Before Its Dissolution In December 2018, The Wellspring Committee Was One Of The “Most Influential” Groups In American Politics Which Funded Leonard Leo’s Efforts To Efforts To Capture The Court System
The Wellspring Committee was one of the most influential conservative dark money groups in American politics until its dissolution in December 2018. As OpenSecrets said in 2019, Wellspring and its operatives “reshaped the way the game is played” and “ushered in a new era of increasingly expensive judicial battles largely fueled by deep-pocketed donors whose identities remain secret.” The group continued to have an outsize influence in judicial battles after its dissolution in 2018 through the “countless dark money groups it helped sire and judges now on the bench thanks in part to its anonymous financiers’ generosity.”
Ann Corkery founded the Wellspring Committee in 2008 and acted as its president while she worked at the law firm Stein Mitchell Cipollone Beato & Missner. She also served as the co-chair of the National Women for Mitt Finance Committee during Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential run.
In 2012, Ann Corkery ousted the other Wellspring board members and installed her daughter and the son of another Leo-ally Michael Casey as board members to replace them. By 2015, Ann was the sole board member. Her husband, Neil Corkery, served as the organization’s president, treasurer, and sole board member from 2016 until the dissolution of Wellspring.
Leonard Leo’s Marble Freedom Trust identifies Neil Corkery as in charge of the organization’s books, according to their 2020 990.
Wagner served as the treasurer of Wellspring from its inception until Ann Corkery ousted him in 2012. After leaving Wellspring, Wagner said “I never saw any financial records. I was treasurer in name only.”
In the 1990s, Wagner served as a vice president at Luntz Research, the firm that advised House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Wagner also founded a public opinion and data analysis firm, where he worked on studies related to Catholic voters.
Wagner later served as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Donald Trump’s Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families.
Klink served as a director of Wellspring until Ann Corkery ousted him in 2012. The Pacific Business Times described Klink as “a longtime high-level Vatican adviser whose anti-abortion views kicked up controversy when George W. Bush nominated him for a State Department position in 2001.”
Prior to his nomination to the State Department in 2001, Klink was a longtime humanitarian worker and UN adviser to the Vatican. Catholic Philly described him as the Vatican’s “chief negotiator” at the UN. He was also a member of the Republican National Committee’s Catholic Taskforce.
Klink’s nomination was clouded by his history of “[passionate arguments] against abortion, the morning-after pill and even using condoms to halt the spread of HIV.” His hardline views ultimately derailed his nomination. However, by 2003, Klink had joined the U.S. UN delegation as it pushed anti-abortion policies at UN conferences.
Klink served as the president of the Catholic Migration Commission from 2006 to 2014. He currently serves as the president emeritus of The International Catholic Migration Commission, and also serves on the Pontifical Council for Family Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Kathleen Corkery is the daughter of Ann and Neil Corkery. She was installed at Wellspring in 2012 as a part of a reported internal power struggle. By 2015, Kathleen had been removed from the board resulting in Ann serving as its sole member.
Michael Casey was installed at Wellspring in 2012 as a part of a reported internal power struggle. Michael Casey is the son of “veteran GOP operative” and Leonard Leo ally Daniel Casey.
In 2017, Daniel Casey was listed as president of the 85 Fund, which became the main fundraiser for Leo’s network after Wellspring sunsetted. He was also the president of Judicial Crisis Network in 2019. The Washington Post reported that Casey received no pay from these nonprofits, though he received more than $1.5 million in fees through a firm called DC Strategies from the Leo-connected Federalist Society over nine years.
By 2015, Michael Casey had been removed from the board resulting in Ann serving as its sole member.
Wellspring, as other Leo-affiliated groups such as the Judicial Crisis Network and The Federalist Society, was launched with support from the “California foreclosure king” Robin Arkley II. Arkley was one of the first major donors to throw his support behind Ann Corkery.
Arkley was an ally of billionaire libertarian brothers Charles and David Koch, and helped introduce Corkery to the Koch Network writ large – inviting her to fundraisers and events. Wellspring reportedly received “early and substantial funding from Charles Koch’s network of billionaires,” according to True North Research. A book by New York Times journalist, Kenneth Vogel, reported that Wellspring raised $10 million from attendees at Koch fundraising seminars shortly after it launched.
According to OpenSecrets, Ann Corkery’s Koch ties frayed after the 2008 election and Arkley, the real estate mogul, was in poor financial straits following the 2008 housing crisis. Corkery then courted other funders to fill the void, such as John Templeton Jr., of the right-wing Christian group The John Templeton Foundation, and billionaire Republican mega-donor Paul Singer.
According to True North Research, Wellspring received $68.3 million from undisclosed sources between 2014 and 2018.
Following Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016, Wellspring raised $28.4 million from a single unknown donor.
McClatchy DC reported that despite his lack of an official role within the group, Leo himself played a key role in fundraising for Wellspring.
The amounts shown here are lifetime donations from Wellspring to other organizations. In addition to these groups, Wellspring funded numerous other Republican groups and efforts to change state court systems. See the appendix for a list of all grantees.
Judicial Crisis Network is the lynchpin of conservative activist Leonard Leo’s efforts to capture the court system and has led campaigns that resulted in the confirmation of five Supreme Court justices. Of the $86.9 million Wellspring gave away throughout its existence, 62% went to Judicial Crisis Network.
The Catholic Association is an advocacy organization. Its mission states that it “is working full time to protect our God-given right – protected by the U.S. Constitution – to practice our faith free of government coercion and control.” It was called a right-wing organization by the National Catholic Reporter.
Americans for Job Security (AFJS) is a powerful Republican dark money group with connections to mega donors and key individuals who went on to serve in the Trump Administration. According to Rolling Stone, AFJS spent $5 million in 2010 to “elect dozens of new House Republicans,” $15 million in 2012 to defeat Obama, and “tens of millions” more on state-level causes “including to fund the opposition to two 2012 California ballot measures to raise taxes on the very rich and weaken labor unions.” The group is now defunct.
The Annual Fund is a “dark money group” set up by the Corkerys with startup funding from Wellspring. It funded many groups also supported by Wellspring. It notably received funding from PHrMA, a pharmaceutical lobbying group.
Illinois Policy Action is the electioneering arm of conservative think tank The Illinois Policy Institute and was launched in 2013. ProPublica called the Illinois Policy Institute “arguably the most influential conservative organization in the state.” The Chicago Sun-Times said that the Illinois Policy Institute was a major player in “a crusade against government regulations, state spending and labor unions in Illinois.”
The American Future Fund is a conservative 501(c)(4) operation. It has been linked to the Koch brothers. The group funneled millions to Republican campaigns in the 2000s and 2010s.
The BH Group is a mysterious public relations firm connected to Leonard Leo that was set up by longtime Republican lawyers in 2016.
American For Prosperity is a major political arm of the Koch Brothers’ political network. The group was key to the rise of the Tea Party movement, supported anti-labor policies, and opposed Obama’s 2012 reelection. The Guardian said that Americans for Prosperity aimed to “permanently weaken the organizations that support liberal candidates and causes – and above all, the labor movement.”
Right Change is a now-defunct electoral group that supported major Republican candidates. It was founded by pharmaceutical entrepreneur Fred Eshelman. According to the Sunlight Foundation, Right Change was a major player in the 2010 midterms that coincided with the rise of the Tea Party movement. Wellspring’s donations to Right Change came in 2009 and 2010.
American Majority is a right-wing incubation group based out of Wisconsin that trains conservative activists and political candidates in social media, messaging, and other aspects of campaigning. The organization was founded in 2008 alongside its 501(c)(4) counterpart American Majority Action, and is closely linked with the Tea Party movement.
Also known as Better Courts For Missouri, Missourians for Better Courts aimed to fundamentally alter the judicial nomination process in Missouri. The group sought to replace the existing system for state appeals courts, where special judicial nominating committees develop a list of nominees for the governor’s consideration, with one that resembled the Federal system, where the governor could nominate any individual who would then require Senate confirmation. Supporters of the existing Missouri system claimed it made the process less political, while Missourians For Better Courts called for more lay people on the bench.
Creative Response Concepts is a consulting and public relations firm helmed by longtime Leonard Leo associate Greg Mueller. Former Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway described Creative Response Concepts as “the most consequential people you’ve never heard of.”
Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) is one of the most influential anti-abortion groups in America. SBA List was founded in the early 1990s (a decade that saw a dramatic spike in anti-abortion violence) in explicit backlash to the success of pro-abortion candidates supported by EMILY’s List. From 1996 to 2009, SBA List outspent leading pro-abortion rights groups in nearly every election cycle. The group was a key ally to Donald Trump’s campaigns and administration.
The Telegraph called SBA List an “increasingly influential and hardline campaign group” that aimed to make abortion a central political issue. The group opposes many forms of birth control. It supports “requiring women who need an abortion to get an unnecessary, invasive transvaginal ultrasound” which aim to dissuade women from seeking abortions.
The SBA List Education Fund, also known as the Charlotte Lozier Institute, was founded as the “anti-abortion counter” to the Guttmacher Institute, a leading think tank on sexual and reproductive health.
The 45Commitee is a “pro-Trump nonprofit organization” founded in 2015 and “primarily funded” by Sheldon Adelson and TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts. The group spent millions to support Donald Trump’s candidacy and back his cabinet appointees.
The 45Committee is a notable funder of the Judicial Crisis Network. In 2016, the 45Committee gave JCN $200,000, and in 2018, the 45Committee gave JCN $3,000,000.
The Federalist Society is an organization for libertarian and conservative lawyers and judges and is considered one of America’s most influential legal groups. It is strongly associated with the longtime leadership of Leonard Leo – even if that leadership is often informal.
The Federalist Society was founded in the 1980s as a backlash to a perceived “liberal dominance” in legal studies. Since then, it has grown into a massive operation. It has ties to the last five Supreme Court nominees appointed by Republican presidents, and its membership includes numerous individuals who were instrumental to the events on January 6th, 2021.
The Washington Post Magazine claimed the potential ramifications of the Federalist Society’s legal and judicial philosophy “could mean fewer regulations of the environment and health care, more businesses allowed to refuse service to customers on religious grounds, and denial of protections claimed by newly vocal classes of minorities, such as transgender people.”
National Right to Life Committee claims to be the “oldest and largest” grassroots, anti-abortion organization. The Committee has affiliates in 50 states, thousands of local chapters, and “hundreds of thousands” of members. The Committee pushes model legislation at both the federal and state level to restrict abortion access. It has played an outsize role in the anti-abortion movement by:
Wisconsin Club for Growth, also known as Club For Growth Wisconsin, is the Wisconsin arm of the conservative campaign coalition Club for Growth. Club For Growth Wisconsin was a major spender during the 2012 efforts to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and other key Wisconsin Republicans. Wellspring gave Wisconsin Club For Growth $400,000 in 2011.
Shortly after these elections, a criminal probe was launched into Walker and members of Club For Growth Wisconsin for illegal campaign coordination. The matter eventually went before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, but only after The Wisconsin Club For Growth had spent nearly $400,000 in Wisconsin Supreme Court elections – ensuring a conservative majority. The court ruled there was no instance of wrongdoing in 2015.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court was key to securing Republican Governor Scott Walker’s agenda – upholding laws focused on weakening collective bargaining and creating obstacles to voting.
The Bradley Impact Fund was created in 2012 as a donor-advised fund affiliated with the right-wing megadonor group Bradley Foundation. Its creation allowed individuals to donate to the Impact Fund and then recommend where that money should go in the form of grants. The Impact Fund’s supporters include corporate donors such as ABC Supply Co., Boelter Companies, and Brandon Golf Courses.
Since its inception, the Bradley Foundation and the Impact Fund have given away more than $1 billion, much of it to conservative causes related to civil rights, voting rights, welfare reform, education reform, climate change, and undermining organized labor, among other issue areas.
The 85 Fund (formerly known as the Judicial Education Project) is a 501(c)(3) organization that operates within a network of conservative nonprofits aiming to influence the federal judiciary and American political system more broadly. The 85 Fund was founded in 2011 by prominent Republican operatives and is closely tied to its sister organization, the Judicial Crisis Network, and Trump judicial advisor and conservative legal activist Leonard Leo.
Leonard Leo was “widely known as a confidant to Trump” and served as Trump’s Supreme Court Advisor during the nominations of Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Neil Gorsuch.
Leo has been called “arguably the most powerful figure in the federal justice system” with his “network of interlocking nonprofits” that aggressively support conservative judges.
Leo has personal and professional ties to Justice Clarence Thomas, who is an original faculty member of the Federalist Society and a frequent speaker at the organization’s events.
Judicial Crisis Network is the lynchpin of Leonard Leo’s efforts to put conservative judges on the bench. The group has led successful campaigns to nominate and confirm five Supreme Court justices. JCN is the public face of Leonard Leo’s “network of interlocking nonprofits” that aggressively supports conservative judges. Along with its dark money sister organization, the 85 Fund (FKA the Judicial Education Project), JCN’s shadow empire has allowed Leo to meet and “cultivate almost every important Republican lawyer in more than a generation.”
Wellspring was the Judicial Crisis Network’s (JCN) primary funding source until it went defunct. Wellspring supplied the majority of the funding for the Judicial Crisis Network, which is the public-facing arm of Leo’s network to influence the Supreme Court. Over 90% of Judicial Crisis Network’s funding between 2008 and 2018 came from Wellspring, funding the campaigns to confirm Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, as well as block Merrick Garland’s nomination.
The groups were also connected through Wellspring’s founder, Ann Corkery, who helped launch JCN, and Neil Corkery, who served as president of the 85 Fund. Additionally, the Washington Post reported that JCN’s tax filings show the organization was headquartered at the home of Ann and Neil Corkery.
Charles and his late brother David Koch, better known as the Koch Brothers, are wealthy libertarian mega-donors known for their outsized role in shaping the contemporary conservative movement, and American politics generally. Rolling Stone called them “homegrown oligarchs” and the New York Times said that by spending “almost unlimited money,” the Kochs built “a political apparatus that, at its peak, rivaled the Republican Party itself.”
As reported by The Guardian, key members of the Koch network recognized that it “would need to permanently weaken the organizations that support liberal candidates and causes – and above all, the labor movement” in their pursuit of a “limited government and libertarian politics, They are well-known power players and key funders of the U.S. conservative political ecosystem, bankrolling organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN).
The Kochs made billions from their inherited stakes in Koch Industries, which creates products ranging from crude oil and fertilizer to Dixie cups and Quilted toilet paper. Charles and David’s father, Fred Koch, was a founding member of the John Birch Society, a far-right organization known for its fringe views – including claims that Dwight D. Eisenhower was under secret communist control. Charles Koch was an active member of the John Birch Society and fundraised for the society during the height of its attacks on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Kochs’ influence on the American right has slightly waned as Donald Trump, who dismissed the Kochs as a “total joke,” became the figurehead of the conservative movement. Despite this shift in influence, Charles Koch still plays a major role in American politics. In 2021 he notably coordinated efforts to block efforts to expand voting rights and protect American elections in the wake of the attempted insurrection.
This appendix lists every group that received donations from Wellspring during its existence from 2008 to 2018 and the total amount those groups received. This data is sourced from Wellspring’s IRS form 990s.
|Judicial Crisis Network||$54,169,995|
|Americans For Job Security||$2,951,922|
|Illinois Policy Action||$2,500,000|
|American Future Fund||$2,492,457|
|Americans For Prosperity||$1,651,811|
|Susan B. Anthony’s List & SBA List Education Fund||$1,003,278|
|Missourians For Better Courts||$930,000|
|Creative Response Concepts||$765,000|
|Common Sense VA PAC||$719,193|
|American Energy Alliance||$604,000|
|National Right To Life Committee||$542,000|
|IL Manufacturers Association||$500,000|
|People United For Privacy||$500,000|
|Opportunity Solutions Corporation||$500,000|
|Wisconsin Club For Growth||$400,000|
|Citizens For The Republic||$360,000|
|American Dream Initiative||$350,000|
|Louisiana Conservative Action Network||$312,000|
|American Action Network||$305,500|
|Faith and Freedom Coalition||$250,000|
|1st Amendment Alliance Ed||$250,000|
|Winning For Women||$250,000|
|American Conservative Union||$240,000|
|Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce||$200,000|
|Judicial Education Project||$186,000|
|Missouri Retailers Association||$140,000|
|American Justice Partnership||$125,000|
|Michigan Chamber of Commerce||$125,000|
|Veterans Against The Deal||$120,000|
|AL Civil Justice Reform Committee||$100,000|
|State Government Leadership Foundation||$100,000|
|Bradley Impact Fund||$100,000|
|Emergency Committee for Israel||$100,000|
|AL Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse||$85,000|
|United in Purpose Education||$75,000|
|Stop Lawsuit Abuse||$50,000|
|Common Sense Issue Coalition||$50,000|
|Concerned Women For America Legislative Action Committee||$50,000|
|Lincoln Labs Action||$50,000|
|Washington Free Beacon||$50,000|
|American Opportunity Alliance||$50,000|
|AMC Annual Fund||$48,000|
|Rule of Law Project||$40,000|
|The Adam Smith Foundation||$40,000|
|Citizens for Traditional Values||$30,000|
|Let Freedom Ring||$25,000|
|Club for Growth||$25,000|
|Adam Smith Foundation||$25,000|
|North Carolina Chamber of Commerce||$25,000|
|Arizona Public Integrity Alliance||$15,000|
|Judicial Reform Coalition||$12,500|
|Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch||$10,000|
|Louisiana Citizens for Action Now||$10,000|
|United and Strong America||$10,000|
|Wedgewood Circle Institute||$5,000|
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