On the surface, there isn’t much doubt why Barack Obama selected John J. McConnell Jr. as his nominee to the US District in Rhode Island. McConnell has had a long career as a litigator in cases that would thrill any advocate on the Left, suing manufacturers over lead paint, asbestos, and tobacco. However, it may have been McConnell’s ability to turn those cases into cash for the Democratic machine that got him his nomination, as the Providence Journal reports:
John J. McConnell Jr., President Obama’s choice for the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island, is one of the top election campaign contributors among the nearly 1,500 nominees to the federal courts since the late 1980s.
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.
That total obscures McConnell’s more recent efforts. The Journal notes that McConnell donated over $120,000 in the 2008 cycle alone. In 2006, he gave $8400 to Sheldon Whitehouse’s Senate campaign, and has donated a like amount to Jack Reed over the course of Reed’s two Senate campaigns. The pair have endorsed McConnell for this nomination and likely pushed McConnell as a choice with the White House.
Granting appointments to big donors is hardly new in politics, but mostly those are limited to term-limited positions such as ambassadorships or US Attorneys, to name a couple of examples. A position on the federal court is a lifetime appointment, as well as a position of trust that should require some sense of independence. Serving up a lifetime sinecure to a big donor should raise some eyebrows.
Besides, Barack Obama campaigned on “hope and change,” insisting that the days that money talked in Washington were over. I guess it just depends on what language that money uses. Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee should explore this issue in great detail at McConnell’s confirmation hearing.