Anonymous forces with unknown agendas paid millions of dollars to make sure Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.
At the same time, other anonymous forces with unknown agendas paid millions to keep Kavanaugh from winning that post.
The Supreme Court ruled some years ago that Americans have no right to know who is spending millions of dollars to shape our government’s laws and policies. The law, the court said, allows many tax-exempt, nonprofit groups to keep secret the identities of those who finance political campaigns – for the presidency, the nation’s highest court, a seat in Congress and so on.
The result has been an explosion in such nonprofit groups and the money they spend.
The conservative group Judicial Crisis Network spent about $12 million to get Kavanaugh confirmed, according to the news site Roll Call. Other groups on the right and the left spent millions more.
Most of these groups are financed by anonymous donors, whose donations are supposed to be used to advance educational and social welfare causes.
These same groups often send you dishonest political mailers, again while pretending to engage in social welfare and educational pursuits in order to qualify as tax-exempt entities.
Even Kavanaugh seemed to object to the lack of accountability – temporarily. In his statement to senators Sept. 27, Kavanaugh said: “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit” fueled by “money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”
“This is a circus,” Kavanaugh continued. “The consequences will extend long past my nomination; the consequences will be with us for decades.”
While liberal groups did spend millions to try to derail Kavanaugh’s nomination, conservative groups appear to have spent even more to get Kavanaugh confirmed. Huge loopholes in reporting laws will keep the public from ever knowing exact amounts, but dark money groups on both sides likely spent more than $20 million.
They set the tone for a process that was soiled by Republicans and Democrats who prize party above principle and victory above integrity.
Dark money encourages such behavior by giving people the cover of anonymity. Dark money groups act in ways that most individuals would avoid if they were personally held accountable.
That’s especially true in an era in which people who are willing to be held accountable are treated so shabbily.
The ways in which individual senators and others involved in the Kavanaugh process were insulted, threatened and intimidated should scare all of us.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and her staff were subjected for weeks to rants and threats – including people who warned staff members they would be raped if Collins supported Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Collins, after much deliberation, did support the nomination, which resulted in uglier and more violent threats.
Before you trash liberals as left-wing thugs, know that right-wing thugs were just as ugly.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and her staff also reported to police numerous violent and malicious threats from people angry with her opposition to Kavanaugh.
And they weren’t alone.
Threats, public shout-downs of elected officials, the mocking of congressional witnesses, denigrating political opponents as corrupt liars – all reflect a deterioration in our values. Not just our political values, but our values as decent humans.
And because the tactics appear to work, expect the behavior to grow worse.
Only if as a nation we decide that our political system and government should be transparent and accountable can we change course.
It starts by requiring public access to the names of people active in political causes and campaigns – including the amounts they give and to whom. It includes public reporting of donations by political candidates and groups engaged in shaping our political opinions, laws and policies. And it includes public reporting by elected officials and government agencies of actions and access related to political donors.
Dark money works against those efforts. It’s eroding the quality of our politics and the principles of our government.
Whether conservative, progressive or moderate, people more interested in good government than partisan wins need to come together to stop this growing scourge.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.