|Money can buy you lots of things. But, when it comes to the uber-wealthy, what’s more valuable than fancy cars or massive homes is access.
With enough zeros in your bank account, no one is off limits.
A secret guest list obtained by Insider for a 2017 event held by the Aspen Institute on “Billionaire Mountain” shows just that. Donors who shelled out at least $10,000 a year to its Justice Circle were able to rub shoulders with a current and soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice.
The Aspen Institute touts itself as offering “exclusive access to high-level gatherings,” and boy did it deliver back in 2017.
The “speakers dinner” featured Justice Elena Kagan and Brett Kavanaugh, who would join Kagan on the nation’s highest court the following year. Among the attendees who RSVP’d, according to two guest lists obtained by Insider’s Mattathias Schwartz, Jack Newsham, and Katherine Long, were corporate execs and lawyers with business before the Supreme Court.
To be sure, the event isn’t in the same stratosphere as the undisclosed gifts and financial ties between Justice Clarence Thomas and billionaire Harlan Crow. Both Kagan and Kavanaugh disclosed the travel and lodging they received from the Aspen Institute.
But what the guest list does show is the legal ways in which the wealthy are able to garner face-to-face access to the nation’s most important judges.
“It may not violate those rules as the rules have been narrowly interpreted, but nonetheless, there still is a problem with it,” Kathleen Clark, an expert in government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis, told Insider. “How can you call this event anything but a reward for having given money to the organization? A bonus awarded to those who have already generously contributed?”