Last night, the American Spectator — a right-wing magazine known for its role in the “Arkansas Project,” a well-funded effort to invent stories with the goal of eventually impeaching President Clinton — held its annual gala fundraising event. The Spectator is more than merely an ideological outlet. Spectator publisher Al Regnery helps lead a secretive group of conservatives called the “Conservative Action Project,” formed after President Obama’s election, to help lobby for conservative legislative priorities, elect Republicans (the Conservative Action Project helped campaign against Democrat Bill Owens in NY-23), and block President Obama’s judicial appointments. The Spectator’s gala last night, with ticket prices/sponsorship levels ranging from $250 to $25,000, featured prominent Republicans like RNC chairman Michael Steele, hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer (a major donor to Republican campaign committees and attack ad groups), and U.S. Chamber of Commerce board member and former Allied Capital CEO William Walton. Among the attendees toasting Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the keynote speaker for the event, was Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito.
It’s not the first time Alito has attended the Spectator dinner. In 2008, Alito headlined the Spectator’s annual gala, helping to raise tens of thousands of dollars for the political magazine. According to Jay Homnick, a conservative who attended the 2008 Spectator gala, Alito spent much of his speech ripping then Vice President-elect Joe Biden as a serial plagiarizer.
As Alito entered the event last night, I approached the Justice and asked him why he thought it appropriate to attend a highly political fundraiser with the chairman of the Republican Party, given Alito’s position on the court. Alito appeared baffled, and replied, “it’s not important that I’m here.” “But,” I said, “you also helped headline this same event two years ago, obviously helping to raise political money as the keynote.” Alito replied curtly, “it’s not important,” before walking away from me.
After the gala, I again tried to approach Justice Alito — this time, with a video camera in hand — to ask him about the ethical issues raised by his right-wing political fundraising. Before I could come close to him, his security guards threatened me with arrest. Watch it:
Apparently, Alito is a regular benefactor for highly political conservative fundraisers. Last year, he headlined the fundraising dinner for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) — the same corporate front that funded the rise of Republican dirty trickster James O’Keefe and anti-masturbation activist Christine O’Donnell. According to the sponsorship levels for the event, Alito helped ISI raise $70,000 or more.
Documents exposed by ThinkProgress last month revealed that Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas have also attended secret political fundraisers. We published a memo detailing fundraising events, organized by oil billionaires David and Charles Koch, to fund Republican campaigns, judicial elections, and groups running ads in the 2010 midterm election. The fundraisers, attended by some of the nation’s wealthiest bankers, industrialists, and other executives, help fund much of the conservative infrastructure. The memo stated the Thomas and Alito were past participants of the Koch fundraisers. Ian Millhiser, ThinkProgress’ resident legal expert, noted:
A Supreme Court justice lending a hand to a political fundraising event would be a clear violation of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, if it wasn’t for the fact that the nine justices have exempted themselves from much of the ethical rules governing all other federal judges. Nevertheless, a spokesperson for the Supreme Court tells ThinkProgress that “[t]he Justices look to the Code of Conduct for guidance” in determining when they may participate in fundraising activities.
That Code provides that in almost all circumstances, “a judge should not personally participate in fund-raising activities, solicit funds for any organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for that purpose. A judge should not personally participate in membership solicitation if the solicitation might reasonably be perceived as coercive or is essentially a fund-raising mechanism.”
While justices like Alito, Thomas, and Scalia have actively participated in highly political pro-Republican fundraisers, their rulings are increasingly in favor of the corporate right. Last month, a new study found that the Supreme Court has lurched to the far, corporate right in recent years. It found that a “cohesive” conservative majority of Justices Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Scalia and Kennedy favored the position of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest big business lobby, over 80% of the time.