Just ask Jack McConnell, who appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee today.
McConnell has been nominated by Rhode Island Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (for whom McConnell used to work) and Jack Reed for an open seat on the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island.
McConnell made a fortune in the tobacco lawsuits, which settled for billions but put little money in any smoker’s pocket. Instead, states like Rhode Island pocketed the funds, which were supposed to be used for anti-smoking efforts, but actually were used to plug budget gaps.
McConnell used his fortune to ingratiate himself with Democratic Party leaders through enormous campaign contributions.
As reported by The Providence Journal back in March:
According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, the McConnells have given tens of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of Reed, Whitehouse, Mr. Obama and other presidential candidates.
During the 2008 campaigns, the McConnells gave almost $160,000 to elect Democrats, including $77,000 to national party organizations that helped to finance the campaigns of presidential, Senate and House candidates, according to the Washington-based CRP. The McConnells gave a total of $15,500 to the individual presidential campaigns of Mr. Obama; now Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; former Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
The McConnells gave $8,800 to Reed’s reelection campaign. They gave $3,000 to reelect Rep. James R. Langevin and $4,600 to reelect Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, plus $5,000 more to the political-action committee Kennedy operates to give money to fellow Democratic candidates. McConnell gave $8,400 to Whitehouse’s 2006 election campaign and has since given $3,500 to his PAC fund.
A more recent analysis pegs McConnell’s contributions at a minimum of $432,000, including tens of thousands of dollars to Senators who will be voting on his nomination:
McConnell, 51, a Providence lawyer, has given at least $432,456 to Democratic House, Senate and presidential campaigns since the 1990 election cycle, according to a Providence Journal analysis of reports to the Federal Election Commission.
Over the years, McConnell contributed tens of thousands of dollars in total to the campaign funds of major Democratic presidential candidates and of Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse. The Rhode Island senators last April recommended McConnell for a seat on the court. McConnell is also a substantial contributor to the party campaign arm that helps elect Democrats to the Senate, whose members must vote on whether to seat him on the federal bench.
McConnell received a less than stellar rating from the American Bar Association:
The ABA’s 15-member judicial rating committee gave McConnell a majority grade of “qualified,” its second-best mark, while a minority of either one or two panelists deemed him “not qualified;” three members abstained from voting on his qualifications to sit on the federal court.
McConnell is opposed by a coalition of business organizations based on his aggressive plaintiff’s tort work, particularly a failed attempt to force paint companies to clean up all lead paint in Rhode Island, which could have cost billions.
McConnell’s firm was hired to represent the State of Rhode Island by Sheldon Whitehouse, who was Attorney General at the time the lawsuit was started. The lawsuit later, based on an unusual use of the “public nuisance” legal theory, was thrown out by the Rhode Island Supreme Court as lacking any legal basis.
As noted today by The Washington Times:
Left on the hook were Ocean State taxpayers, who had to pay the $242,000 in legal fees for the paint companies vindicated in the case. There’s no reason why Mr. McConnell, the political wheeler-dealer lawyer who took those taxpayers on such a wild ride, should be given a lifetime position as a federal judge.
There is a long history of giving Ambassadorships to large campaign contributors. And political connections always have played a role in judicial nominations.
But the McConnell situation is an extreme. No one can say with a straight face that McConnell would have been nominated if not for his campaign contributions.
A lifetime federal judgeship should not go to the highest bidder.