By Lisa Graves, Evan Vorpahl, and Caitlin Mahoney (October 2023)
American democracy has a billionaire problem. It’s not just that they’re not paying their fair share of taxes: they’re trying to buy our highest courts to advance their personal agendas, bending the law to their will.
Pennsylvania is the latest target of this new brand of billionaire ambition, which used to be focused on acquiring sports franchises, like the Eagles. Who’s the billionaire trying to capture the Commonwealth’s highest court? It’s Jeff Yass, Pennsylvania’s richest resident, a Queens-born New York native.
But Yass is not operating alone in this ambitious effort to acquire a court that suits him.
Other far-right, out-of-state billionaires have targeted state supreme courts too, like Dick Uihlein–a brewery heir who owns ULINE and funded groups that fueled the Jan. 6 insurrection. Leonard Leo–who runs a billion dollar-plus trust and who helped orchestrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade–has also funded groups trying to fill Pennsylvania’s highest court and other state and federal offices with Federalist Society-tied ideologues to advance his agenda for the law.
Yass’ cash is king in the right-wing court capture operation in Pennsylvania. His money is underwriting attack ads against Judge Dan McCaffery (who is backed by abortion rights groups and labor), ads designed to aid Judge Carolyn Carluccio (who is backed by pro-life groups seeking to ban abortion plus other groups). They each won their primaries and are facing each other in the race for the state Supreme Court in the general election coming up on November 7, 2023.
Read the full report here.