Republican senators criticized their Democratic colleagues on the issue of “dark money” organizations at a Senate hearing on Wednesday, alleging that Democrats have no problem with dark money unless those funds go toward conservatives.
The term “dark money” was initially coined to describe the funding received by groups that don’t disclose their donor information. At the hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) implied that conservative dark-money groups like the Federalist Society hold undue influence over the U.S. Supreme Court. Whitehouse made similar allegations during the nomination hearings for Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
However, several witnesses called to the hearing by Whitehouse have connections to liberal dark-money groups. Those witnesses included Ben Jealous, president of People for the American Way, an organization that seeks to “fight right-wing extremism,” and Michael Klarman, a board member of Take Back America, which advocates packing the Supreme Court.
“If you don’t like dark money, that’s one thing. If you like it, own it where you take it, but this middle ground of trying to suggest that it’s holy, it’s righteous, if it’s in support of a liberal cause — that doesn’t sit well with most people,” Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) said during the hearing.
Senator Thom Tillis (R., N.C.) demonstrated the various connections between liberal dark-money groups with a series of flow charts, appearing to mock Whitehouse’s use of flowcharts during the Barrett hearings in October.
“I absolutely believe that some level of accountability or transparency may be appropriate if we’re willing to talk about all of the sources of money,” Tillis commented.
Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) joked that Tillis’s charts “would have been more persuasive if you had used red yarn to connect them.”
Several progressive groups have positioned themselves against Whitehouse’s position on dark money groups. The American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations have filed a brief in support of a a Supreme Court challenge to the state of California’s donor disclosure rules, which require all charity groups to disclose their donors to the California attorney general.
“It’s impossible to take Senator Sheldon Whitehouse seriously on the issue of dark money when liberal groups raise, spend and benefit from more dark money than other organizations,” Caitlin Sutherland, Executive Director of Americans for Public Trust, said in a statement on Wednesday. “As he rails against conservatives, liberal organizations such as the ACLU and NAACP are fighting in court to protect donor privacy.”