Summer Lee Decimates Oversight Republicans’ Hearing on Judicial Ethics in Defense of CEOs but not American Judiciary Captured by Dark Money Networks 

**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE**

Contact: Emilia.Rowland@mail.house.gov 330.212.2065

Summer Lee Decimates Oversight Republicans’ Hearing on Judicial Ethics in Defense of CEOs but not American Judiciary Captured by Dark Money Networks 

Washington, DC – At today’s Oversight and Accountability Committee Hearing called by Chairman Comer to examine third party litigation, Congresswoman Summer Lee (D-PA-12) scolded Oversight Republicans’ willingness to hold a hearing on judicial ethics only in defense of CEOs –  including one facing liability from their carcinogenic talc powder that caused Black and brown women to develop ovarian cancer –  but never in defense of our democracy against courts captured by dark money networks in the business of selling out Americans’ freedoms in exchange for control of our judiciary. 

 

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In her question line directed at Law Professor and ethics expert Kathleen Clark, Lee told the story dark money’s stranglehold on our nation’s judicial system–from one Nazi-obsessed vacation-funding billionaire decision to begin funding a scheme led by Justice Thomas’ wife to exploit the anticipated outcome of her husband’s 2009 Citizens United ruling to the money trail allowing other billionaire donors networks to influence on the Court’s recent decisions to end Affirmative Action and Block Student Debt Forgiveness, throwing a one-two punch at millions of Black Americans. 

Full transcript below: 

Summer Lee: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.While I’m thrilled with any and all opportunities to talk about  judicial ethics, I also find it very telling that my Republican colleagues only want to discuss it when corporate CEOs  are the so called “victims.”

Not when dark money funded and fueled the overturning of Roe, the rollback on LGBTQ+ protections, the reversal of student loan relief, and the end of race-conscious college admissions.

Not when it was revealed that two of our most right wing Supreme Court Justices – Alito and Thomas – have been bought and paid for by billionaires like Harlan Crow who among other things I’ll get to shortly footed the bill for Justice Thomas’ flights on private jets and lavish vacations. 

And not when these same dark money mega-donors pushed radical, often unqualified judges onto the federal bench, further eroding the legitimacy of our court system.    

We all know that Wealthy right-wing donors have increasingly formed covert operations using money and relationships with powerful people in Washington to support strategic litigation advancing Republican culture-war causes such as ending the acknowledgment of systemic racism in college admissions. 

One of these operations is DonorsTrust,  funded by a largely anonymous group of Republican mega donors, though it has been linked to major right-wing funders such as the Koch brothers and Leonard Leo.

Professor Clark, why do you think dark money organizations such as DonorsTrust want to hide where their money is coming from and do you think that’s ethical?

Professor Clark: Congresswoman Lee, I believe that the record is rife with examples of wealthy trusts and institutions and foundations attempting to exercise influence and also attempting to hide their exercise of influence. 

Because to the degree to which the public knows about it, there can be a backlash against it.

Summer Lee: So throwing a stone and hiding it. 

Professor Clark: There’s, I believe, a long record of that. Thank you.

Summer Lee: According to their 2019 IRS filings, “Students For Fair Admissions”, the organization behind the end of affirmative action, received 65% of their funding from just three mega-donors, including DonorsTrust.

Professor Clark, what are the ethical concerns of dark money groups and do you think the affirmative action and student debt cases ruled on this summer would have made it as far or been as successful without these dark money donors?

Professor Clark: Congresswoman Lee I believe that dark money and hidden financial influences on our political system and on our judicial system can undermine the ability of people at large to exercise their rights to participate. And so, while this is not a matter of legal ethics as such, I think that scrutiny of how hidden large expenditures influence our political system and judicial system is important.

Summer Lee: In the last decade, billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer has contributed over $80 million to Republican political groups. 

Specifically, Singer gifted millions to the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank where he has served as chairman since 2008. The institute regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs with the Supreme Court — at least 15 this term, including one asking the court to block student loan relief.

Singer also gifted a luxury fishing trip to Alaska on a private jet to Supreme Court Justice Alito, who went on to decide the case blocking student loan relief for 40 million Americans including me.

So to sum all this up, back in 2009, as the Supreme Court prepared to decide Citizens United, one Nazi-obsessed vacation-funding billionaire named Harlan Crow began funding Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo’s scheme with Justice Thomas’ wife to exploit the anticipated outcome of her husband’s ruling.  

Their goal was to build a right wing money machine allowing billionaires to fund changes to the judiciary and overturn years of judicial rulings they disagreed with – from abortion and environmental protections to LGBTQ+ rights. 

One of these Leo and Koch-backed dark money operations ‘DonorsTrust’ then became the deep pockets funding the end of affirmative action decided by the Court in July. 

And another billionaire hedge-fund tycoon who flew another Supreme Court Justice to another luxury vacation via another private jet as he gave millions to another conservative thinktank working to block Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan got his way in the cases before the Supreme Court that same day in July, blocking debt relief for 40 million Americans including me. 

Like so many Black Americans, the one-two punch of student loan forgiveness and affirmative action designed to cement this country’s already existing racial wealth gap left me feeling deflated as they punch down so much talent, so much brilliance by shutting  Black students out. It leaves us feeling like we’re running out of options. Like we are powerless against those with endless money and power to rig our legal system to benefit themselves.   

And yet – My Republican colleagues seem far more concerned with protecting Johnson and Johnson’s ability to shield themselves against liability from their carcinogenic talc powder that caused Black and brown women to develop ovarian cancer than protecting the American people against capture of our courts by dark money networks in the business of selling out our freedoms in exchange for control of our judiciary. 

Chief Justice Roberts has said that he doesn’t understand the questions about the Supreme Court’s legitimacy.

But when you lead a court riddled with corruption amid its radical rulings, with Justices who answer to their billionaire sugar daddies and reject any form of oversight it seems pretty obvious to me why American faith in the Court is at an all time low.

 I yield back.

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