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 @AndyKroll.

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Ted Cruz: Conservative Darling. Grandstanding Senator. Campaign-Finance Reform Ally?

| Thu May 1, 2014 9:51 AM EDT

For the first time since the McCutcheon v. FEC decision, the Supreme Court's latest ruling further rolling back restrictions on the flow of money in American politics, members of the Senate on Wednesday tackled the onslaught of "dark money" washing through 2014 races and the future consequences of McCutcheon. (Short answer: More wealthy Americans pumping more money into political races in 2014 and beyond.)

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens headlined Wednesday's hearing, organized by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). Stevens took a decidedly progressive tack in his remarks, declaring that "money is not speech" and calling on Congress to write campaign-finance rules that "create a level playing field" for all political candidates. But perhaps the more revealing set of comments came from an unlikely source: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the self-styled populist always trying, as he reminds us, to "make DC listen" to the little guy. 

In short, Cruz, who's as conservative as they come, may have more in common with the campaign-finance reform crowd than he realizes.

He raised eyebrows, for instance, as he described his vision for America's campaign finance system. "A far better system," he said, "would be to allow individual unlimited contributions to candidates and require immediate disclosure." The unlimited contributions part of that statement is standard conservative fare: If billionaires like Tom Steyer or Sheldon Adelson or Michael Bloomberg want to underwrite their preferred candidates with bottomless dollars, go ahead and let them. But the latter half—"require immediate disclosure"—is significant. It's a break from GOP leaders including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus who've soured on the idea of disclosure. Angus King later said he was so struck by Cruz's comments that he'd scribbled them down. Might Senate Democrats have an unlikely ally in Cruz if and when the DISCLOSE Act gets another vote?

At the hearing, Cruz went on to assail his fellow members of Congress for caring more about hanging onto their seats than pursuing real legislative solutions. "Our democratic process is broken and corrupt right now because politicians in both parties hold onto incumbency," he said. "We need to empower the individual citizens." Funny thing is, that's what Democrats who support the Government By The People Act and other fair elections programs want as well. Fair elections backers say candidates spend too much time raising money from wealthy individuals, which not only shrinks the field of people who can run for office but arguably makes those candidates who do run more receptive to well-heeled funders. Give candidates a reason to court lots of small donors—say, offering to match donations of $150 or less with six times that in public money—and you expose them to a diverse array of people. Meanwhile, your Average Joe, without his Rolodex full of well-to-do friends, can now mount a competitive bid for office. If Cruz wants to "empower the individual citizens," fair elections is one way to do it.

Not that Cruz hung around long enough on Wednesday to hear these kinds of ideas. He high-tailed it out of the hearing after delivering his remarks. Maybe he had a fundraiser to get to.

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Koch-Linked Firm Devoted to Grooming "Electable" Candidates Signs Up Arkansas GOP Leader

| Thu Apr. 24, 2014 5:06 AM EDT
Arkansas Congressional candidate Bruce Westerman

In January, Mother Jones broke the story of one of the newest affiliates of Charles and David Koch's sprawling political machine, a consulting firm named Aegis Strategic created to identify, recruit, and groom free-market-minded candidates for elected office. Aegis bills itself as a one-stop shop for aspiring politicians, able to handle general consulting, fundraising, direct mail, social media, and more. The firm is run by Jeff Crank, a radio host and two-time congressional candidate who previously ran the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers.

When we reported on the firm earlier this year, Aegis Strategic had only one client: Marilinda Garcia, a New Hampshire state lawmaker running for Congress. But new campaign filings show that Aegis has since signed up at least one more congressional hopeful: Bruce Westerman, the former Republican majority leader of the Arkansas state House.

Westerman is running to replace Rep. Tom Cotton in Arkansas' 4th Congressional District. (Cotton is now running for Senate and hoping to oust the incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor. Americans for Prosperity has spent millions of dollars attacking Pryor on the airwaves.) Westerman's campaign paid Aegis $4,000 for strategy consulting in March, campaign records show. (In January, Westerman also tweeted a photo of himself with Brad Stevens, Aegis Strategic's director of candidate identification, with the message, "Caught up with part of campaign team.")

According to Westerman's campaign website, he was the first GOPer to lead the Arkansas House in 138 years. And he wouldn't have been in that position without the help of the Kochs' political network, especially Americans for Prosperity. During the 2012 election cycle, AFP reportedly spent upwards of $1 million in Arkansas on mailers, a bus tour (featuring Cliff from the TV show Cheers), phone banking, and grassroots canvassing. That effort helped flip both the state House and Senate from Democratic to Republican control. AFP figured so prominently in the 2012 cycle that the Arkansas Times named the Koch brothers "Arkansans of the Year."

Both of Aegis' two congressional clients also have received financial support from Kochworld. Garcia received a $2,500 donation from Koch Industries' political action committee, two $2,500 checks from AFP-New Hampshire's Greg Moore, and $250 from Alan Philp, whom Aegis lists as its chief operating officer. Westerman also got a $250 check from Philp.

Now, after AFP helped Westerman succeed in Arkansas, another offshoot of the Koch political operation is working to send him to Washington.

READ: Conspiracy Theorist Dick Morris Blasts Clinton Conspiracy Theorists in Unsealed '95 Memo

| Mon Apr. 21, 2014 12:15 PM EDT
Dick Morris.

Dick Morris, the one-time adviser to President Bill Clinton, has carved out a strange, multi-faceted career in recent years, engaging in questionable political dealings, pitching misguided punditry (he predicted Mitt Romney would win in a landslide in 2012), and peddling conspiracy theories. On his website, Morris argues that the CIA, FBI, and the mob were behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He co-wrote a book pushing right-wing conspiracy theories about the United Nations, international agencies, and the like. ("Black helicopters is the crazy word for the UN invading the United States," Morris said in previewing the book. "But it's really going to happen.") He's banged the IRS-scandal drum, insisting that Obama was secretly behind the agency's supposed scrutiny of conservative groups. He pushed anti-Obama Benghazi theories. He backed Donald Trump's birther talk.

Morris wasn't always this, uh, unconventional. In fact, in a newly released memo from Clinton's presidential archives, Morris advised the president to call out the conspiracy theorists of the 1990s and to combat the widespread right-wing paranoia of that time—the same sort of paranoia that Morris now exploits to make a buck.

Morris' May 1995 memo offered comments on a speech Clinton was to give at Michigan State University. It was just two weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing, and Morris urged the president to take a tough line against the right-wing militia crowd and those conservatives who had been asserting that the federal government was encroaching on their lives and eviscerating their civil liberties. Such incendiary rhetoric had been on the rise for several years, and the Oklahoma City attack was seen by some political observers as the culmination of this anti-government campaign.

"I'd propose tougher language," Morris wrote. He suggested these lines: "How dare you say that the government is in a conspiracy to take your freedom. This is the government you helped elect and you can change... How dare you appropriate to your paranoid ways, our scared national symbols... How dare you invoke the Founding Fathers who created the elective government you claim as you persecutor."

Clinton ended up using several of Morris' suggestions in his speech. "How dare you suggest that we in the freest nation on earth live in tyranny?" Clinton asked. "How dare you call yourselves patriots and heroes?"

Read the full memo:

 
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