A single, anonymous donor provided nearly $28.5 million last year to a nonprofit group, the Wellspring Committee, that in turn financed the campaign behind the most important accomplishment of President Trump’s first year in office: the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
The donor’s contribution accounted for more than 80 percent of Wellspring’s total fundraising for the year. Wellspring funneled $17 million of the money to the Judicial Crisis Network, which first invested $7 million in ads opposing President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and later spent an additional $10 million to promote Gorsuch.
Republican senators kept a seat on the high court vacant for more than a year rather than confirm Garland, who had enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support when named to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. President Trump nominated Gorsuch during his first weeks in office and the new justice was confirmed on a mostly party line vote in April.
The money trail leading to his confirmation.was uncovered in a story published Tuesday by MapLight, a website that tracks the influence of money in politics. It’s another illustration of how wealthy donors can remain hidden while accumulating political IOUs by funneling enormous amounts of money into campaigns and policy debates.
“Dark money” groups like Wellspring put more than $1.5 billion into last year’s political races, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Wellspring did not directly engage in elective politics but its anti-Garland ads promoted the Republican position on a major issue in the presidential campaign and Senate races across the country. The ads also helped Trump win a victory he is touting in campaigning for Republican candidates in upcoming elections.
While donors to certain nonprofit groups can remain anonymous to the public, they’re free to make themselves known to the officeholders who benefit from their contributions. The increased potential for corruption when large amounts of money are injected anonymously into our political system is why Common Cause and other democracy reform organizations lobby on behalf of tougher disclosure laws and regulations.
Wellspring claims to operate under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, which gives them a tax exemption but does not permit their donors to claim a tax deduction for contributions. Section 501(c)(4) groups can conceal the identity of their donors and are limited in their ability to engage in candidate election activity.
The IRS has interpreted the law to mean that the (c)(4)s must confine their candidate election spending to less than half of their total spending. Nonprofits that engage primarily in the nomination or election of people to public office are supposed to be organized under a different part of the tax code, as Section 527 political organizations; those groups, enjoy a tax exemption but must disclose their donors.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Money in Politics