Justice Kavanaugh declines more than $600,000 raised in GoFundMe campaign

Citing judicial ethics concerns, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh declined more than $600,000 that was donated to aid his family during the firestorm over sexual misconduct allegations that plagued his confirmation. The judge’s decision was announced on Tuesday in a message posted on the online fundraising page that gathered the funds.

John Hawkins, a veteran conservative blogger who runs a Kavanaugh-inspired “men’s website” called Brass Pills, organized the fundraising campaign. On Tuesday, Hawkins posted what he referred to as an “official statement” from Kavanaugh’s representatives distancing the justice from the effort:

“Justice Kavanaugh did not authorize the use of his name to raise funds in connection with the GoFundMe campaign. He was not able to do so for judicial ethics reasons. Judicial ethics rules caution judges against permitting the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising purposes. Justice Kavanaugh will not accept any proceeds from the campaign, nor will he direct that any proceeds from the campaign be provided to any third party. Although he appreciates the sentiment, Justice Kavanaugh requests that you discontinue the use of his name for any fund-raising purpose.”

Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in before testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings in September. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in before testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings in September. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Hawkins had raised $611,645 in small donations from approximately 13,250 donors, many of them anonymous, for “Brett Kavanaugh’s family to use for security or however they see fit.” The GoFundMe appeared online on Sept. 24, the day after the New Yorker published Deborah Ramirez’s allegations that Kavanaugh exposed himself and put his penis in her face at a college gathering. That story emerged a week after the Washington Post published Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that Kavanaugh had tried to force himself on her at a high school party.

According to Hawkins, the fundraiser was inspired by a conversation he had with a friend about GoFundMe pages that were set up for Ford during Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation hearings.

“This is a funny story which might be a bit too risqué for you to print … I was talking to a woman and … she was like, ‘Christine Blasey Ford has these GoFundMes up; I wish someone would do a GoFundMe for Brett Kavanaugh so that when this is over, he could sue that bitch,’” Hawkins recounted in a phone conversation on Tuesday.

Hawkins said he assumed Kavanaugh would not sue, but he figured the judge might need money for a lawyer or security.

“So I figured, hey, let’s do a GoFundMe — and that’s actually how it got started, as crazy as that sounds,” said Hawkins.

Hawkins quickly raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the midst of the controversy that enveloped the last days of Kavanaugh’s confirmation fight. He closed the page to new donations on the day of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Oct. 6. Hawkins said that at its peak during the confirmation hearings, the fundraiser was “going nuclear” and bringing in more than $10,000 an hour.

“I think that conservatives were so shocked and horrified by the way that they felt — like, this is a good guy, he’s been through all these background checks and he was just being destroyed by what we view as unproven allegations,” Hawkins said. “Once we saw that … people felt like they had to do something.”

Hawkins said that he received the statement distancing the judge from the fundraiser about ten days ago from Travis Lenkner, a former clerk of Kavanaugh’s. Since then, Hawkins said, he took time to arrange an alternative destination for the funds. In an update posted along with the statement, Hawkins said he “did some research on charities supported by the Judge and settled on the Archdiocese of Washington which runs the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO).” GoFundMe will allow donors a week to ask for refunds if they are not happy with the fundraiser’s new destination.

“Brett Kavanaugh rather famously coached girls’ basketball there and if the Kavanaugh family were allowed to support a charity, I feel confident the Archdiocese of Washington would be near the top of the list,” Hawkins wrote.

Supreme Court justices are actually not bound by the codified ethics rules that apply to other federal judges, the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. However, it appears that Kavanaugh’s statement is drawn largely from those rules, which provide that other than in a few narrowly drawn scenarios, “a judge should not personally participate in fund-raising activities, solicit funds for any organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for that purpose.”

Justice Kavanaugh’s financial situation drew scrutiny early in the nomination process after a substantial balance of credit card debt disappeared from his financial disclosures shortly before his nomination to the high court, and the White House appeared to attribute the matter largely to baseball ticket purchases. Kavanaugh later offered a contradictory account of how his debts had been extinguished, but the remaining questions were not resolved before Kavanaugh was confirmed to his seat on the Supreme Court by a party-line vote.

It is unclear why Kavanaugh took more than two weeks to put distance between himself and the fundraising effort. Lenkner did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Yahoo News. The White House referred questions to the Supreme Court’s public information office. Patricia McCabe Estrada, the Supreme Court’s deputy public information officer, said, “The Justice has no comment.”

For his part, Hawkins said he always expected Kavanaugh to wait until after the confirmation process to deal with the fundraiser. Once that was over, Hawkins said, he believes the justice was trying to determine what he might be able to do with the money.

“I assume that they had to go out and talk to some lawyers to see what they can do,” Hawkins said.

This post was updated at 6:05 pm with the response from the Supreme Court’s deputy public information officer.


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