Get dark money out of our democracy

Confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s pick to replace Justice Stephen Breyer on the US Supreme Court, began yesterday in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The hearings will continue the rest of the week, after which the Committee will vote on whether to send her nomination to the full Senate for consideration.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, most Republican Senators are opposing Judge Jackson’s nomination. They’ve thrown out a variety of absurd attacks on her character and record, but for this week’s Closer Look, we wanted to highlight one charge in particular – Mitch McConnell’s claim that she is supported by “dark-money far-left activists.

While it’s true that some progressive advocacy groups that are supporting her nomination don’t disclose their donors, the hypocrisy in McConnell’s position is truly breathtaking. He gladly accepted the support of dark money groups, like Judicial Crisis Network, that championed the nominations of Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett and are now actively opposing Judge Jackson’s nomination. McConnell also seems to have conveniently forgotten about his OWN dark money group, One Nation, that he effectively controls with his former chief of staff.

Hypocrisy aside, if Judge Jackson’s nomination process can shine a spotlight on the need to address the outsized influence of dark money groups in our democracy, that’s a net positive. These groups, born from the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, have spent roughly $1 billion to influence elections and other political proceedings over the last decade.

Dark money groups are corrosive to the ideal of political equality in America. Voters have a right to know who is spending how much and in what ways to influence the political arena, especially when that spending is essentially unlimited.

It doesn’t matter what cause dark money groups are championing – even if it happens to be one that we agree with. At the end of the day, it’s unfair for rich people to have a disproportionate amount of power in our politics and our government just because of their wealth. It’s especially unfair when that money can be spent without any sort of transparency or accountability. As Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich said in Saving Capitalism, “…freedom of speech is the freedom to be heard, and most citizens’ freedom to be heard is reduced when those who have the deepest pockets get the loudest voice.”

It’s time, therefore, that we reform the campaign finance system in America to get big money out of our elections and politics more generally. This could involve, among other things, reversing Citizens United (and subsequent rulings like SpeechNow v. FEC and Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta), instituting stricter limits on campaign contributions from wealthy individuals, and moving towards public funding of elections. More immediately, it could involve passing the Disclose Act, which seeks to limit the role of dark money groups in elections and has the support of President Biden.

Since the Supreme Court is effectively responsible for the birth of dark money groups, it would be nice if we could also hope for a judicial fix in the face of legislative paralysis, but Judge Jackson’s nomination unfortunately won’t change the conservative supermajority that ushered in these absurd campaign finance laws.

Nevertheless, we hope that if Judge Jackson is confirmed as the next Supreme Court Justice she will rule on behalf of all Americans, not just the rich and powerful, and that the growing attention to dark money groups that her nomination has garnered will spur Americans to action in the name of political equality.

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