In January, following Coachella’s lineup announcement, scrutiny fell on the festival’s owner, Philip Anschutz, over his financial ties to groups promoting anti-LGBTQ causes. The media-averse Colorado billionaire made his fortune in energy but via his ubiquitous company AEG, now controls a broad swath of the live music industry—from venues and festivals to tours by Kanye West, Paul McCartney, and Taylor Swift. Given the charged political climate of late, some music fans became understandably concerned about what values their ticket purchases were supporting, inciting a flurry of headlines despite his foundation’s spending having long been public.
Perhaps unbeknownst to many in the music community, recently it has come into focus that Anschutz also has longstanding connections to Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s controversial nominee to the Supreme Court. The Republican-controlled Senate has vowed to confirm Gorsuch as early as this week, but GOP leaders may need to invoke the so-called nuclear option and override a Democratic filibuster. Gorsuch is a contentious choice in part because Republicans didn’t so much as meet with moderate judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to replace the late Justice Scalia. But Dems have also challenged the staunchly conservative Gorsuch for his past rulings, voicing concerns about his independence from Trump, and, significantly, his ties to Anschutz.
Denver-born Gorsuch was working at a Washington law firm in the early 2000s when he first represented Anschutz and his businesses. In one case, Gorsuch successfully argued against a teacher pension fund, which claimed an Anschutz-controlled company was essentially ripping off investors by granting its majority shareholder a $373 million payout. Gorsuch later represented Anschutz amid an accounting fraud scandal at his telecom company Qwest Communications, in which Anschutz settled up with the government for $4.4 million but wasn’t found liable for wrongdoing.
Notably, Anschutz also had a hand in Gorsuch ascending to the federal bench in the first place. In 2006, a lawyer for Anschutz wrote a letter to the administration of President George W. Bush recommending Gorsuch for an opening on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. “Mr. Anschutz spoke with Senator Allard [of Colorado] about Neil Gorsuch, and Senator Allard suggested that we pass along Mr. Gorsuch’s resume to you,” it read in part. If you’re curious what a letter like that can do for someone’s career: Two days before the letter was sent, The Denver Post reported three front-runners for the appointment; Gorsuch was not among them.
As an appeals court judge, Gorsuch recused himself from many cases involving Anschutz, as shown by a list Gorsuch submitted to Senate. In 2010, Gorsuch spoke at Anschutz’s “annual dove hunt” at the 60-square-mile Eagles Nest Ranch. Attacking what he described as threats to the rule of law, Gorsuch ironically enough cited the “vitriol” associated with nominating judges.
Anschutz is a prolific donor to charitable and political causes alike, and his gifts also link him to Gorsuch, if only circumstantially. As the Times noted, Anschutz has donated to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, which Trump has credited for helping him decide who to nominate. Trump’s adviser for the Supreme Court, Leonard Leo, is the longtime executive vice president of the Federalist Society, an association of conservatives and libertarians who “place a premium on individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law.”
Unmentioned in earlier reports, however, is the fact that Anschutz is a founding member of Wedgwood Circle, an arts investing organization with religious undertones (and what appears to be quite the brochure). Wedgwood Circle’s CFO is Neil Corkery, who pops up frequently in IRS disclosures by conservative nonprofits—and who was also the most recently disclosed CFO of the Judicial Crisis Network. This is the group expected to spend at least $10 million on advertising for Gorsuch’s confirmation campaign—a hefty sum provided by donors who are legally permitted to remain anonymous. (Cole Finegan—an attorney at Hogan Lovells, a firm that represents Anschutz's businesses—told Pitchfork that these donations have not come from Anschutz, “directly or indirectly.”)
Regardless of who is behind this so-called dark money to confirm Gorsuch, that is far from the only matter concerning Senate Democrats. Gorsuch’s past with Anschutz also has come up in his hearings. Pressed by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont on whether Gorsuch would recuse himself from Supreme Court cases involving Anschutz, the nominee didn’t answer directly.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York also criticized Gorsuch’s ties to Anschutz. “Let’s look at how Judge Gorsuch got to this point,” Schumer said in a news conference. “He was recommended for the federal bench by Philip Anschutz, a hard-right special interest billionaire. Then he was handpicked for the Supreme Court by the right-wing special interest laden Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society … Now, millions of dollars in undisclosed special interest donations are being used to prop up his nomination. Americans deserve to know who is funding this effort to get Judge Gorsuch on the highest bench in the land."
When Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island asked Gorsuch why unidentified donors are so keen on having him on the bench, Gorsuch replied, “You’d have to ask them.” Whitehouse responded, “I can’t because I don’t know who they are.”
Whether fans or artists care to react in a way that expresses their ideological differences with one omnipresent music mogul remains to be seen—while there were early calls to boycott Coachella, the reality is complicated. But increasingly, the music community may at least start to know who Philip Anschutz is.
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