Life

Poor Little Rich Judge

The GoFundMe campaigns for the Kavanaugh family are a disturbing reminder of the nomination’s forgotten controversy.

GoFundMe pages supporting Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by GoFundMe.

GoFundMe, the popular website that monetizes public sympathy, is full of campaigns for both Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford. The Ford pages are heartening—well, except for how critics have used them to imply that Ford made her accusations to score big donations from loose-hearted liberal strangers. But if you live in a lefty online bubble, like I do, the Kavanaugh pages are disturbing and fascinating counterweights. Why would anyone want to give more money to a federal judge and graduate of Georgetown Prep, Yale, and Yale Law, who has worked with power brokers and socialized with country clubbers all of his life?

There are some funny things going on here. One campaign, started on Tuesday, proposes to use its $100,000 goal to “brew a KPA: a Kavanaugh Pale Ale,” an effort to “show the world that enjoying beer doesn’t make someone a criminal.” The appeal ends with an exhortation: “Renate Brewius!” Just another heartfelt expression of respect for Renate Schroeder Dolphin, no doubt. Another page straight-up copied the most popular fundraiser’s intro text (I hear this is not uncommon in GoFundMe world).

That popular campaign, the most funded by far, comes from John Hawkins.
Hawkins, who runs the website Right Wing News, writes articles with headlines like “Diversity Is a Weakness, Not a Strength,” “The 6 Big Ways Liberals Are Destroying America’s Culture,” and “There Are No Oppressed People in America.” His campaign—for “a good man who has been treated very, very badly”—is currently funded at more than $500,000 and climbing.

Hawkins has updated his campaign’s introductory text eight times, and those updates tell quite a story. He’s self-consciously transparent about his failed efforts to reach Kavanaugh “via multiple sources including his office and his lawyer.” “He may just have too much going on right now to deal with this and we may not get an answer until after the vote,” Hawkins writes.  Multiple times, Hawkins offers his personal contact information for anyone skeptical he will get the money to Kavanaugh.

But the most interesting update, to me, is the first one. “I have heard some people say that Brett Kavanaugh is rich and so his family doesn’t need the money,” Hawkins writes. “That’s actually not correct”—and here he links to a MarketWatch post on Kavanaugh, titled “Brett Kavanaugh May Become the ‘Poorest’ Supreme Court Justice.”

To his credit, Hawkins retained the quotation marks around “poorest.” Compared with the average American, Kavanaugh earns plenty: His family’s yearly income is about four times the median household income in the United States. But it’s worth recalling that the judge’s finances—given his salary and his age—should be in better shape than they are. In another post on MarketWatch, which dates to July, economics writer Tim Mullaney reported that Kavanaugh’s financial disclosure report “left personal-finance mavens scratching their heads.” Why would the judge have only $15,000 to $50,000 in savings, no investments, and a small 401(k)? “He’s miles behind where a normal person’s finances should be at 53,” Mullaney wrote. Then there are those mysterious vanishing credit-card debts and that odd down payment for his Chevy Chase, Maryland, house, which seemed to come out of the ether and may have been from his parents or in-laws (in which case, he’s not obligated to report the help). “The White House has worked hard to frame Kavanaugh as a mainstream fellow,” Stephanie Mencimer wrote in Mother Jones. “Publicly disclosing the extent to which his parents or in-laws may be subsidizing his high-end lifestyle could probably undermine that portrayal.”

These financial irregularities, the forgotten controversy of Kavanaugh’s nomination, now haunt Hawkins’ GoFundMe, where commenters are battling it out about whether Kavanaugh and his family merit their financial sympathy. (Well, they were battling it out, until Hawkins closed the page’s comments because of “horrible human beings smearing the judge and saying grotesque things”; see update No. 8.) There are naysayers, full of sarcasm. User Timothy wrote: “The poor guy makes only $220,600 a year! I feel so sorry for him.” User Brian added: “We need to make sure to keep this rich family rich. These donations are amazing.” User Julia: “Wow, a charity for millionaires. Fascinating.” Others argued that Kavanaugh’s wealth was, in the scheme of things, really nothing. User Cathy wrote: “1 mill house these days is like a 30K house when I was young. 1 mill is nothing really in income. Inflation to be rich you have to have far more than 1 million in these times. He is a humble man plain and simple.”

Then there are the saddest comments in the world—nominally supportive but so tragic as to make one want to burn everything down. On GoFundMe pages, it’s not uncommon for people to comment with requests for readers to visit their own campaigns. It’s a practice that risks opprobrium from fellow commenters; perhaps for this reason, the people reframing Kavanaugh’s plight in relationship to their own did it in a roundabout way. “This would be great for one to get this much money,” user Catherine commented. “My daughter is in liver failur[e] and have done good making it to 500 in about 20 days. Great for his family to have so many on his side.” User Candace wrote: “Unable to donate disabled on fixed income can’t even afford to fix my vehicle. I have a GoFundMe page but no donations on it…I pray this family gets justice I’m sick of the SJW feminazis terrorizing people and destroying property. They are like rabid animals.”

Much of users’ sympathy for the judge’s financial woes seems to come from the perception that, after this event, he will be utterly ruined—and that the forces arrayed against him are devious and deeply funded. Another campaign, run by Richard Mitchell, the editor in chief of Conservative Daily News, had only $6,380 raised as of Wednesday. But it captured the sentiment. “Judge Brett Kavanaugh is an amazing human being, fantastic dad, great husband, respected Jurist, and heralded member of his community,” Mitchell writes. “Defending his good name against George Soros-funded groups will be expensive.”

Although the judge didn’t mention Soros by name when he spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the idea that Soros has funded Kavanaugh’s accusers is everywhere. It’s the ugliest face of the “Democratic revenge” conspiracy theory that Kavanaugh himself helped stoke at the hearings. This is how people who seem to have so little could have sympathy for a man with so much. If you believe that #MeToo has infinite power, and that the left wing is funding the movement with its gobs of money, Kavanaugh’s privileged position in American life is going to look small in comparison. This is how a D.C. insider with elite credentials can show up on a platform that usually raises money for uninsured people’s medical bills. Poor little rich judge!