A Media Matters investigation of the discredited right-wing group Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), the main source of baseless smears against, and false characterizations of, Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, reveals a familial web of self-dealing between the organization, a major dark money funder of JCN called the Wellspring Committee, and a third nonprofit that also receives funding from Wellspring.
Video by John Kerr, image by Sarah Wasko.
JCN Has Emerged As Right-Wing Media's Primary Source Of Supreme Court Misinformation
The Judicial Crisis Network Rebranded Itself To Whitewash Its Lack Of Credibility. In the weeks following the death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) re-emerged as a major source of misinformation about potential nominees rumored to be under consideration by the Obama administration. JCN was founded as the Judicial Confirmation Network during the second Bush administration; its aim was to obfuscate the often-far-right records of that administration's judicial nominees in a push to guarantee an “up or down vote” on “every nominee.” During the Obama administration, JCN pivoted to smearing nominations for the Supreme Court as well as nominees for other federal and state-level openings. [Media Matters, 3/18/16]
JCN Has Falsely Characterized Merrick Garland's Record On Guns. On March 11, after the news broke that Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland was one of President Obama's likely choices to fill the court vacancy, JCN chief counsel and discredited right-wing legal analyst Carrie Severino published a column in National Review falsely claiming that Garland has a “very liberal view on gun rights.” She also claimed that he upheld an “illegal Clinton-era regulation” that would have created a registry of gun owners. Numerous judicial experts noted that JCN and Severino had mischaracterized Garland's past decisions, but the false accusations were still promoted by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Fox News hosts Bret Baier and Bill O'Reilly, and used as talking points on ABC's This Week and Fox's Fox News Sunday. [Media Matters, 3/21/16]
Dark Money Group Wellspring Committee Is A Major Funder Of JCN
The Wellspring Committee Has Been Directly Funding JCN Since 2010. A March 23, 2015, Daily Beast story explained that a dark money group called the Wellspring Committee, created by political operatives tied to the industrialist Koch brothers for the purpose of “pumping funds to other dark money Koch-backed groups,” has been a major source of JCN's funding, directly funding the organization since 2010. [The Daily Beast, 3/23/15]
Wellspring Was Reportedly Founded By The Koch Brothers. A March 29 Daily Beast story reported that Wellspring was founded “in 2008 by none other than the infamous Charles and David Koch, together with their political Svengali, Richard Fink.” The article cited Politico investigative reporter Kenneth Vogel in reporting that “Wellspring raised $10 million from attendees at the Kochs' donor seminars, right after it was founded.” [The Daily Beast, 3/29/16]
JCN Received Over $9 Million In Grants From Wellspring Between 2012 And 2014. Wellspring's Form 990 financial disclosure documents show that from 2012 through 2014, Wellspring granted over $9 million to JCN. According to the forms, Wellspring granted $1.155 million to JCN in 2012, $1.435 million in 2013, and $6.665 million in 2014. In each of those years, JCN was by far the largest grantee of the Wellspring Committee, receiving 53 percent, 40 percent, and 80 percent of Wellspring's granted funds, respectively. [GuideStar.org, accessed 3/21/16]
Wellspring Grants Represented 30 Percent Of JCN's Revenue In 2012 And 25 Percent In 2013. JCN's 990 financial disclosure forms show that the grants reported in Wellspring's 990 forms comprised approximately 30 percent of JCN's revenue in 2012 ($4.99 million total) and 25 percent ($5.775 million total) of its revenue in 2013. JCN's 2014 Form 990 was unavailable. [Foundation Center, accessed 3/21/16]
Wellspring Received All Of Its 2014 Revenue -- $7.8 Million -- From Just Three Undisclosed Donors. A November 24 article from the Center for Responsive Politics on Wellspring's $6.6 million grant in 2014 to JCN explained in part how Wellspring is funded: “Wellspring received all of its 2014 revenue of $7.8 million from just three contributions -- one of which was a transfer of $6.95 million, according to the annual form 990 it filed this month. Like other (c)(4) organizations, Wellspring is not required to disclose the identities of its donors.” [Center for Responsive Politics, OpenSecrets.org, 11/24/15]
Wellspring, And JCN Have Family Ties Among Officers And Through Another Wellspring Recipient, The Catholic Association Inc.
Wellspring's President Helped Launch JCN And Is Married To JCN's Treasurer. The November 24 article from the Center for Responsive Politics reported on Wellspring and JCN's family ties, explaining, “Wellspring was founded and is still headed by Ann Corkery, a lawyer who for years has been involved in conservative fundraising and also helped launch JCN. Her husband, Neil, is JCN's treasurer. Their daughter, Kathleen, is on Wellspring's board. [Center for Responsive Politics, OpenSecrets.org, 11/24/15]
JCN Paid Wellspring President's Husband $98,000 In 2011-13. JCN's financial disclosure forms show that between 2011 and 2013, it paid $98,000 in compensation to Neil Corkery, the treasurer of the organization, who is married to Wellspring's president Ann Corkery. [Foundation Center, accessed 3/30/16]
Wellspring Granted Over $1 Million To Catholic Association Inc. Between 2012 And 2014. Wellspring's 990 financial disclosure forms show that from 2012 through 2014, Wellspring granted more than $1 million to the Catholic Association Inc. According to the forms, Wellspring granted $440,000 to the group in 2012, $60,000 in 2013, and $650,000 in 2014. [GuideStar.org, accessed 3/21/16]
Wellspring Secretary And Treasurer Michael Casey Is Son Of JCN Board Member And Catholic Association Inc. Officer Dan Casey. Michael Casey, who is listed on Wellspring's 990 financial disclosure forms as its secretary and treasurer, is the son of Republican operative Dan Casey, who is a member of JCN's board and is reportedly “the political and PR brains” of the organization. Dan Casey is also listed on the Catholic Association Inc.'s 990 financial disclosure forms as its secretary and one of its directors. [GuideStar.org, accessed 3/21/16; The Daily Beast, 3/23/15]
Catholic Association Inc. Paid Wellspring President's Husband And JCN Treasurer Neil Corkery $50,000 Over 2013 And 2014. The Catholic Association Inc.'s 990 financial disclosure forms show that in 2013, it paid $20,000 in compensation to Neil Corkery, and in 2014 it paid $30,000 in compensation. Neil Corkery was listed as the Catholic Association Inc.'s treasurer and one of its directors. [GuideStar.org, accessed 3/21/16]