Political MoJo

Money in California Politics Laid Bare

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 1:22 PM EDT

Hey California voters! Curious about how much beverage company cash helped influence a vote on bottled-water standards? Wondering which interest groups are especially generous to your state Assembly member? Check out this new online money-and-politics database from Maplight.org, a Berkeley-based non-profit. It tracks votes on specific bills by state pols and cross-references that info with details on who gave them money, and when. So far, only data from 2003-2004 is available, but the Maplighters claim more recent stuff will be up soon. The impatient can do their own state-level research with the help of The Institute on Money and State Politics , or go federal at OpenSecrets.org. And of course there's always the famous Mother Jones 400, one of the very first online sources of campaign finace dirt.

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California Hispanics Told It Is A Crime To Vote

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 1:18 PM EDT

A letter, written in Spanish, has gone out to some Hispanic citizens of California, telling them that it is a crime for immigrants to vote, and that voting could cause them to be jailed or deported. The letter also warns that the state has a computer system that can track down the names of all Hispanic voters.

Several of the recipients of this letter are naturalized citizens of the U.S. The California Attorney General is investigating the mailing, and the sender could be charged with a felony.

Another Weldon Conspiracy

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 12:18 PM EDT

For Curt Weldon, pushing conspiracy theories is something of a hobby. In the past, he's claimed that a secret intelligence program called Able Danger identified Mohamed Atta, among other 9/11 conspirators, over a year before the attacks. And his book, Countdown to Terror, is filled with all sorts of dubious allegations about Iran's ties to terrorism. (This information, it turns out, was funneled to him by a middleman for Manucher Ghorbanifar, an alleged intelligence fabricator and Iran-Contra figure.) Now, after the feds raided the homes of his lobbyist daughter and her business partner yesterday, investigating whether the Pennsylvania congressman used his position to steer business to their firm, Weldon is alerting the world to a new conspiracy. In a statement released yesterday, he questioned the timing of the investigation, which comes just three weeks before the election, suggesting that the probe is politically motivated. As is increasingly becoming the case when members of the GOP get caught up in scandals (see Hastert, Dennis), Weldon blamed the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington for the supposed smear. "It is no coincidence that the vice president of CREW, Philadelphia trial lawyer Daniel Berger, and his law firm are among the single largest contributors to my opponent Joe Sestak's campaign," Weldon said. "This is a group that is closely tied to my opponent Joe Sestak and now, just weeks before my re-election word that the inquiry is occurring has mysteriously trickled out. That is dirty, partisan politics at its absolute worst."

Of course, politics is a dirty business and damaging allegations that arise in advance of an election should always be subject to the highest level of skepticism. But, in this case, there are a couple of major things wrong with Weldon's hypothesis. First, the allegations against Weldon have been circulating for some time. In fact, CREW's deputy director, Naomi Seligman Steiner, told me last night that her organization requested that the Justice Department investigate Weldon a full two-and-a-half years ago. Further, for Weldon's assertions to hold any water, one would also have to believe that the FBI is taking its direction from CREW. A conspiracy theory of that magnitude sounds like it might make an apt topic for Weldon's next book.

Dueling Infidelities--the Latest Republican Plan

| Mon Oct. 16, 2006 10:09 PM EDT

According to a short piece in The Raw Story, those in Washington who think Newt Gingrich would make a good presidential candidate believe that his marital infidelity is a "nothing burger," especially in light of a possible opposition from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who "whose hubby had her own problems she'd rather forget."

So Gingrich, who informed his wife he was leaving her while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer, gets a free pass from the "values" party because bringing up his sins would embarrass Clinton, whose husband is remembered for his marital infidelity. Unfortunately, considering how the so-called news media works in this country, that is probably a fair assessment of the situation. Back in June, Margaret Carlson, speaking on the panel of the now-defunct "Capital Gang," said of a Clinton candidacy: "People will think if she can't keep the dog in the house, how can she keep the terrorists at bay?"

National Deaf Group Objects to Arrests at Deaf University

| Mon Oct. 16, 2006 7:01 PM EDT

Since the close of the school year last spring, students have been occupying a tent city on the campus of Gallaudet University, the nation's only university for the deaf, located in northeastern Washington, D.C. The protests, which have escalated since students began occupying a classroom building on October 6, began when provost Jane K. Fernandes was chosen to become the university's next president. She is to replace I. King Jordan, who in 1988 became the first deaf president to lead Gallaudet, in January.

During King's tenure, deafness has made tremendous strides toward being considered a culture, with sign language as its root, rather than a disability. Deaf culture and sign language have flourished to such a degree that a new medical procedure to restore partial hearing has met with strong resistance from some. King is credited with much of that progress. Fernandes is deaf, but learned ASL as a second language at age 23, and protestors don't think the former provost is the right person to represent deaf culture to the world. They have also claimed that she is cold and aloof and that qualified African-American candidates for the presidency were overlooked. The faculty gave Fernandes a vote of no confidence in May.

Last week, a group of 200 students, faculty and staff took control of a classroom building. The football team then blocked the campus entrance, causing the university to shut down. On Friday, dozens of protestors were arrested after Jordan, who is still acting president, gave the go-ahead. The Washington Post, which has been covering the story, reports today that the president of the National Association of the Deaf arrived on campus yesterday and criticized the arrests. The campus has reopened, but Fernandes is still refusing to resign.

For more coverage of campus activism, see Mother Jones's 13th annual roundup of campus activism in the current issue, or online.

National Guard Recruitment Pitch Leaves Out Iraq, Enlistments Soaring

| Mon Oct. 16, 2006 2:56 PM EDT

Amid pictures of men and women rescuing forest-fire and flood victims and handing out bottles of water to kids, spots touting the National Guard include these tantalizing numbers: "Up to $20,000 enlistment bonus"; "100 percent tuition assistance"; "Over 200 career fields to choose from." These may be legitimate incentives, but the ads, in newspapers and on billboards across the country, fail to mention these number: Nearly half, 41%, of units currently fighting in Iraq are National Guard units; More than 400 guard troops have died fighting overseas since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003.

"Whether they're going up against hurricanes, floods, blizzards or wildfires, the National Guard is always the winning team," reads one ad, shown in the Washington City Paper, nary a mention of fighting a war overseas, not a gun in sight.

The ad campaign seems to be working. Guard recruitment is soaring, reaching record highs this month in several states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

The National Guard Bureau reports that the Army Guard is at 99 percent of its 350,000 capacity and that 2006 reflects the best recruiting and retention year since 2003, when the force fell short of its recruiting goals by 20 percent.


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Staying the Course: Damned If We Do, Damned If We Don't

| Mon Oct. 16, 2006 1:19 PM EDT

As the Los Angeles Times reports this morning, the "stay the course" chorus in the administration is about to be smacked down by the commission headed by James Baker tasked with exploring options in Iraq. But is it too late to change course in Iraq, or more precisely, is it too late to change course in a manner that would ensure the ever-distant seeming victory that Bush constantly promises? In this morning's TomDispatch, Michael Schwartz examines this question, and concludes that no amount of tinkering with our military strategy will fix the mess we've made there. Though the military will undoubtedly try several more strategic shifts in the months ahead, as Schwartz observes, some military insiders have already realized the terrible, irreversible downward spiral we—and Iraq—are stuck in. Gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops—an option the Baker panel is reportedly considering—is not exactly a panacea, either. An excerpt:

There may have been a time, back when the invasion began, that the U.S. could have adopted a strategy that would have made it welcome -- for a time, anyway -- in Iraq. Such a strategy, as the military theorists flatly state, would have had to deliver a "vibrant economy, political participation, and restored hope." Instead, the occupation delivered economic stagnation or degradation, a powerless government, and the promise of endless violence. Given this reality, no new military strategy -- however humane, canny, or well designed -- could reverse the occupation's terminal unpopularity. Only a U.S. departure might do that.

Paradoxically, the policies these military strategists are now trying to reform have ensured that, however much most Iraqis may want such a departure, it would be, at best, bittersweet. The legacy of sectarian violence and the near-irreversible destruction wrought by the American presence make it unlikely that they would have the time or inclination to take much satisfaction in the end of the American occupation.

Read the full article here.

$15,000 Buys a Lifetime Membership to Mitch McConnell's Quid Pro Quo Club

| Mon Oct. 16, 2006 11:59 AM EDT

If the Republicans manage to keep control of the Senate — and that's a big if — Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who currently serves as Majority Whip, is poised to ascend to Majority Leader, as Bill Frist retires at the end of his term. In anticipation of this possibility, the Lexington Herald-Leader, has been investigating the Senator for the past six months and published its findings in a lengthy article yesterday. What did the Herald-Leader discover? A "nexus between his actions and his donors' agendas. He pushes the government to help cigarette makers, Las Vegas casinos, the pharmaceutical industry, credit card lenders, coal mine owners and others."

McConnell is one of the GOP's more prolific fundraisers and has personally raised close to $220 million for his party over the course of his career. Marshall Whitman, a onetime aide to John McCain, told the paper: "He's completely dogged in his pursuit of money. That's his great love, above everything else." Former Senator Alan Simpson said that "when he asked for money, his eyes would shine like diamonds. He obviously loved it." Apparently McConnell was so intent on building up the GOP's warchest that he sold memberships to something called the "Senate Republican Inner Circle." A donation of $15,000 bought wealthy individuals a lifetime membership (members could also pay $2,000 a year), which carried with it access to "the men who are shaping the Senate agenda."

"Americans are big on rewards these days. Financial rewards in the stock market -- cash rewards on your credit cards -- luxurious rewards in the travel industry," McConnell wrote in one invitation. "But a special group of Americans is experiencing one of the greatest reward programs ever, because they took the initiative to become a Life Member of the Inner Circle."

Those rewards are greatly anticipated by corporate leaders who want a say in Senate decisions. After the Inner Circle welcomed Geoffrey Bible, chief executive at Philip Morris, he sent a copy of the announcement to his aides.

"So now I'm in," Bible wrote in the margin. "See if we can make the most of it."

When the paper questioned McConnell on his "inner circle," the senator downplayed its significance, telling the Herald-Leader that "they want their picture taken with you; that's all it amounts to." Hmmm. It's just a hunch, but something tells me that Bible and other members of McConnell's quid pro quo club were paying for more than just photo-ops.

Western Conservatives Seek Clampdown on Courts

| Sun Oct. 15, 2006 11:09 PM EDT

Furious over recent court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage and other offenses against their idea of all that's right and good, conservatives in several Western states are pushing ballot measures that would limit the power and independence of judges, the Los Angeles Times reports.

A measure in South Dakota would allow citizens to sue judges over their rulings (but can they go on to sue the second judge if he or she don't rule against the first?). One in Colorado would impose term limits on judges, another in Montana would allow residents to easily recall them, and yet another in Oregon would require high court judges "to be elected by geographic district, so they reflect the values of conservative rural communities as well as the liberal legal establishment in Portland," sums up the Times.

Judges, presumably, will put up a fight against these impositions on their authority, and they're no slouches in the electoral politics arena. In the many states in which they are elected, judicial candidates have for years been raking in huge campaign contributions.

Kerry says he deserves 2nd chance in '08

| Sun Oct. 15, 2006 4:25 PM EDT

The AP reports: "The Massachusetts Democrat, who lost to President Bush in 2004, said it is a basic principle that 'Americans give people a second chance. And if you learn something and prove you've learned something, maybe even more so. Now, I don't know what I'm going to do yet. We'll make that decision down the road.'"

Transcript here.