia Thomas, said.
Common Cause, which calls itself “a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy,” has blasted Thomas and Alito for their ties to conservative activists and urged Congress in April to haul in Thomas to be “a witness in hearings to examine Supreme Court ethics in the wake of the latest scandal to engulf the nation’s highest court,” according to a pair of letters sent to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
The watchdog, which has taken millions of dollars from the Soros-backed Open Society Foundations, has long been allied with progressives, according to Capital Research Center, a conservative think tank. Last year, Common Cause took $22,000 from New Venture Fund, $243,000 from Sixteen Thirty Fund, and $225,250 from North Fund, tax forms show.
Common Cause’s charity arm, Common Cause Education Fund, scored $605,500 in 2022 from New Venture Fund and $175,000 from Hopewell Fund, according to tax forms.
“We do not comment on specific donations but we make our donor list available online in accordance with our donor transparency policy,” David Vance, a Common Cause spokesman, told the Washington Examiner. “We leave it up to donors whether or not to announce which of our programs their funds support.”
Project on Government Oversight, “a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms,” received $40,000 in 2022 from New Venture Fund, and has taken cash from the dark money group prior, tax forms show. POGO’s Walter Shaub, Jr., and Sarah Turberville sent a letter in April “to urge the Department of Justice to investigate the recently reported decades-long failure of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to disclose his receipt of gifts potentially worth millions of dollars.”
The Soros-backed Open Society Foundations network, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Democracy Fund, and Ford Foundation have also steered grants over the years to POGO, documents show.
Danielle Brian, president of POGO, said her group does not comment on donors beyond listing them in annual reports.
“POGO accepts gifts from individuals and institutions that are committed to the principles of democracy, racial justice, inclusion, and equity,” Brian told the Washington Examiner. “We reserve the right to decline gifts and donations from individuals and institutions that advocate viewpoints or engage in activities that contradict these values. POGO does not knowingly accept contributions from for-profit corporations, labor unions, any government, or anyone who stands to benefit financially from our work, in order to preserve our independence.”
New Venture Fund, Sixteen Thirty Fund, Hopewell Fund, and North Fund did not reply to requests for comment.
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