Andy Kroll

Andy Kroll

Senior Reporter

Andy Kroll is Mother Jones' Dark Money reporter. He is based in the DC bureau. His work has also appeared at the Wall Street Journal, the Detroit News, the Guardian, the American Prospect, and TomDispatch.com, where he's an associate editor. Email him at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. He tweets at @AndrewKroll.

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This Group Is Starting the Elizabeth-Warren-for-President Campaign

| Tue Jul. 15, 2014 5:21 PM EDT

Move over, Ready for Hillary. You've got competition.

A group of progressive activists have unveiled Ready for Warren, a new outfit aimed at convincing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to run for president. Ready for Warren's website asks supporters to sign a petition urging Warren to get in the 2016 race. "It's time that the American people had a lobbyist of our own, and that lobbyist is Elizabeth Warren," the petition reads. "By standing up to Wall Street to defend Main Street, Warren has proven herself to be the spine that the Democratic Party forgot it had."

The Huffington Post reports that Ready for Warren's campaign manager is Erica Sagrans, an alum of President Obama's 2012 campaign. League of Young Voters founder Billy Wimsatt will serve as a senior adviser to the group. The group also has a Twitter account and a Facebook page.

Here's more from HuffPost:

Ready for Warren supporters will be bringing a van full of supporters to Netroots Nation, the annual gathering of progressive activists that is taking place in Detroit this week.

"We don't want to say too much about our exact plans, but we'll definitely be out in force and supporting Warren when she speaks on Friday," said Sagrans, adding, "We're planning on using Netroots as an opportunity to build on a lot of the momentum she's seen elsewhere and to show not only that she has progressive support—because I think we know that—but that there is an organized effort and people who are working on harnessing that support and building it into a real Draft Warren campaign."

The Ready for Warren supporters will have some competition at the conference. Ready for Hillary and its splashy bus will be there, and Vice President Joe Biden will be addressing the gathering for the first time.

Going forward, the campaign will make sure there are Warren supporters to greet her and encourage her to run as she goes around the country stumping for Democratic candidates. Sagrans said they haven't yet decided what shape the campaign will officially take—whether it will be a super PAC or a hybrid PAC like the Ready for Hillary effort—but they're going to step up volunteer efforts, fundraising and make sure they're a presence in the early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. An explosive amount of fundraising could be one way to entice Warren into the race.

Warren has insisted she's not running for president. Asked by the Boston Globe about a potential White House bid, she replied, "No, no, no, no, no." Yet there are signs that suggest she hasn't completely closed the door on 2016. Her recently published book, A Fighting Chance, read like something a politician eyeing higher office would write. And in an interview with Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, Warren appeared to leave herself some wiggle room about a future presidential bid.

Recently Warren has traveled the country campaigning and raising boatloads of cash for fellow Democrats on the 2014 ticket—and in the process, raising her national profile. Her super-PAC hauled in $620,000 in April, May, and June, a four-fold increase from the previous three months.

The launch of Ready for Warren is yet more evidence that just about every progressive out there wants Warren to run—every progressive, that is, but Warren herself.

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Here Are 4 Lawsuits That Could Inflict More Damage on Unions After Harris v. Quinn

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 12:05 PM EDT

On Monday, the Supreme Court's conservative justices on Monday defied some expectations by not decimating public-employee labor unions via their ruling in Harris v. Quinn. Given the opportunity to issue a sprawling decision that would overturn decades of precedent, and in the process kneecap the basic model of public-employee unionism, the five justices, led by Samuel Alito, instead issued a narrower decision. They ruled that home health care workers in Illinois are not full-fledged public workers and thus cannot be required to pay so-called fair-share fees to unions—money that goes toward the cost of union representation for all workers in a particular workplace.

But we may be back in this same situation a year from now, with the Supreme Court holding the fate of public-employee unions in its hands. That's because there are a handful of ongoing lawsuits in courts around the country that pose similar challenges to unions as Harris did and that could end up before the Supreme Court. It's possible that one of these cases could do further damage to the labor movement—with the potential to wipe out the precedent set in 1977's Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision. (In Abood, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of public-employee unions collecting fair-share fees from nonmembers to pay the costs of collective bargaining.)

If you're looking for a common thread between these challenges, it's the National Right-to-Work Legal Foundation, the driving force behind many anti-union suits around the country. The foundation represented the plaintiffs in Harris v. Quinn, and it has provided legal help in two of the following cases. 

Here's a snapshot of four cases that could be the next Harris:

  • D'Agostino v. Patrick: A group of home child care workers in Massachusetts filed suit after the state passed a law designating the SEIU as the exclusive union for those workers. Similar to the Illinois home care workers who brought the Harris suit, the Massachusetts workers claim their rights are being infringed on by being represented by SEIU, meaning union members and nonmembers pay dues in exchange for the benefits that come with union representation. This case is in the Federal District Court of Massachusetts.
  • Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association: A group of public school teachers in California claim that the requirement that they pay fair-share dues to the California Teachers Association infringes on their First Amendment rights. Their suit also seeks to ban the "opt-out" model of automatic dues deductions, in which teachers who pay dues must opt out to keep their money from funding union political activity. Instead, the plaintiffs want teachers to opt in to fund that political work. This case is with the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Parrish v. Dayton: After Minnesota Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill in May 2013 allowing the state's child care providers to vote to unionize, opponents filed a suit similar to Harris to halt the new law. The suit was on hold pending the outcome of the Harris case. The plaintiffs hailed the Supreme Court's decision in Harris, and their lawyers now expect movement in Parrish.
  • Hamidi v. SEIU Local 1000: This suit targets the part of California law that allows public-employee unions to use the opt-out model for dues paying, as described above. If Hamidi, who works for the state's Franchise Tax Board, succeeds, his suit could take a bite out of Abood, which in part upheld the practice of opt-out clauses. Hamidi's case is currently in California district court.

Unions Should Brace Themselves for a Major Supreme Court Loss

| Thu Jun. 26, 2014 1:04 PM EDT

It's official: The Supreme Court will wait until Monday, the final day of the current term, to issue its decision in Harris v. Quinn. As I explained in May, Harris is a blockbuster case that could, in a worst-case scenario, wipe public-employee unions such as SEIU and AFSCME off the map. And the chances of a damaging decision in Harris just increased—here's why.

Heading into Thursday, the Supreme Court had Harris and three other cases left to decide. The justices chose to issue their opinions concerning presidential recess appointments (Noel Canning v. National Labor Relations Board) and so-called buffer zones keeping protesters at a distance from abortion clinics (McCullen v. Coakley). Justice Stephen Breyer, a liberal member of the court, wrote the Canning opinion; Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, took the lead in McCullen.

This makes it more likely that Justice Samuel Alito, who we've yet to hear much from, will write the opinion in Harris, which points to bad news for public-employee unions. "There's almost no question [Justice] Alito has this opinion unless he lost his majority along way," tweets Rick Hasen, a University of California-Irvine law professor. "Anti-union is his signature issue."

Labor officials can only hope Hasen is wrong. Alito is strongly anti-union. In the 2012 case Knox v. SEIU, Alito essentially invited labor's foes to challenge the basic model of public-employee unionism, in which non-union employees can be made to pay dues to a union for bargaining on their behalf, representing them in grievance issues, etc. Harris makes such a challenge; it's what Alito asked for.

Unions like to call those non-member payments "fair share" dues. If it's the union's job, they reason, to represent all members and nonmembers in a unionized workplace, then all those workers should pay their fair share for that representation. Conservatives—and Alito—say fair-share fees violate the First Amendment rights of non-union workers.

The outcome in Harris could cut a number of ways. The Supreme Court could uphold the lower court's decision dismissing the suit—a big union victory. It could strike down fair share fees—the equivalent of Congress passing a national right-to-work bill. (Right-to-work laws ban unions from collecting those fair-share fees from non-members.) Public-employee unions would survive that decision, but it would be a blow. The court could also effectively enact right-to-work nationwide and kneecap a union's ability to exclusively represent employees in a unionized workplace. That would be catastrophic for public-employee unions.

If there's any judge who might go that far, it would be Samuel Alito.

Senate Democrats Re-up Their Dark-Money Disclosure Bill—and Dare GOPers to Block It

| Tue Jun. 24, 2014 3:22 PM EDT
Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), right, and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), cosponsors of the DISCLOSE Act of 2014.

The 2014 elections are awash in dark money—and it's only getting worse. The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity alone plans to spend $125 million or more on this year's elections. In response, Senate Democrats are ratcheting up their efforts to put anonymous political spending in the headlines. On Tuesday, a group of Democrats introduced a rebooted version of the DISCLOSE Act, a bill intended to cast light on political dark money, which spiked from $69 million in 2008 to $310 million in 2012.

Cosponsored by 50 Democrats in the Senate, the DISCLOSE Act of 2014 would cover election spending by corporations, labor unions, super-PACs, and, most importantly, politically active nonprofits (like Americans for Prosperity or the Democrat-aligned Patriot Majority). Disclosing dark money is a tricky issue—here's how new bill would attempt to do it.

Say you run an anonymously funded nonprofit group planning to spend money on the 2014 midterms. Under this bill, after spending your first $10,000 on elections, you'd have to disclose that spending within 24 hours to the Federal Election Commission. You'd then need to disclose each additional $10,000 in election spending—again within 24 hours. Right now, spending by nonprofit groups can occur with little or no disclosure, so this would give reporters, parties, campaigns, and the public much more up-to-date information on who's spending money where.

What about the donors funding these groups? The new DISCLOSE Act would require groups covered by the bill to reveal the source of donations of $10,000 or more. That's no sweat for super-PACs, which already disclose their donors. But it's a huge deal for politically active nonprofits, those groups organized under the 501(c)(4) section of the tax code. Part of the appeal of these nonprofits is the anonymity they afford their funders: A donor can give $1 million or $10 million or $100 million without anyone being the wiser. (The bill does allow for groups to use separate bank accounts—one to fund election spending, another to fund issue advocacy—to give anonymity to donors who wish to support non-political work.)

The bill also targets the use of pass-throughs and shell corporations to evade disclosure rules, mandating that groups that receive such donations name the origin of the money. We've seen a few notable instances of this. In 2011, a mysterious company called W Spann LLC gave $1 million to the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future—then it dissolved. The true donor's identity remained hidden until pressure from Democrats and the media prompted Ed Conard, a former partner of Romney's at Bain Capital, to reveal that he authorized the W Spann donation. In late 2012, the Washington Post reported that Cancer Treatment Centers of America founder Richard Stephenson and his family routed $12 million in donations to the tea-party group FreedomWorks through two Tennessee companies. Until the Post's story, the true source of the $12 million was unknown.

Back to the new DISCLOSE Act. In a nutshell it calls for: More information on campaign spending, disclosed more quickly. More disclosure of previously hidden big donors—liberal and conservative and centrist—influencing elections. And no shell games to avoid the sunlight.

The bad news: The new DISCLOSE Act is likely going nowhere. Senate Republicans, rallied by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have blocked earlier iterations of the DISCLOSE Act since 2010. McConnell, currently a foe of campaign finance limits, will no doubt fight the new legislation. It is almost guaranteed the bill will not secure the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

In unveiling the new DISCLOSE Act, Senate Democrats highlighted McConnell's past support for greater disclosure of election spending. In 1987, McConnell introduced a resolution to allow Congress to set limits on outside spending intended to elect or defeat a candidate for federal office; he said the measure "would restrict the power of special interest PACs, stop the flow of all soft money, keep wealthy individuals from buying public office." In 1997, McConnell called for "expedited" public disclosure of campaign giving and spending. And in 2000, on the Senate floor, he said, "Virtually everybody in the Senate is in favor of enhanced disclosure, greater disclosure, that's really hardly a controversial subject."

Herman Cain: A First Grader Could Run America Better Than Obama

| Fri Jun. 20, 2014 2:09 PM EDT
Herman Cain.

Failed Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain—remember him?—laced into President Obama and his administration at the annual conference of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a confab for evangelicals and pro-life activists.

Cain said the Obama administration was suffering from "a crisis of crises" on the home front and abroad. He then contended that "a first grader would approach these problems a lot smarter" than Obama and his team. "I'm not saying that to be insulting," he said. "I'm just telling you the truth."

Cain also exhorted the half-filled ballroom at Washington, DC's Omni Shoreham hotel to inform themselves and get active in politics. They needed to get involved because, as he put it, "stupid people [who do vote and volunteer] are ruining America."

Those in the room need to outnumber those "stupid people," he continued. "The solution is real simple folks. Those of us who are informed have got to outvote the stupid people. And you have got to become ambassadors of intelligence, ambassadors of information."

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