The Wellspring Committee is a 501(c)(4) organization operating out of Manassas, Virginia that serves as a fund for conservative political nonprofit groups. Founded in 2008, the Wellspring Committee regularly contributes funding to nonprofits that create ads for Republican candidates and causes. However, because the Wellspring Committee does not fund the ads directly, its IRS tax filings maintain the Wellspring Committee is not engaged in "political campaign activities on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office."
Wellspring is a major funding source for the Judicial Crisis Network, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that uses undisclosed dark money "issue ads" to influence state and federal judicial appointments and elections, and which has spent heavily to oppose President Obama's appointment of a replacement for deceased U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. JCN was founded by Wellspring president Ann Corkery.
- 1 Ties to the Koch Brothers
- 2 Donors Not Disclosed
- 3 Finances
- 4 Personnel
- 5 Articles and References
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.
Wellspring was founded in 2008 "with the help of conservative donors in the network led by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch," according to a report by the Center for Responsive Politics. Current president Ann Corkery, who took over Wellspring in 2008, has also worked for Robin Arkley's Security National Servicing Corporation, and the two reportedly attended early donor summits of the Koch brothers' political network. While Corkery's ties to the Kochs reportedly "frayed" after that, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, she continued to raise funds from other Koch network donors, including Paul E. Singer and John Templeton, Jr..
Donors Not Disclosed
As a 501(c)(4) organization, the Wellspring Committee does not disclose its donors. The group's tax status allows it to be "part of a network of conservative tax-exempt groups that do little but transfer money, via grants, to other groups closer to the political front lines."
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Wellspring is "little more than [a] UPS mailbox," and was created because:
- "For donors especially concerned with protecting their anonymity, the bounce pass -- writing a check to a non-disclosing group that'll turn around and give the funds to another non-disclosing group -- can seem attractive. IRS rules prevent the public disclosure of donors to a group like, say, the Faith and Freedom Coalition -- which spent $216,441 on ads in the 2010 election, and $570,744 in 2012, FEC reports show. But why not layer in more protection? That way, if a group is ever forced to say where its money came from -- and there are lawsuits, pending legislation and an array of state attorneys general trying to make that happen -- it will only have to cite the name of other, similarly protected groups. Like Wellspring -- which, as it happens, has given $250,000 to Faith and Freedom.
Wellspring's "recipient groups spent about $60 million in the 2010 election cycle, and more than double during the 2012 cycle." A significant portion of that money has also been used to fund State Supreme Court campaigns throughout the U.S.
Contributors and Membership
As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, the Wellspring Committee is not required to disclose its donors. A small amount of its revenue has been traced back to identifiable donors; the American Democracy Alliance gave $150,000, Founding Principles PAC gave $1,026 and Rosebush Corp. gave $100,000.
Wellspring has become a major funding source for the Judicial Crisis Network, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that uses undisclosed dark money "issue ads" to influence state and federal judicial appointments and elections. JCN was launched by Wellspring president Ann Corkery, whose husband Neil Corkery serves as JCN's treasurer. Wellspring's secretary and treasurer, Michael Casey, is the son of a JCN board member.
Wellspring's budget doubled from 2013 to 2014. As detailed under Distribution of Grants and Other Financial Assistance, the bulk of its expenditures each year comprise contributions to the Judicial Crisis Network, which totaled $6.7 million in 2014.
- Total Revenue: $7,802,442
- Total Expenses: $8,654,094
- Wellspring President Ann Corkery received $120,000 in compensation for a reported 10 hours of work per week.
- Net Assets: $190,191
- Total Revenue: $3,576,053
- Total Expenses: $3,038,102
- Net Assets: $1,041,843
- Total Revenue: $2,351,661
- Total Expenses: $2,409,257
- Net Assets: $503,890
Distribution of Grants and Other Financial Assistance
- Judicial Crisis Network: $6,655,000
- Wedgwood Circle Institute: $5,000
- American Dream Initiative: $250,000
- Adam Smith Foundation: $25,000
- Annual Fund: $49,000
- Arizona Public Integrity Alliance: $15,000
- Federalist Society: $235,000
- 1st Amendment Alliance Ed: $250,000
- North Carolina Chamber of Commerce: $25,000
- Rule of Law Project: $30,000
- Catholic Association: $650,000
- Judicial Crisis Network: $1,435,000
- State Government Leadership Foundation: $100,000
- American Future Fund: $125,000
- AMC Annual Fund: $48,000
- Catholic Association Inc.: $60,000
- Common Sense VA PAC (listed as a 501(c)(4) in the tax filing): $719,193
- This PAC ran ads in Virginia's 2013 election, some against Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and some for Republican Attorney General candidate Mark Obenshain. Based on the PAC's filings with the Virginia State Board of Elections, Wellspring's contributed 99.2 percent of the PAC's contributions over $100 in 2013.
- American Conservative Union: $240,000
- Breitbart Fund: $5,000
- Catholic Association: $440,000
- Catholic Association Foundation: $10,000
- Judicial Crisis Network: $1,515,000
- Swim America: $10,000
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the following organizations received assistance from the Wellspring Committee between the years 2008 and 2011:
- American Action Network: $305,500
- American Energy Alliance: $604,000
- American Future Fund: $367,457
- American Majority Action (American Majority): $1,020,125
- Americans for Job Security: $2,951,922
- Americans for Prosperity: $1,651,811
- Citizens for the Republic: $360,000
- Common Sense Issues Coalition (Common Sense Issues): $50,000
- Concerned Women for American Legislative Committee (Concerned Women for America): $50,000
- Faith & Freedom Coalition: $250,000
- Judicial Crisis Network: $520,000
- Judicial Education Project: $186,000
- Let Freedom Ring: $25,000
- Right to Life: $542,000
- RightChange.com: $1,131,459
- Susan B Anthony List: $753,278
- Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce: $200,000
- Wisconsin Club for Growth: $400,000 (This grant was reported in 2011.)
Spending Tied to 2011-2012 Wisconsin Recall and "John Doe" Investigation into Alleged Illegal Campaign Coordination
Wellspring reported a $400,000 grant in 2011 to Wisconsin Club for Growth, which spent $9.1 million during Wisconsin's historic 2012 recall races for Governor, Lt. Governor and State Senate. That spending was at the center of a John Doe investigation; prosecutors in Wisconsin alleged that Friends of Scott Walker and dark money groups were part of a "criminal scheme" to coordinate activities during the state's 2011 and 2012 recall election, in violation of the state's campaign finance laws. The group's board of directors includes Eric O'Keefe, a right-wing political operative with deep ties to the Koch brothers.
Wisconsin Club for Growth sued in both state and federal court to stop the probe. In July 2015 the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, whose conservative majority was elected with millions in spending from the outside groups under investigation in the probe, ruled that Walker's campaign and conservative groups did not violate campaign finance laws. The ruling effectively rendered Wisconsin's disclosure rules and spending limits meaningless.
Ann Corkery serves as president of the Wellspring Committee and is a partner at Stein Mitchell Cipollone Beato & Missner LLP. Her official biography describes her as "an expert communication strategist" who "has leveraged her media expertise and sources to shape campaigns and influence outcomes."
Ann Corkery and her husband Neil are closely involved in a set of nonprofits that seek to advance right-wing judicial and social agendas, several of which receive funding from Wellspring.
As a fundraiser and recruiter, Corkery was "instrumental" in launching the Judicial Crisis Network in 2008, according to Open Secrets. At that time Corkery also worked for Robin Arkley's Security National Servicing Corporation, and the two reportedly attended early donor summits of the Koch brothers' political network.
- "Arkley helped put Ann in play" as a liaison to funding for advocacy groups on the right, said one conservative.
In 2008 Corkery also served as vice chair for finance of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign and took over the Kochs' Wellspring Committee.> While Corkery's ties to the Kochs reportedly "frayed" after that, she continued to raise funds from other Koch network donors, including Paul Singer and John Templeton.
In 2011, Corkery replaced the other two board members of Wellspring, John Klink and Stever Wagner, with her daughter Kathleen and Michael Casey, whose father was a board member of JCN alongside Neil Corkery.
Corkery had a history in Religious Right activism prior to her involvement with Wellspring and JCN. She has served on the board or acted as an officer for the Catholic League, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the National Organization for Marriage, and the Judicial Crisis Network. She and her husband Neil Corkery, are known for their "significant political contributors to Republican social conservative candidates" including former Senator Rick Santorum. In "2003, she was appointed by President Bush to be a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, where she fought for a ban on human cloning; he also made her a delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women."
Neil Corkery serves as treasurer of JCN, president of JCN's Judicial Education Project, and executive director of the Sudan Relief Fund, and is affiliated with the National Organization for Marriage, ActRight Action, the Catholic Association Foundation, and Catholic Voices.
- Kathleen Corkery, Director
- Kathleen Corkery is Ann Corkery's daughter.
- Michael Casey, Secretary and Treasurer
Previously known personnel:
- John Klink, Director
- Klink also served as Consultant for the Pontifical Council for the Family and President of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC). He has also served on the executive boards for Unicef and the U.N.'s children's fund. In 2001, Klink was a member of the Republican National Committee's Catholic Task Force and an adviser to President George W. Bush. During that time Klink "advocated against the use of condoms and oral contraceptive pills."
- Steve Wagner, Director, Secretary, and Treasurer. Wagner, who was replaced on the board in 2011, told the Center for Responsive Politics, "I never saw any financial records. I was treasurer in name only."
Articles and References
- Viveca Novak, Robert Maguire and Peter Overby,Wellspring's Flow: Dark Money Outfit Helped Fuel Groups on Political Front Lines, Opensecrets, November 5, 2013.
- Judicial Crisis Network, "JCN Launches 'Let the People Decide' Campaign," press release, February 18, 2016.
- Viveca Novak, "Wellspring gives big boost to Judicial Crisis Network with $6.6 million grant," Center for Responsive Politics, Open Secrets, November 24, 2015.
- Viveca Novak and Peter Stone, "The JCN Story: Building a Secretive GOP Machine]," Center for Responsive Politics, Open Secrets, March 23, 2015.
- Peter Overby, Viveca Novak, Robert Maguire Secret Persuasion: How Big Campaign Donors Stay Anonymous, NPR.org, November 6, 2013.
- Wellspring Committee, "2014 IRS Form 990," organization tax filing, November 23, 2015.
- Wellspring Committee, "2013 IRS Form 990," organization tax filing, December 12, 2014.
- Wellspring Committee, "2012 IRS Form 990," organization tax filing, November 19, 2013.
- "Anti-LGBT, Extremist “Common Sense Virginia” Runs $500k Worth of False Ads Attacking McAuliffe," Blue Virginia, October 22, 2013.
- Virginia State Board of Elections, "Campaign Finance Report: Common Sense Virginia (PAC-13-00516)," report accessed April 2016.
- Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Recall Race for Governor Cost $81 Million, Posted: July 25, 2012/Updated: January 31, 2013
- Patrick Marley, Daniel Bice, Bill Glauber, John Doe prosecutors allege Scott Walker at center of 'criminal scheme', Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 19, 2014.
- Brendan Fischer, "After Koch-Tied Judge Is Reversed, Walker Probe Rests with Conflicted WI Supreme Court," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, September 25, 2014. Accessed September 30, 2014.
- Patrick Marley and Mary Spicuzza, Wisconsin Supreme Court ends John Doe probe into Scott Walker's campaign, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 16, 2015.
- Brendan Fischer, "Five Things to Know About the Scott Walker John Doe Ruling," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, July 16, 2015.
- Stein Mitchell, "Ann Corkery," corporate website, accessed April 2016.
- Human Rights Campaign Neil and Ann Corkery, Official Website, accessed November 6, 2013.
- Pacific Coast Business Times Staff $22M Bankruptcy Spotlights Montecito, Pacific Coast Business Times, September 14, 2009.
- O'Meara, Ferguson, Whelan and Conway, John M. Klink, Consultant Biography, Official Website, accessed November 6, 2013.