Judicial Crisis Network
The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN, formerly the Judicial Confirmation Network), is an advocacy organization that advances a right-wing legal agenda and uses undisclosed dark money "issue ads" to influence state and federal judicial appointments and elections. JCN also directs millions in funding to other dark money groups such as Wisconsin Club for Growth and American Future Fund that spend large amounts in state-level Supreme Court and Attorney General races, as well as other down-ticket races.
JCN is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit. JCN does not disclose its funders, but all of its reported revenue in 2012 and 2013 (its most recently available tax filings) came from large contributions of more than $10,000, and contributions of more than $1 million providing more than 80 percent of JCN's total revenue in both years.
- 1 Founding and History
- 2 Opposition to President Obama and His Judicial Appointments
- 3 JCN Spending Targets State Supreme Courts and AG Races
- 4 Funding and Finances
- 5 Personnel
- 6 Contact
- 7 References
Founding and History
JCN was founded as the Judicial Confirmation Network in 2004 by Gary Marx, who directed outreach to conservative voters in George W. Bush's 2004 presidential campaign, and Wendy Long, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
According to Open Secrets, other people who were influential in founding JCN included Leonard Leo, an executive vice president with the Federalist Society and Robin Arkley II, a real estate magnate., as well as Ann Corkery, a lawyer and fundraiser who was later president of the dark money funder the Wellspring Committee, which contributed to JCN. Corkery's husband, Neil Corkery, has been the treasurer of JCN since at least 2007. See below for more information about the Corkerys and JCN's dark money ties.
- Mr. Sekulow uses his Senate contacts to track the status of the debate and identify wavering lawmakers. While he targets them on the radio or through his regular emails, Mr. Marx follows up with state-based groups that can be important to a senator's political career.
JCN played an important role in generating support for Supreme Court nominees John Roberts Jr. and Samuel Alito Jr. under President George W. Bush. The organization reportedly spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2005 and January 2006 on radio and online ads, as well as on grassroots efforts, to shape public opinion" on those confirmations," according to Open Secrets.
Opposition to President Obama and His Judicial Appointments
JCN reported spending $571,063 opposing Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. During President Barack Obama's term, JCN shifted its strategy to obstructing judicial nominations and fighting measures such as the Affordable Care Act. JCN changed its name to the Judicial Crisis Network in 2010.
In 2010 JCN's "significant efforts...included taking the lead in opposing the nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court" as well as pushing for Justice Kagan to recuse herself from litigation on the Affordable Care Act, according to a statement in the organization's tax filing.
"Seven Figure" Campaign to Obstruct Appointing Justice Scalia's Replacement
In February 2016 JCN launched "a seven figure television, radio and digital advertising campaign" that would support seven Republican U.S. Senators who were trying to block hearings on any candidate President Obama nominated to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant after Justice Antonin Scalia's death. Titled "Let the People Decide," the campaign asserts that the seat should only be filled by the next President. The ads were to run in Washington, DC and the media markets covering Senators "Kelly Ayotte (NH), Chuck Grassley (IA), Ron Johnson (WI), John McCain (AZ), Mitch McConnell (KY), Rob Portman (OH), and Pat Toomey (PA)." All but McConnell were up for re-election; McConnell was still serving as the Senate Majority Leader.
JCN Spending Targets State Supreme Courts and AG Races
JCN's political spending in recent years has targeted state-level Supreme Court and Attorney General races. Spending described below includes millions of dollars spent on "issue ads," which aim to influence elections but which skirt donor disclosure laws, and on funding other non-profits that ran issue ads. JCN has also reported to the FEC some direct spending on electioneering, and has contributed significant amounts to other organizations that reported election spending.
State Supreme Court Races in 2016 Election Cycle
JCN had spent at least $300,000 in an Arkansas state Supreme Court race as of February 2016, running television ads that attacked Supreme Court Associate Justice Courtney Goodson.
JCN Targets State Supreme Court and AG Races in 2014 Cycle
Total spending on tv ads in state Supreme Court races rose to $13.8 million in the 2014 election cycle, according to an estimate by the liberal Justice at Stake Campaign.
JCN gave $1,000,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) in the 2014 cycle, making it the third-largest contributor that year. That year, the Republican Party won three additional state Attorney General races than previously, resulting in the party holding a majority of AG positions in the states.
JCN also gave $750,000 to the American Future Fund between late 2012 and early 2013; the American Future Fund started an Attorney General project and also contributed $680,000 to RAGA in that period.
As Open Secrets reported, just before the 2012 elections, JCN policy director Carrie Severino
- wrote in National Review ... that conservative AGs are "emerging as key leaders in the battle for limited constitutional government." Many of them, she noted, had joined the challenge to Obamacare, and a number were also fighting the Dodd-Frank financial services overhaul and EPA regulations.
According to The Daily Beast/Open Secrets,
- The sharp rise in judicial election spending by JCN and other groups on both sides of the political aisle troubles some judicial candidates who have been targeted. “To the extent that judicial campaigns start looking like other campaigns, there’s a risk that judges will be perceived as having a political agenda,” Sam Ervin IV, a North Carolina Supreme Court justice, told The Daily Beast.
Millions to Influence Michigan and Wisconsin Supreme Courts in 2012
JCN spent more than $2 million related to Michigan court races in 2012, including $1 million on television ads for a single state circuit court race, according to an estimate by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
In Wisconsin, JCN gave $503,000 to Wisconsin Club for Growth (WCFG) between 2012 and 2013. WCFG has been one of the top spenders in state Supreme Court races, sometimes spending more than the candidates themselves. It also spent $9.1 million during the Wisconsin's historic 2012 recall races for Governor, Lt. Governor and State Senate, and was tied to a long-running investigation into possibly illegal campaign coordination, which was ended by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2015. (WCFG also received $400,000 from the Wellspring Committee in 2011.)
JCN had $750,000 in attributable spending in the 2012 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics ($750,000 of contributions JCN made to another group or groups was reportable to the FEC as political spending).
2010 Election Cycle
JCN reported spending $47,245 in the 2010 election cycle.
Spending against Barack Obama in 2008 Presidential Campaign
JCN reported spending $571,063 opposing Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
Funding and Finances
Ties to the Wellspring Committee, a Dark Money Group
According to reporting by Open Secrets, "JCN’s tightest ties with any group or individual revolve around Ann and Neil Corkery."
According to calculations made by Open Secrets:
- In 2012, tax records show that Neil Corkery was not only treasurer of JCN, president of its allied Judicial Education Project, and executive director of a charity called the Sudan Relief Fund, all of which paid him salaries; but he also drew paychecks from at least four other organizations: the anti-gay union National Organization for Marriage, ActRight Action, the Catholic Association Foundation, and Catholic Voices. His total earnings were almost $450,000, and his weekly workload was 105 hours in the first half of the year, the groups’ IRS filings show, before dropping back to a mere 80.
Ann Corkery, who is married to Neil, was influential in forming JCN and has played a key role in its funding and spending. She is the President of the Wellspring Committee, an organization that Open Secrets characterizes as a "dark money machine" which is "little more than [a] UPS mailbox" that cloaks donors' identities by serving as a conduit for contributions to other politically active nonprofits.
In 2011, Ann Corkery replaced two of Wellspring's board members with her own daughter and a JCN board member's son. In 2012 and 2013, JCN received nearly $3 million from Wellspring.
Funding Sources and Ties to the Koch Brothers
The Koch brothers -- David and Charles -- are the right-wing billionaire co-owners of Koch Industries. As two of the richest people in the world, they are key funders of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on the Kochs include: Koch Brothers, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, American Encore, and Freedom Partners.
JCN does not disclose its donors, but appears to receive all or nearly all of its revenues from a small number of large contributions. Open Secrets has noted that JCN's financial growth is largely the result of Ann Corkery's fundraising and connections. In the group's early years, "Robin Arkley, the president and CEO of Security National Corp. who had tapped Corkery to be his political liaison and senior advisor, became a key underwriter of JCN’s operations, to the tune of the high six or low seven figures," according to sources who spoke to The Daily Beast/Open Secrets.
Corkery and Arkley reportedly "went to some of the early fundraising and policy retreats held by the Kochs," and by 2008 Corkery had been put in charge of the Wellspring Committee, "a dark money conduit that began pumping funds to other dark money Koch-backed groups like Americans for Prosperity."
According to Open Secrets, "Corkery’s most direct Koch ties frayed after the ’08 elections and Arkley’s wallet took a hit in the financial crisis," and since then she has reportedly drawn large contributions from other wealthy members of the Koch donor network, including Paul E. Singer and John Templeton, Jr..
Some of JCN's funding sources can be identified through those organizations' tax filings:
- American Future Fund: $1,350,000
- Missouri Forward Alliance: $50,000
- True the Vote: $125,000
- State Government Leadership: $100,000
- American Dream Initiative: $250,000
- Arizona Public Integrity Alliance: $410,000
- Strong Economy Growth Fund: $35,000
- Illinois Opportunity Project: $250,000
- Illinois Policy Network: $250,000
- Rule of Law Project: $100,000
- In 2014, an organization registered as the Rule of Law Project in Wisconsin made an ad buy of at least $180,000 supporting then-candidate for Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel. Its listed treasurer was an attorney with the law firm of Boyden Gray and Associates, whose chief counsel is former White House counsel to George H.W. Bush C. Boyden Gray, who was also a founder and is currently a board member of the Federalist Society.
- Republican Attorneys General Association: $250,000
- Better Courts Missouri: $170,000
- Wisconsin Club for Growth: $503,000
- Conservative Leadership Project: $100,000
- Republican State Leadership Committee: $225,000
- American Future Fund: $750,000
- State Government Leadership Foundation: $281,000
- Michigan State Republican Party: $500,000
- Kansas Legislative Ed & Res: $5,000
- Main Street Growth Project: $300,000
- TN for Economic Opportunity: $70,000
- Civitas Action: $75,000
- Family Action of Tennessee: $24,000
- Better Courts Missouri: $215,000
- Total revenue: $5,775,000
- All of JCN's revenue for 2012 came as large contributions of more than $10,000, including a single contribution of $4,740,000.
- Total expenditures: $5,805,624
- Radio and tv ads: $1,555,840
- Other media: $806, 362
- Grants to other organizations: $3,170,000
- Net assets: $10,127
- Total revenue: $4,990,000
- All of JCN's revenue for 2012 came as large contributions of $50,000 or more, and just three contributions provided $4,165,000 of its revenue for the year.
- Total expenditures: $5,486,556
- Media, including radio and tv ads: $2,021,272
- Grants to other organizations: $2,979,000
- Lobbying: $378,340
- Net assets: $40,752
- Total revenue: $800,000
- Total expenditures: $490,848
- Net assets: $537,308
- Total revenue: $382,453
- Total expenditures: $448,819
- Includes $101,424 in payments for "management" to Century Strategies, a political consulting firm where Gary Marx served as Vice President. Century Strategies was founded by former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed and Tim Phillips, who later headed the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity.
- Net assets: $228,156
- Total revenue: $410,350
- Total expenditures: $867,633
- Net assets: $294,522
As of March 2016:
- Carrie Severino, Chief Counsel and Policy Director
- Jonathan Keim, Counsel
The Judicial Crisis Network
722 12th St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20005
- Viveca Novak and Peter Stone, "The JCN Story: Building a Secretive GOP Judicial Machine," Center for Responsive Politics, Open Secrets, March 23, 2015.
- Madison Strategies, LLC, "Team," organization website, accessed March 2016.
- Miranda Blue, "Meet the Group Trying To Stop President Obama From Filling Vacancies on Federal Courts," Right Wing Watch, October 29, 2013.
- Pam Martens, "Koch Entertained Justice Thomas At His Private Club," CounterPunch, October 3, 2011.
- Viveca Novak, Robert Maguire, and Peter Overby, "Wellspring’s Flow: Dark Money Outfit Helped Fuel Groups on Political Front Lines," Center for Responsive Politics, Open Secrets blog, November 5, 2013.
- Judicial Confirmation Network, 2007 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, September 15, 2008.
- Jeanne Cummings, "In Judge Battle, Mr. Sekulow Plays A Delicate Role," The Wall Street Journal May 17, 2005.
- Center for Responsive Politics, "Judicial Confirmation Network, 2008," outside spending profile, Open Secrets database, accessed March 2016.
- Tony Mauro, "Conservative Judicial Group Moves Into Crisis Mode," Legal Times, February 12, 2010. archived by Judicial Crisis Network.
- Judicial Crisis Network, 2010 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, April 23, 2012.
- Judicial Crisis Network, "JCN Launches 'Let the People Decide' Campaign," press release, February 18, 2016.
- Max Brantley, "Kemp calls for transparency in judicial race spending," Arkansas Times, February 10, 2016.
- Center for Responsive Politics, Republican Attorneys General Association, 2014, recipient profile, Open Secrets database, accessed March 2016.
- Michigan Campaign Finance Network, "Descending into Dark Money," research report, June 2013.
- Brendan Fischer, "Supreme Court Challenge to WI Dark Money Probe Raises Questions of Judicial Ethics," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, February 19, 2014.
- Brendan Fischer, "Five Things to Know About the Scott Walker John Doe Ruling," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, July 16, 2015.
- Center for Responsive Politics, "Judicial Crisis Network/Judicial Confirmation Network, 2004-2016," outside spending profile, Open Secrets database, accessed March 2016.
- Wellspring Committee, "2014 IRS Form 990," organizational tax filing, November 14, 2015.
- Wellspring Committee, "2013 IRS Form 990," organizational tax filing, November 21, 2014.
- Wellspring Committee, "2012 IRS Form 990," organizational tax filing, November 19, 2013.
- American Justice Partnership, "2012 IRS Form 990," organizational tax filing, August 2, 2012.
- Judicial Crisis Network, 2013 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, May 15, 2015.
- Mary Bottari, "Dirty Energy Barons Go to Bat for WI AG Candidate Schimel," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, October 31, 2014.
- Judicial Crisis Network, 2012 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, May 14, 2014.
- Judicial Crisis Network, 2011 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, April 23, 2013.
- Judicial Crisis Network, "About JCN," organizational website, accessed March 2016.