Stephanos Bibas
Stephanos Bibas ()

A nonprofit organization named Concerned Veterans for America has begun running an ad asking readers to call their senators and urge a vote in favor of Stephanos Bibas, a Penn Law professor who was recently nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The committee is a nonprofit 501(c)(4) organization, and is widely reported to be backed by Charles G. and David H. Koch, the politically influential conservative billionaire owners of Koch Industries.

The simple online ad displays a photo of Bibas on a blue background. In white and red the ad asks the viewer to “Tell your senator to confirm Stephanos Bibas to the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals,” and below is a box asking the viewer to “Contact your senator now.” When clicked, the ad takes the reader to the Concerned Veterans for America website where the user can fill out a form asking that Bibas be confirmed.

Although the ad was accessible on PennLive.com, it appeared to target viewers based on their search history.

Bibas, through a spokesman, declined to comment. Concerned Veterans for America, which lists the same phone number as that used by Americans for Prosperity—a political advocacy group that the Koch brothers founded—did not return a message seeking comment.

Although it was not immediately clear whether the group is only running ads for Bibas, two press releases from the group issued earlier this month touted fellow nominees Allison Eid, nominated for a spot on the Tenth Circuit, and Ralph Erickson, who was nominated for a spot on the Eighth Circuit.

Bibas, however, may have a unique connection to the organization, as earlier this year University of Pennsylvania Law School announced it received $2.2 million from the Charles Koch Foundation to establish a new criminal justice research initiative.

According to his online biography, Bibas is a professor of law and criminology at Penn Law, and he studies the effects of guilty pleas. He is a prolific academic, who has also litigated cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and has lectured on a range of topics, including bail reform and Justice Antonin Scalia.

According to court and political observers, ads aimed at circuit court confirmation hearings are unusual, and could signal either growing concern with partisan gridlock in Washington, or concerns that Bibas might be perceived as being a politically weak nominee.

“Confirmations for federal judgeships, unless they’re unusually controversial and in the news, are not anywhere near on the minds of the average voter,” G. Terry Madonna, political observer and director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, said. “I think it’s probably … to get the Senate moving.”

Election law attorney Adam Bonin said the ad did not fall under campaign finance laws, but rather lobbying regulations. However, under federal law, grassroots lobbying efforts generally are not disclosed, according to Bonin.

Although Bonin agreed that he had not seen similar ads aimed at circuit court nominees, he disagreed about the reason why the Bibas ads might be appearing, noting that, under a 2013 rule change, the Senate can confirm nominees by a simple majority.

“Generally a candidate would have to be pretty inflammatory or at risk to justify this kind of spending,” Bonin said.

He added that, if the ad coming from a conservative group is aimed at an attempt to shore up support, then it might be just the beginning for the lobbying efforts.

“This is definitely a case where, if they are nervous about his confirmation, then I anticipate other groups will be too, and liberal groups will see this as a chance to derail someone they see as controversial,” Bonin said.

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