By Andrew Perez and Margaret Sessa-Hawkins, MapLight
A dark money organization that has spent millions to finance conservative causes was the source of the $17 million spent to keep Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat in Republican hands, tax documents reviewed by MapLight reveal.
The Wellspring Committee, a Virginia-based nonprofit, donated more than $23 million last year to the Judicial Crisis Network, which spent $7 million on advertisements pushing Republican senators to block President Barack Obama’s court pick, Merrick Garland. After the election, the network spent another $10 million to boost President Donald Trump’s pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Wellspring received more than $32 million in donations last year, with $28.5 million coming from a single, anonymous donor. Before 2016, Wellspring had never received more than $13.2 million in annual donations. As a social welfare organization, Wellspring is not required to disclose its donors.
JCN and Wellspring share personal ties. Ann Corkery, a Washington lawyer, has served as Wellspring’s president. Her husband, Neil, has been JCN’s treasurer and has apparently succeeded Ann as Wellspring’s president, according to the committee’s tax return; JCN’s most recent tax filing doesn’t mention him.
Last year, Wellspring gave $100,000 to the Federalist Society, a conservative lawyers organization that has emerged as one of the most influential players in Washington during the Trump era. The organization recommended Trump nominate Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, and one of its top executives, Leonard Leo, is reportedly advising the Trump administration on judicial selections. JCN and Wellspring provided almost 80 percent of the money raised by the Rule of Law Project, a conservative nonprofit that listed Leo as a director in tax filings.
JCN has put Wellspring’s money to use in other ways. JCN reported giving $8.5 million in grants to conservative nonprofits and political groups on its latest tax return, covering July 2015 to June 2016. Beneficiaries included the Republican Governors Association and the Republican Attorneys General Association, as well as organizations that supported conservative court justices in Wisconsin and North Carolina
Wellspring also donated $2 million to the American Future Fund, an organization that spent more than $12 million on ads boosting Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in his presidential and Senate campaigns, during the 2016 election cycle. It gave another $2.5 million to Illinois Policy Action, a dark money organization that supports conservative policies in Illinois.