Jane Mayer is a brilliant and meticulous journalist for The New Yorker. She is the nation’s leading expert on “Dark Money,” the money funneled into politics whose donors are anonymous. In this article, she details the group that was behind the effort to derail the Supreme Court nomination of the highly-qualified Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. The smear campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, because it was built on lies and distortions, and the attacks foundered in the face of Judge Jackson’s poise, demeanor, and temperament.

Formed in 2020, the group is called The American Accountability Foundation. It is registered as a tax-exempt charitable organization (like the odious ALEC), but is up-to-its-eyeballs in negative political activism. Its goal appears to be to block all Biden nominees with smear campaigns, lies, and distortions of their record and their views.

She writes:

While the hearings were taking place, the A.A.F. publicly took credit for uncovering a note in the Harvard Law Review in which, they claimed, Jackson had “argued that America’s judicial system is too hard on sexual offenders.” The group also tweeted that she had a “soft-on-sex-offender” record during her eight years as a judge on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. As the Washington Post and other outlets stated, Jackson’s sentencing history on such cases was well within the judicial mainstream, and in line with a half-dozen judges appointed by the Trump Administration. When Jackson defended herself on this point during the hearings, the A.A.F. said, on Twitter, that she was “lying.” The group’s allegation—reminiscent of the QAnon conspiracy, which claims that liberal élites are abusing and trafficking children—rippled through conservative circles. Tucker Carlson repeated the accusation on his Fox News program while a chyron declared “jackson lenient in child sex cases.” Marjorie Taylor Greene, the extremist representative from Georgia, called Jackson “pro-pedophile.”

Their attack on Judge Jackson failed, but Mayer shows that they have slimed other well-qualified nominees, leaving key positions unfilled. she calls AAF “the slime machine.”

Among the nominees the group boasts of having successfully derailed are Saule Omarova, a nominee for Comptroller of the Currency, and Sarah Bloom Raskin, whom Biden named to be the vice-chair for supervision of the Federal Reserve Board. David Chipman, whom the President wanted to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and David Weil, Biden’s choice for the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor, both saw their nominations founder in the wake of A.A.F. attacks. Currently, the group is waging a negative campaign against Lisa Cook, who, if confirmed, would become the first Black woman to serve on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors.

Tom Jones, the A.A.F.’s founder and executive director, is a longtime Beltway operative specializing in opposition research. Records show that over the years he has worked for several of the most conservative Republicans to have served in the Senate, including Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin; Ted Cruz, of Texas; Jim DeMint, of South Carolina; and John Ensign, of Nevada, for whom Jones was briefly a legislative director. In 2016, Jones ran the opposition-research effort for Cruz’s failed Presidential campaign. When I asked Jones for an interview, through the A.A.F.’s online portal, he replied, “Ms. Meyers . . . Go pound sand.” Citing an article that I had written debunking attacks on Bloom Raskin from moneyed interests, including the A.A.F., he said, “You are a liberal hack masquerading as an investigative journalist—and not a very good one.” Jones subsequently posted this comment on his group’s Twitter account, along with my e-mail address and cell-phone number…

Mayer describes vicious A.A.F. campaigns against Biden nominees, most of whom were women or people of color. one such was the sliming of Lisa Cook.

Mayer writes:

Liberal and conservative political groups habitually scrutinize a prominent nominee’s record or personal life in search of disqualifying faults. But the A.A.F. has taken the practice to extremes, repeatedly spinning negligible tidbits or dubious hearsay into damning narratives. The group recently deployed its unorthodox methods, Politico has reported, while “desperately pursuing dirt” on Lisa Cook, the nominee for the Federal Reserve. Cook, who has been a tenured professor of economics and international relations at Michigan State University since 2013, has attracted bipartisan support. Glenn Hubbard, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers during the George W. Bush Administration, has said, “Cook’s talents as an economic researcher and teacher make her a good nominee for the Fed, adding to diversity of perspectives about policy.” In college, Cook won a Marshall Scholarship. She subsequently obtained a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and served as a staff economist on President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. She also held appointments at the National Bureau of Economic Research and at various regional Federal Reserve banks. The A.A.F., though, has portrayed her as unqualified, and suggested that her tenure at Michigan State is undeserved.

On April 13th, Jones sent out the latest of at least three e-mail blasts from the A.A.F. to about fifty of Cook’s colleagues at Michigan State. In the most recent of these messages, which were obtained by The New Yorker, Jones said that Cook “did not warrant” tenure. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the A.A.F. obtained records showing that the school’s provost had granted Cook full professorship in 2020, overruling a decision not to give her that title the previous year. Jones sent these personnel records to dozens of Cook’s colleagues, and asked, “Are any of you concerned that . . . she’s not good enough to sit on the Federal Reserve Board?” He urged any detractors to “not hesitate to” contact him. Meanwhile, Jones fished for further information by posting a message on an anonymous online gossip forum, Economics Job Market Rumors, which has been decried by one prominent economist as “a cesspool of misogyny.”

Some of the A.A.F.’s attacks on Cook carried racial overtones. Cook had made donations to bail funds for impoverished criminal defendants, including racial-justice protesters who had been arrested; she was following a tradition of activist lawyers in her family, and considered it a form of charity. The A.A.F. argued on Twitter that she had made “racist comments” and “even bailed out rioters who burned down American cities.” Cook’s reputation was sullied enough that the Senate Banking Committee vote on her nomination resulted in a tie, with no Republicans supporting her. Cook’s nomination can still proceed to the Senate floor, but her confirmation remains in limbo, as one conservative news outlet after another repeats the A.A.F.’s talking points. A writer for the Daily Caller, Chris Brunet, said in a Substack column that Cook is a “random economist at Michigan State University who has shamelessly leveraged her skin color and genitalia into gaining the backing of several key White House officials.” Brunet tweeted proudly that his critique had been promoted on Fox News by Tucker Carlson.

Cook’s nomination might yet go forward, but other targets with exemplary records, have been rejected because of A.A.F. slime campaigns.

Dark Money is a blight on our democracy. This particular group is using its resources to derail the agenda of the Biden administration. It is yet another strategy to undermine our democracy by preventing the duly elected President from staffing his administration with fully qualified appointees of his choice.