Wellspring, defined: An original and bountiful source of something
Something, indeed. After looking into all of the different right wing 501(c)(4) organizations and their associations, it’s easy to see the metaphor of a tree with many branches. If the trunk represents the right wing as a whole, then each major limb of the tree represents a different set of affiliations under the overall right wing umbrella.
The Wellspring Committee, Inc. is a large limb on that tree, created to support the anti-gay, anti-woman, religious right Reaganites alongside pet agendas of other contributing billionaires. Despite the lofty language Wellspring used to describe its activities, the dictionary definition of their purpose is more apt: An original and bountiful source of money.
Who is Wellspring Committee?
Wellspring Committee (WCI) sprang to life in the waning days of the George W. Bush era in February, 2008. It is perhaps not a coincidence that its birth also coincided with the efforts of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and other groups to push California’s Proposition 8 onto the November ballot, too. In fact, the president of WCI, Ann Corkery, is the spouse of Neil Corkery, who was the President of NOM in 2008 and now serves as Treasurer. Neil Corkery now serves as CFO of a group called the Wedgwood Circle, founded by Comcast mogul Phil Anschutz, Rick Perry bundler George Seay III, and many more. (See bios here).
Neil Corkery says in his bio that he “runs a financial consulting firm specializing in assisting non-profit organizations.” Well, there’s a convenient place to find oneself: at the crossroads of nonprofits and billionaires aching to buy their governments.
Ann Corkery served as a finance vice chair for Mitt Romney’s first Presidential bid in 2008 and is employed by Security National Servicing Corporation as “Director of Philanthropy”. Security National appears to specialize in lender-owned properties. I’m guessing they snag these properties at a song, keep them out of foreclosure and sell them at a profit. What philanthropy has to do with it is anyone’s guess, but that’s what Ms. Corkery does. She is uniquely positioned, as is her husband.
As you review Wellspring’s acts of charity, you see tinges of Koch, DeVos, and mainline Republican fingerprints all over it. Clearly it’s a major pipeline channel for right-wing organizations desperately in need of their billionaires’ support.
Who does Wellspring Committee Support?
As it turns out, they’re a pretty generous lot. Lucky recipients for 2010 included:
- American Majority: $1,020,125 Lots of grassroots to be had for the low, low price of a million.
- The Annual Fund: $2,450,000 This organization came into being on September 1, 2010 in time for the midterm elections, and closed its first year on September 30, 2011. This grant by WCI represents nearly all of its first-year income. It then turned and distributed nearly $1.5 million to Right Change in North Carolina, a group founded by Pharma King Fred Eshelman. RightChange targeted Patty Murray, Charlie Crist, Harry Reid and Michael Bennet in the 2010 midterms.
$500,000 was also distributed by The Annual Fund to FreedomVote, Inc, an Ohio-based 501c4. FreedomVote’s mailing address is a FedEx/Kinkos in Dayton now, but the originally reported address went to a Republican PR guy and Boehner crony by the name of Thomas Whatman, who also manages Boehner’s PAC, Freedom Project. How that $500,000 was used, I do not know. They have a bare-bones website and little else. I found no records of independent expenditures with the FEC, and so it remains a mystery for now.
Finally, The Annual Fund gave $475,000 to a group called Citizens for the Republic, which is yet another 501c4 organization launched by old-timer Reaganites and headed up by Craigan Shirley, of Shirley and Bannister lobbying fame.
Other smaller grant recipients include Independent Women’s Voice, where Heather Higgins is the Executive Director and was part of the bizarre James O’Keefe email loop regarding a conspiracy to frame the SEIU and undermine their get out the vote effort, and Enterprise Washington, which is a trade association group of businessmen in Washington state.
One large grant grew many offshoots, didn’t it?
- Citizens for the Republic – $360,000 This donation was in addition to the $475,000 passed through via The Annual Fund, and is one of the strongest indications that these organizations are used as conduits by groups of like-minded right-wingers.
- Faith and Freedom Coalition – $250,000 Ralph Reed’s newest incarnation of the Christian Coalition.
- Franklin Center – $160,000 The Koch-funded propaganda apparatus operating out of Wisconsin
- Freedom Vote – Oh, look! Another $200,000 into a black hole of non-accountability.
- Federalist Society – $200,000
- RightChange – $900,000 – A companion contribution to the $1.5 million funneled through The Annual Fund
- Illinois Manufacturing Association – $500,000 I’m curious as to whether this group sponsored ads supporting crazy deadbeat dad Joe Walsh.
- Judicial Crisis Network – $350,000 – Don’t be fooled by the name. It’s a group formed to undermine democracy wherever it can. President Gary Marx is a long time associate of Ralph Reed. In their first reporting year of July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010, they boast of spending nearly $800,000 to “[advocate] for the importance of judicial restraint in the debate over the 2010 hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee. It also became heavily involved in state supreme court nominations.” The SCOTUS nominee mentioned had to be Elena Kagan. I suppose they’re the ones who started the rumor that she’s gay, too. That would explain part of their opposition to her nomination since they’re a bunch of homophobes over that way.
- Better Courts For Missouri – $850,000 It seems right-wingers don’t like elected judges very much, so they have been campaigning since 2008 to shift that over to the governor’s office. Unfortunately, lawyers don’t like it either, and this group failed to get the required signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot. That hasn’t stopped this group from pouring thousands into the state to unleash a huge propaganda campaign against “George Soros judges.”
- Michigan Chamber of Commerce – $125,000 In 2010, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce was one of the preferred money laundering conduits for state races. Millions flowed through them and out to other states and candidates. Looks like this organization was a minor contributor.
In 2009, Wellspring was more or less dormant. A few small grants went out to Missourians for Better Courts, the Know Campaign, and around $111,000 was paid out for “citizen outreach regarding state level issues and policies.” I’m guessing that was the beginning of the astroturf anti-health care reform effort, or maybe just general muckraking.
But in 2008, Wellspring was flowing like a river after a month of rain. You’re starting to see the pattern here, right? Nothing much happens in the out years, but in those even years, boy howdy, they get busy. Here are but a few of their 2008 projects:
- Americans For Job Security: $2,605,824
- Americans for Prosperity: $2,000,000
- American Energy Alliance: $509,000
- Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Association: $200,000
- American Future Fund: $367,500
- National Right to Life Committee: $542,000
- Susan B Anthony List: $753,000
- Louisiana Conservative Action Network: $312,000
You get the idea. WCI received a total of $10 million and change in grants, and flowed through about $7.3 in grants to other organizations. Of course, by serving as the conduit, the other organizations can disclose their donors without actually disclosing their donors. That leaves anyone who is interested simply guessing who the donors might be.
Call me cynical, but Ralph Reed’s close ties to organizations receiving these conduit funds makes me feel like we’re getting dangerously close to a more sophisticated operation that looks a lot like Jack Abramoff’s past handiwork. I’m not sure anyone who was that close to that many millions and escaped any punishment isn’t capable of reconstituting his money train yet again, using tax-exempt organizations and a desperate right wing to move him up prosperity road.
Make a note: The Wellspring Committee is one of several major players in the right wing network. Each has their function, and all the billionaires do is choose from the menu of organizations to use for the laundering operation, which is why I will continue to write these long, detailed, link-laden posts about them. Because even if you don’t care much now, you will the next time one of these groups tries to shove their right wing candidates, agendas, judges, or news themes in your face.