Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 20, 2013

Wed Nov. 20, 2013 9:56 AM EST

Marines with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, hastily reload an M777 howitzer with a 155 mm artillery shell during a multiple-rounds fire mission as a part of a two-day dual-fire training exercise at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Nov. 13, 2013. The M777s fired alongside M327 Towed-Rifled Mortar Systems to eliminate the possibility of short-range threats on the battlefield and to expand the capabilities of the battery as a whole. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Matthew Bragg.

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Florida Congressman Arrested on Cocaine Charges Has History With Sex-Themed Websites

| Tue Nov. 19, 2013 6:00 PM EST
Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.)

Who could have anticipated that the former owner of sexguideonline.com might get into trouble as a congressman? On Tuesday, Politico broke the news that freshman congressman Henry "Trey" Radel (R-Fla.) was arrested on cocaine possession charges in DC last month and is scheduled for arraignment Wednesday. (DC Superior Court records on the charges can be found here.)

Radel, a tea party favorite and a Fox News radio host, came to office with an unusual background, having run a business that bought somewhat pornographic sex-themed domain names in both English and Spanish, as Mother Jones reported last year. Radel's business snagged all sorts of un-family-friendly domain names, including www.casadelasputas.com ("whorehouse") and www.mamadita.com ("little blow job").

During the campaign he brushed aside whispers of "domaingate," but eventually admitted to buying the site names after Mother Jones reported their existence. (After our story, he sent an email to supporters attacking Mother Jones as an "ultra-liberal San Francisco rag" whose "attack" on him he wore like a "badge of honor.") Tea partiers I interviewed at the time insisted that the business was no reflection on Radel's family values, and said they were behind him completely. From that story:

Radel supporter George Miller, the president of the Cape 9/12 group, a conservative tea-party-type organization inspired by Glenn Beck, says that he doesn't believe Radel would register raunchy web sites to begin with. "I stand by him 100 percent," he says. "He's an honest guy. He's a family guy. He's the kind of guy I want representing me."

Radel was hand-picked by former Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.) to fill Mack's seat when Mack challenged Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) for Senate in 2012. Radel won a crowded Republican primary. Among those he defeated: establishment candidate Chauncy Goss, son of former CIA director Porter Goss. Chauncy Goss was endorsed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Tea partiers dismissed Goss as too much of an insider and threw their weight behind Radel, who had never held elected office before.

Just weeks ago, Radel won some accolades for becoming one of the few Republicans to support drug sentencing reform. He cosponsored the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would provide an exception to mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws to allow shorter sentences for nonviolent, low-level offenders. Radel may get a chance to see how such a law works first hand. He was arrested in DC, which has a special drug court that is designed to funnel low-level addicts into rehab rather than long-term jail time.

Tuesday night, Radel released a statement apologizing to his family and blaming his troubles on alcoholism, a problem he said he would be able to get help with thanks to his arrest. He hasn't said whether he'll try to keep his seat.

Watchdog: Grover Norquist's Group Misled IRS About Its 2012 Political Spending

| Tue Nov. 19, 2013 4:31 PM EST
Grover Norquist.

Americans for Tax Reform, the conservative advocacy group run by activist Grover Norquist, plunged headlong into federal elections in 2012, urging voters in California, Colorado, and Ohio to oust Democratic lawmakers. In all, ATR told the Federal Election Commission that it spent nearly $16 million last year on independent expenditures—political ads urging voters to support or defeat a particular candidate that aren't coordinated with any candidates or parties.

Norquist's group recently submitted its 2012 tax filing to the IRS, detailing all its spending for last year. In that filing, ATR says it spent just $9.8 million on politics in 2012—a difference of some $6 million compared to what ATR told the FEC.

On Tuesday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan watchdog group, seized on that discrepancy in a complaint filed with the IRS and Justice Department. CREW alleges that Norquist's group misled the IRS about the extent of its political spending.

ATR may have had reason to low-ball the political spending figures it reported to the IRS. Norquist's group is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, also known as a social welfare organization. Under the tax law, 501(c)(4) nonprofits such as ATR—which do not have to disclose their donors—can wade into campaigns and elections but cannot spend a majority of their money on political activities. From only reading ATR's 2012 tax filing, the group appears to abide by that restriction: ATR reported spending a total of $30 million in 2012, only $9.8 million of which went toward politicking. No issue there.

But if ATR in fact spent nearly $16 million of its $30 million budget on politicking, as CREW claims it did, then that's a different story. "ATR's own IRS and FEC filings provide incontrovertible evidence that ATR is breaking the law," CREW executive director Melanie Sloan said in a statement. "If Al Capone could be nailed for tax violations, so can Grover Norquist."

ATR spokesman John Kartch says CREW's complaint is "baseless" and "nonsense." He added, "Americans for Tax Reform's reporting strictly abides by the definitions of political activity and political expenditures maintained by the FEC and IRS."

Read CREW's complaint against ATR:

 

This isn't the first time CREW has accused Norquist and ATR of misleading the IRS. In March 2012, the watchdog claimed that ATR failed to report to the IRS more than $2 million in political spending in 2010. (The group told the FEC it spent $4.2 million on independent expenditures, but it told the IRS its political outlays were just $1.85 million.) Neither the Justice Department nor the IRS has responded to CREW's 2012 complaint.

Nor is the ATR the only political group facing questions about its tax filings. The Center for Public Integrity recently reported that an anti-Obama nonprofit with ties to the Koch brothers, the American Energy Alliance, told the IRS it engaged in no "direct or indirect political campaign activities on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office" in 2012. Yet the group spent more than $1 million on TV ads in Virginia and Ohio last fall urging viewers to "vote no on Obama's failing energy policy." An American Energy Alliance spokesman said the ads were in no way political, but Marcus Owens, a former IRS official, said the group's tax filing "certainly raises a red flag."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 19, 2013

Tue Nov. 19, 2013 9:34 AM EST

Recruits of Kilo Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, change positions above a small pond on the Confidence Course Nov. 7, 2013, on Parris Island, S.C. The course is comprised of 15 obstacles designed to help Marine Corps recruits build confidence by overcoming physical challenges. Kilo Company is scheduled to graduate Nov. 22, 2013. Parris Island has been the site of Marine Corps recruit training since Nov. 1, 1915. Today, approximately 20,000 recruits come to Parris Island annually for the chance to become United States Marines by enduring 13 weeks of rigorous, transformative training. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Caitlin Brink/Released.

If You're a Millennial, Black, or Latino, Good Luck Voting Quickly in 2016

| Tue Nov. 19, 2013 6:00 AM EST

When I voted last year in downtown Washington, DC, I was able to walk down the street, cast my ballot, and get back to the office in less than 30 minutes. But according to a new report by two voting rights groups, the Advancement Project and OurTime.org, plenty of American voters weren't so lucky. According to their research, African Americans, Latinos, and millennials in Virginia and Florida—two key battleground states—faced significantly longer wait times than older white voters in 2012. This was largely because the former groups are more inclined to utilize early voting, which was restricted in both states last year. And according to the report, this new "time tax"—along with other voting obstacles, like strict ID laws—will likely continue to dampen voter turnout among these groups in 2016.

In 2012, Florida cut early voting from 14 days to 8 days, and lines were so long, more than 200,000 Florida voters gave up and went home, according to data collected by the Orlando Sentinel. The Advancement Project and OurTime.org report focused on 5,196 of the 6,100 voting precincts that were used last November in Florida—which faced some of the longest voting lines in the country—and found that young voters spent a disproportionately longer time waiting to vote. For example, in Orange County, which has the highest percentage of voters younger than 30 in the state (22 percent), precincts closed an average of 86 minutes after the 7 p.m. deadline, with one precinct closing five hours late. The report found that in Orange County, the trend indicated that the more voters under 30 there were at a certain precinct, the later the closing time.

"Regarding the number of people willing to wait in line to vote in 2012, there were others who didn't vote, and there is no guarantee that voters will always be able to wait so long to exercise their fundamental rights," says Katherine Culliton-González, director of Advancement Project's Voter Protection Program. The report makes the case that young voters have less flexibility with their work schedules, and when early voting days are cut, as they were in Florida, lines get longer. Millennials (defined in the report as people between the ages of 18 and 29) are also more racially diverse than the rest of the population, meaning that there is often an overlap between young voters and voters of color. This 2013 MIT report found that voters of color are also more likely to wait in line than white voters:

The conservative Heritage Foundation maintains that African Americans face longer voting times than white voters because they "tend to be concentrated in large urban areas" and "the most populous areas had longer wait times than those living in areas with fewer voters." But Culliton-González, from the Advancement Project, tells Mother Jones that her group's study disproves this, since their research found that there wasn't a clear correlation between longer lines and precincts with dense populations. She says that, in Virginia, for example, "unless a voter can prove they are sick, otherwise disabled, or have to travel for work on Election Day, all voters must vote on the first Tuesday in November. These limits are probably what caused the disparities, as due to socioeconomic factors, many young voters of color have less flexibility in their work schedules." Voting rights groups argue that all states should offer flexible early voting—but some states have done the opposite: North Carolina, for example, is restricting early voting from 17 days to 10 days, starting in 2014.

Culliton-González adds, "We are concerned about 2014, but even more concerned about 2016," since Florida and other states will likely not have enough early voting time so that voters can avoid long lines. (The Advancement Project didn't find evidence of the "time tax" in the state elections earlier this month, partly because voter turnout was so low.)

But even if early voting is taken care of, young voters of color are also more likely to be turned away from the polls because of identification requirements. This was true in 2012, even in states that didn't have voter ID requirements on the books (see chart below). In the state elections that occurred earlier this month, numerous voters complained of being unable to vote because of real or perceived voter ID laws.

According to data collected by the Black Youth Project, an activist group that does research on issues that affect African American youth, only 67 percent of Latino youth and 71 percent of black youth possess driver's licenses, compared to 85 percent of white youth. Additionally, three times more young black voters than white voters said that lack of an ID was the reason they didn't vote in 2012. The Advancement Project and OurTime.org have submitted their report to the Presidential Committee on Election Administration, President Obama's group that is tasked with finding ways to improve voting.

Elizabeth Warren to Congress: Grandma "Will Be Left to Starve" If We Cut Social Security

| Mon Nov. 18, 2013 6:31 PM EST

On Monday afternoon, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) delivered a speech on the Senate floor slamming those on Capitol Hill who want to cut Social Security in order to balance the budget and calling on Congress to expand the program instead.

"This is about our values," the senator said, "and our values tell us that we don't build a future by first deciding who among our most vulnerable will be left to starve."

Lawmakers have to come to an agreement to fund the government by mid-January, and some are floating Social Security cuts as a bargaining chip in a possible budget deal. Even President Barack Obama's last budget proposal contained cuts to the program.

Warren says slashing retirement benefits for elderly Americans is an absurd idea. Warren noted that Social Security payments are already stingy, averaging about $1,250 a month. Plus, an increasing number of Americans can no longer count on healthy pensions through their job. Two decades ago, 35 percent of jobs in the private sector offered workers a traditional pension that provided monthly payments retirees could rely on. Today, that number is only 18 percent. Some 44 million workers get no retirement help from their employers.

Because of the growing "retirement crisis" in America, Warren argued, "we should be talking about expanding Social Security benefits—not cutting them." She noted that several senators, including Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have been pushing for just that.

Seniors are not going to get more generous retirement benefits as long as the GOP-dominated House opposes the idea. But most Democrats have said they won't agree to entitlement cuts without new revenues, and Republicans refuse to raise revenues, so real cuts are unlikely, too. Rather than hashing out a grand bargain that includes cuts to the safety net, Congress will probably kick the can down the road, and come to another modest, last-minute, short-term budget accord early next year.

But Warren's speech was about more than staving off immediate cuts to retirement benefits. It was yet another move to cement her role as Congress' star defender of the middle class. Warren has said she will not run for president in 2016. But this is one of many issues on which she has staked out a position to the left of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is widely expected to run. In a speech at Colgate University last month, Clinton did not rule out the idea of limited cuts to entitlement programs as a means to reaching a budget deal.

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After Judge Gives Rapist Probation, Alabama Rape Crisis Center Pushes to Change Law

| Mon Nov. 18, 2013 2:14 PM EST

The Alabama state house.

In the wake of an Alabama judge's decision to give Austin Smith Clem probation for three felony rape convictions, a network of rape crisis centers in Alabama is pushing to change state law so judges are prevented from handing down such lenient punishments in the future.

In an email to Mother Jones, Janet S. Gabel, the executive director of Crisis Services of North Alabama, says that her organization is "appalled by the judge's decision to not send Mr. Clem to prison."

"We are concerned about the message this sends to rapists and victims in Limestone County," she notes. "I will be asking the Alabama Coalition Against Sexual Violence and the District Attorney's Association to join us in changing the wording of the state statute so that in the future, a convicted rapist will not be sentenced to community corrections but instead will receive an appropriate sentence for such a heinous crime."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 18, 2013

Mon Nov. 18, 2013 10:48 AM EST

Staff Sgt. Juan Fisher, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit embarkation chief, re-enlists during a hike on Oct. 25, 2013. For most of the hike, the Marines wore Mission Oriented Protection Posture, or MOPP gear. The Marines wore the gear because during the hike, they were exposed to CS gas as part of their annual Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear training. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Rome Lazarus/Released.

Liz Cheney Heartlessly Disowns Her Sister on National TV

| Mon Nov. 18, 2013 8:41 AM EST

It's become a tired but true trope for the LGBT rights movement: As more people come out of the closet, the country increasingly tolerates different sexual orientations and identities. It's easy to casually gay bash when you've never met someone who isn't straight. It's much harder—and socially unacceptable—when you have to sit across from your niece and her girlfriend at Thanksgiving dinner.

This has certainly been true in politics. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) wrote an op-ed endorsing same-sex marriage after his college-aged son came out as gay. President Barack Obama cited LGBT members of his staff when he explained his decision to back gay marriage last year. Even former Vice President Dick Cheney began to break GOP orthodoxy during the 2004 campaign. His acceptance can be attributed to his daughter Mary Cheney, a lesbian who married her longtime partner Heather Poe last year. The elder Cheney began to publicly support same-sex unions after he left the White House, pushing Maryland legislators to pass marriage equality in 2012.

But some members of the Cheney family don't seem so tolerant. Mary's older sister Liz is challenging Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) in next year's Republican primary, running on a socially conservative platform. Liz's early poll numbers are dismal, thanks in part to a barrage of outside attack ads that claim she's "wrong for Wyoming" because she "supports government benefits for gay couples." (The fact Liz is a novice candidate who just moved back to the state earlier this year hasn't helped matters either.)

Liz, who's trailing by more than 50 points, couldn't let an attack like that stand pat, so she went on Fox News on Sunday to correct the record, clarifying that she's still dislikes same-sex marriage and doesn't approve of her sister's lifestyle. "Listen, I love Mary very much. I love her family very much," Liz said. "This is just an issue on which we disagree."

That prompted Mary to go public with her objections to Liz's outdated views. "Liz—this isn't just an issue on which we disagree—you're just wrong—and on the wrong side of history," Mary wrote on Facebook.

Poe also critiqued her sister-in-law. "Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children," Poe wrote on Facebook, "and when Mary and I got married in 2012—she didn't hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us. To have her now say she doesn't support our right to marry is offensive to say the least."

Wyoming is behind the national curve when it comes to same-sex marriage. As of July, only 32 percent of voters in the state support it. But Liz Cheney's opposition to full LGBT equality might not play so well; it's hard to campaign on "family values" when you're publicly criticizing your sister's marriage. The two sisters are no longer on speaking terms, with Mary telling the New York Times on Sunday that it is "impossible" unless Liz recants her statements. The Cheney family is scheduled to gather in Wyoming for the most awkward Christmas imaginable. "I will not be seeing her," Mary said.

House Passes GOP Bill That Could Curb Civil Rights Lawsuits

| Mon Nov. 18, 2013 6:00 AM EST

Last week, the House passed a GOP bill that would slap fines on people who file "frivolous lawsuits"—like that one against the Weather Channel for failing to predict a storm. Except that the bill could also discourage Americans from filing civil rights lawsuits, according to Democrats who oppose the bill.

The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, which was introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), passed the House 228 to 195, with only three Democrats voting in favor. It would require courts to fine attorneys for bringing suits that are intended to harass the defendant, or whose claims are not based on fact or existing law, or are not backed by a legitimate argument for establishing new law.

"Lawsuit abuse is common in America because the lawyers who bring these frivolous cases have everything to gain and nothing to lose," Smith said when the bill passed. He and fellow Republicans say that frivolous lawsuits waste thousands of court hours and cost companies billions of dollars each year.

But Democrats say the bill would have dangerous side effects. Smiths' bill could also make it harder for people to successfully bring civil rights lawsuits, they say, because these cases often hinge on new types of legal issues—such as transgender rights—making them more vulnerable to being shot down as invalid by a court. (Earlier this month, House Speaker John Boehner called discrimination lawsuits brought by LGBT individuals "frivolous".) Victims of discrimination may be less likely to file suit if they know they could be penalized for doing so.

The bill "will turn the clock back to a time when federal rules of civil procedure discouraged civil rights cases [and] limited judicial discretion," House judiciary committee ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) told The Hill after the bill passed, adding that the legislation would "have a disastrous impact on the administration of justice."

So, it's a good thing Smith's bill isn't going anywhere. The White House opposes it, and the Senate is unlikely to take the legislation up for a vote.