New Investigation Reveals Corporate Interests Have Been Quietly Influencing Federally Appointed Judges
Leave it to the Koch brothers to find a perfectly legal way to buy influence with federally appointed judges. The billionaire siblings are already well-established in their gluttonous abuse of lax campaign finance laws under Citizens United — pulling the strings of elected judges, but they’ve also been quietly greasing the palms of appointed judges too.
The Center for Public Integrity released a report on March 28th that details the results of their investigation into the corporate exploitation of a loophole found in The Code of Conduct for United States Judges. In that code, we find canon 4D(4) which refers to the Judicial Conference Gift Regulations which states that the following type of “gift” is allowable under the law, if it:
“…consists of an invitation and travel expenses, including the cost of transportation, lodging, and meals for the officer or employee and a family member to attend a bar-related function, an educational activity, or an activity devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.”
Translation: Training seminars, and plenty of them, with titles like “The Moral Foundations of Capitalism”, “Corporations and the Limits of Criminal Law”, Terrorism, Climate & Central Planning: Challenges to Liberty and the Rule of the Law”, and “Criminalization of Corporate Conduct”.
Sound like fun? Well, apparently 185 federal judges thought so. Fully 11 percent of these appointed members of the judiciary felt compelled to be wined, dined and “educated” in these classes, among the other 100 such seminars sponsored by corporate interests between 2008 and 2012.
Most seminars were paid for by multiple benefactors, but some sponsors were more enthusiatic than others. The Charles G. Koch Charitable Trust Foundation, The Searle Freedom Trust, ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, Pfizer, and State Farm Insurance all stepped-up to fund, or co-fund, 54 seminars each. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Dow Chemical, AT&T, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce similarly shelled-out for around 50 learning experiences for our federal judges. Many of these seminars were held at George Mason University, who coincidentally recently received a $4.4 million donation from the Koch brothers.
Judicial impropriety, or just the appearance thereof?
For disallowed behaviors, the judicial code of conduct does not make a significant distinction between the two because their net result is the same: a public diminution of respect for the judiciary. But, since this activity is permissible, judges are fair game for corporate interests — and, boy do they ever know it.
Federal Judge E. Grady Jolly, of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, attended the 2009 seminar, “Criminalization of Corporate Behavior”, sponsored by American Petroleum and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The judge later went on to rule against the EPA in a suit where the plaintiffs were (you guessed it) American Petroleum and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
U.S. District Court Judge Carl J. Barber also attended that 2009 seminar, and went on to dismiss a strong wrongful death case against ExxonMobil and Chevron USA — both corporations were also co-sponsors of the seminar. This judge has recently been assigned the BP Deepwater Horizon case. He will decide if the oil company owes the U.S. billions in fines from the 2010 blow-out which killed 11, and damaged the gulf coast environment and economy for untold years and in yet undiscovered ways.
Amy Kerr Hardin This article also appears in Voters Legislative Transparency Project