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 Guardian, Men's Journal, 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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Labor's New Attack on Iowa Senate Candidate Joni Ernst: She's An ALEC Shill

| Tue Sep. 23, 2014 5:17 PM EDT
Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst.

The battle between Democratic congressman Bruce Braley and Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst to be Iowa's next US senator couldn't be closer. In an effort to fire up voters in a race that could decide which party controls the Senate in 2015, the AFL-CIO—the labor federation representing 56 unions and 12.5 million workers—is blasting out mailers this week attacking Ernst for her membership in the American Legislative Exchange Committee, the so-called bill mill in which corporations and state lawmakers get together in private to draft industry-friendly legislation.

The new mailers, which are going out to tens of thousands of union households in Iowa, say that Ernst, who has been an ALEC member, "works for corporate interests, not yours" and is "already in the pockets of big corporations." The mailers also criticize Ernst for supporting "huge corporate tax breaks," refusing to support an increase in the minimum wage, and accepting $200,000 in contributions from donors who've supported ALEC, such as the tobacco company Altria, oil companies, and billionaire industrialist Charles Koch and members of Koch's immediate family. "Hardworking Iowa families are struggling," the mailer says, "but Joni Ernst just keeps voting with ALEC, the corporate special interest group that is taking over our state by giving free trips and expensive meals to politicians." (Ernst's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.)

Here's the first anti-Ernst mailer:

 

Here's the second anti-Ernst mailer:

 

Michael Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO's political director, says the anti-Ernst mailers are intended to hurt Ernst's image as well as motivate Democratic voters, who tend to be less enthusiastic in non-presidential years. The mailers, in other words, aren't geared toward swinging undecided voters but rather mobilizing the Democratic base to vote on Election Day. "These mailers are part of an effort to dramatize to people just how stark the choice is and how consequential their vote is," Podhorzer says. "We hope this will motivate people to turn out and motivate people who are undecided to think about the race in economic terms."

The AFL-CIO also plans to target two other Republican Senate candidates—Colorado congressman Cory Gardner and Michigan's Terri Lynn Land—with anti-ALEC mailers. A spokesman says the AFL-CIO will attack Gardner for being an "ALEC alum" (he was a member when he served in the state legislature) and Land for accepting contributions from ALEC donors.

This week, ALEC received some unwelcome news when Google board chairman Eric Schmidt said the company's decision to fund ALEC was a "mistake." Schmidt singled out ALEC's anti-climate-change stance as the reason for Google's regret over its ties with ALEC. "Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place," he said. "And so we should not be aligned with such people—they're just literally lying."

Rand Paul to Appear at Event Featuring Neo-Confederate Aide He Had to Fire

| Tue Sep. 16, 2014 3:29 PM EDT
Sen. Rand Paul (left) and former Paul aide Jack Hunter.

This week, the Ron Paul-led Campaign for Liberty hosts its fourth annual Liberty Political Action Conference, and the speaking list features a roster of well-known Republican politicians and libertarian activists. The biggest draw of this year's LPAC will undoubtedly be Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who each day inches closer to a 2016 presidential run. Slated to speak at the same event, though, is Paul's ex-aide Jack Hunter, who the senator fired after his past as a neo-Confederate advocate was revealed.

Hunter used to be the social media director in Paul's Senate office, and he co-wrote Paul's 2010 book, The Tea Party Goes to Washington. But in 2013, the Washington Free Beacon revealed that Hunter, under a different identity, had long been involved with the neo-Confederate and southern secessionist movements. For 13 years, Hunter was a South Carolina talk radio host who called himself the "Southern Avenger." In public, he wore a luchador mask bearing a Confederate flag. As the Avenger, Hunter made many a provocative remark, including arguably racist comments. He said that John Wilkes Booth's heart was "in the right place" and that he celebrated Booth's birthday every year. He claimed that Abraham Lincoln would have been romantically drawn to Adolf Hitler. He called the NAACP a "malicious hate group" on par with the KKK. He contended that a "non-white majority America would simply cease to be America."

Hunter also chaired an organization called the League of the South, which advocated "the secession and subsequent independence of the Southern States from this forced union and the formation of a Southern republic." The Free Beacon reported,

"The League of the South is an implicitly racist group in that the idealized version of the South that they promote is one which, to use their ideology, is dominated by 'Anglo-Celtic' culture, which is their code word for 'white,'" said Mark Pitcavage, the director of investigative research at the [Anti-Defamation League]. The ADL said it does not necessarily classify it as a hate group.

The League of the South maintains that it is not racist and does not discriminate in terms of membership.

"When I was part of it, they were very explicit that's not what they were about," Hunter told the Free Beacon. "I was a young person, it was a fairly radical group—the same way a person on the left might be attracted in college to some left-wing radical groups."

After Hunter was unmasked, Paul said that his Southern Avenger commentaries were "stupid" and canned him. A few months later, Hunter wrote a story titled "Confessions of a Right-Wing Shock Jock" and distanced himself from his old comments. "I said many terrible things," he wrote. "I disavow them."

Now, Hunter is back in the fold and back on the speaker's list in the liberty movement presided over by Ron and Rand Paul. The Campaign for Liberty bills him as "the one and only Jack Hunter." Hard to argue with that.

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