Rep. John Sarbanes, a leading Democratic voice on campaign finance, is hoping that issue plays front and center when Judge Neil Gorsuch appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing next week.
Sarbanes crafted a letter, signed by 109 of his fellow Democrats, requesting that senators pin Gorsuch down on the issue of money in politics during the Monday hearing.
Proponents of overhauling the campaign finance system have little insight into Gorsuch's thoughts on the issue. Advocates are mostly focused on a concurring opinion in 2014 in which Gorsuch wrote that "no one before us disputes that the act of contributing to political campaigns implicates a 'basic constitutional freedom.'"
That has rattled reform groups who say it points to Gorsuch supporting the notion that campaign donations are free speech, an idea ensconced in the 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo. Gorsuch was appointed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals by President George W. Bush in 2006.
"He hasn't written a lot explicitly on this topic, but he's written enough to signal that he seems to be moving in the wrong direction here," said Sarbanes, of Baltimore County. "That's why it's so important that these questions be put to him in his confirmation hearing."
Sarbanes is the lead sponsor of legislation aimed at encouraging small-dollar donations to campaigns by offering a generous government match. He is also the co-chair of a Democratic task force focused on campaign finance reform.
Gorsuch appears to have wide GOP support in the Senate heading into his hearing, and it is unclear how hard Democrats will fight his confirmation. Gorsuch was nominated by President Donald Trump in January to fill the vacancy caused by Justice Antonin Scalia's death last year.