September 21, 2018

Who Kavanaugh is Really For: Big Corporations

Who Kavanaugh is Really For: Big Corporations

Brett Kavanaugh now faces a credible charge of sexual assault, as well as powerful evidence that he repeatedly lied to the Senate to conceal, among other bad deeds, his improper use of stolen documents as a Bush White House aide. Even religious conservatives and others at the grassroots who have supported Kavanaugh should take this moment to reconsider whether this particularly nominee is worth fighting for. Because, although as a Supreme Court justice Kavanaugh might well vote to advance the social conservative agenda, his real specialty as a judge has been supporting large corporations and harming the interests of American workers and consumers. And the millions of dollars supporting his candidacy are coming from a network of Washington lobbyists and big business interests.

Here are some of the key figures in the corporate special interest network that’s aiming to put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court:

C. Boyden Gray is the D.C. swamp personified. He’s a corporate lobbyist who was the White House counsel under President George H.W. Bush. He has been a central player in pushing GOP judicial nominees for decades, while also serving the interests of some of America’s wealthiest corporations. Gray published an essay this month arguing that Kavanaugh should be confirmed in part because he will protect the rights of small businesses over those of big business and big government. But the argument hardly seems credible coming from Gray, whose own business is based on trading on the relationships he developed as a top Washington insider to advance the interests of clients in the oil and chemical industries and other monied special interests.

Gray, a wealthy heir to the R.J. Reynolds tobacco fortune, has served on the board of the corporate-backed legal group the Federalist Society as well as of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a business group that was founded by the billionaire oil and chemical industry Koch brothers and later morphed into the Koch advocacy mega-operation Americans for Prosperity. Gray invited President Trump to his fancy Georgetown home earlier this year for a dinner with wealthy Republican donors, including other lobbyists and oil and banking executives, as part of efforts to raise $100 million this year, mostly in big donations, to support Trump and GOP candidates.

The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) is the conservative advocacy group that is leading a multi-million dollar public campaign, with heavy TV advertising, to confirm Kavanaugh. JCN is guided by Leonard Leo, who is also the executive vice president of the Federalist Society, and the man who has Trump’s ear when it comes to picking judges. The “dark money” JCN doesn’t reveal its donors, but it’s tied to the political network of the Koch brothers, Boyden Gray, and mysterious wealthy contributors. JCN was launched with seed money from real estate magnate Robin Arkley II — who has made big money foreclosing on the homes of working people.

Jon Kyl was, until recently, a lobbyist at the DC mega law firm Covington & Burling, which has represented big tobacco’s Philip Morris, oil giant BP, retailer Wal-mart, energy and construction titan Halliburton, and other big corporations. Last year, the Judicial Crisis Network paid Kyl, who had been a U.S. senator from Arizona, to push the nomination of Trump’s previous Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch. The Trump administration this year hired Kyl to shepherd the Kavanaugh nomination, a role that ended when Arizona’s governor tapped Kyl to return to the Senate to take John McCain’s seat and, presumably, to vote to confirm Kavanaugh for the high court.

Lisa Blatt wrote an article last month entitled, “I’m a Liberal Feminist Lawyer. Here’s Why Democrats Should Support Judge Kavanaugh,” and she introduced Kavanaugh at his Senate hearing. Each time, in vouching for Kavanaugh as a person of integrity and empathy, Blatt stressed her liberal credentials as well as her impressive background as a lawyer who has argued before the Supreme Court more times than any other woman. What Blatt failed to explain is that she’s a partner at the big DC corporate law firm Arnold & Porter, where she represents giant tobacco and pharmaceutical interests seeking to defeat claims by workers and consumers.

We haven’t heard from the feminist Blatt in the wake of Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her during high school, but a group of D.C. Republican women have spoken out on his behalf. As Politico reports, there are a lot of lobbyists for big corporations, like Dow Chemical and Citigroup, in this band of women for Kavanaugh.

The Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) is running a “Confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh!” campaign on its website. State attorneys general frequently represent their states before the U.S. Supreme Court, and the concept of a group of them lobbying for their own Supreme Court justice is ethically concerning. But it’s worse when you consider that RAGA’s activities are funded by big corporations. RAGA’s biggest donor — providing $2.9 million in 2017 and $1.7 million already in 2018 — is the Judicial Crisis Network. It also gets money from numerous large corporations including Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Monsanto, Facebook, Altria, Coca Cola, Wal-Mart, Mastercard, Johnson and Johnson, UPS, and Murray Energy, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association (RAGA’s second largest donor in 2017).

The Ethics and Public Policy Center is a Washington think tank whose president, Edward Whelan, briefly shook up the Kavanaugh debate Thursday night when he played Twitter Sherlock Holmes and accused a Kavanaugh classmate by name as the possible assaulter — only to delete his thread and apologize the next morning for “an appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment.” Whelan is a close friend of Leonard Leo and of Brett Kavanaugh, with whom he worked in the George W. Bush White House. In devising this Twitter rollout, Whelan was advised by the big DC PR firm CRC Public Relations; CRC’s clients include the Judicial Crisis Network ($3 million from JCN to CRC in 2016), the Federalist Society, and the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity, as well as corporations including Chevron, Visa, and Microsoft. [UPDATE 09-22-18 11:30 am: Garrett Ventry, a Grassley Judiciary Committee communications aide on leave from CRC, resigned this morning after it was reported that he left his previous job amid a charge of sexual harassment.] The Ethics and Public Policy Center has received funding from the family foundations of the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers as well as other wealthy interests.

Why are all these corporations and swampy DC lobbyists fighting so hard for Brett Kavanaugh? They have important interests, every year, in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court — cases that decide whether companies can bust unions and discriminate against workers, whether banks must treat customers honestly, whether companies must treat investors fairly, whether big tech companies can charge tolls to use the Internet and can spy on customers, whether predatory for-profit colleges can get away with deceiving students, whether makers of defective products and dangerous pharmaceutical can get away with harming consumers, and whether companies can create monopolies that allow them to control markets and jack up prices.

While a range of Americans are focused on the impact of a five-justice conservative bloc on issues like civil rights, reproductive choice, and other political values, perhaps the most powerful and unifying feature of such a bloc would be its deference to the interests of big business over workers and consumers.

Brett Kavanaugh’s record as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit shows that he has usually sided with big business interests — like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, the American Petroleum Institute — in cases involving protection of labor, consumers, health, safety, and the environment.

That’s why big money and big corporations want so badly to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, despite enormous questions about his honesty and integrity.