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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Shadowy Wisconsin Group That Helped Scott Walker Win His Recall Was Backed by the Koch Network

| Thu Jan. 9, 2014 11:57 AM EST

Days before Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker's June 2012 recall election, two TV ads ran on stations statewide. Paid for by a group called the Coalition for American Values (CAV), the ads attacked the very notion of holding a recall election (even though it's in the state constitution) and featured supposed Wisconsin citizens speaking out against the recall. "I didn't vote for Scott Walker, but I'm definitely against the recall," one man says. In another ad, the narrator says, "Recall isn't the Wisconsin way...End the recall madness. Vote for Scott Walker June 5th."

CAV put $400,000 behind those ads, which stoked a sense of unease about the recall among Wisconsin voters. Walker coasted to a seven-point victory. Exit polls strongly suggested that CAV's ads played a part in the governor's win. Yet the mystery surrounding the Coalition for American Values persisted. The group never disclosed how much it spent, how much it raised, or who funded it.

Until now. As first reported by the left-leaning Center for Media and Democracy, new tax filings reveal that the main source of CAV's funding was the Center to Protect Patient Rights, an Arizona nonprofit that gave CAV $510,000 in 2012. CPPR is a linchpin in a network of nonprofit groups Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists, use to shuffle money around the country while keeping donors anonymous. California's Fair Political Practices Commission identified the group as "the key nonprofit in the Koch Brothers' dark money network of nonprofit corporations," and hit the group and a related nonprofit with a $1 million fine for failing to disclose donations made during the 2012 election season. All told, CPPR doled out $156 million in dark money in 2011 and 2012, a sizable chunk of the $407 million moved by the Kochs' network of nonprofit groups.

Run by a onetime Koch operative named Sean Noble, CPPR is expected to play less of a role in the Koch network going forward. The California investigation—which revealed the identities of hundreds of previously secret donors and private marketing material used by Republican operatives—brought unwanted scrutiny to the Kochs and their conservative and libertarian allies. An October 2012 Huffington Post story reported that Noble, the former "the wizard behind the screen" for the Kochs, had fallen out of favor. "Noble has had his wings clipped," one Republican operative told HuffPost.

The Center for Media and Democracy says it has filed a formal complaint with Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board alleging that the Coalition for American Values violated state campaign finance laws by not disclosing its CPPR funding. A message left at the phone number listed on CAV's website was not returned.

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NSA Won't Say If It's Spying on Members of Congress

| Mon Jan. 6, 2014 10:54 AM EST
US Army General Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency.

Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) posed an intriguing—and potentially damaging—question to the embattled National Security Agency: "Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials?"

Sanders, in his letter to the NSA, defined spying as collecting lawmakers' phone metadata (information on phone numbers called, where calls are made to and from, how long the call lasts), information about website and email traffic, and "any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business." As the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have revealed, the NSA has hoovered up personal information on just about everyone else on the planet—elected leaders of foreign countries, diplomats, allies and enemies overseas, and millions of American citizens. Although none of the Snowden documents published thus far mention NSA spying on American elected officials, it was only a matter of time before an angry member of Congress asked if Capitol Hill, too, had been a focus of the agency's surveillance.

The NSA quickly responded to Sanders' letter, and as the Guardian reports, it includes no denial of spying on members of Congress. Here's the statement:

NSA's authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of US persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all US persons. NSA is fully committed to transparency with Congress. Our interaction with Congress has been extensive both before and since the media disclosures began last June.

We are reviewing Senator Sanders's letter now, and we will continue to work to ensure that all members of Congress, including Senator Sanders, have information about NSA's mission, authorities, and programs to fully inform the discharge of their duties."

In other words, we treat members of Congress like all other American citizens. Whom the NSA spies on by collecting vast stores of metadata on phone calls and other communications. A fact that James Clapper, the top intelligence official in Obama's cabinet, lied about under oath before Congress last year.

Based on the NSA's statement, the agency apepars to be preparing a fuller response to Sanders' letter. Perhaps that might put to rest any worries about domestic spying on our nation's most powerful lawmakers. If it doesn't, and if concerns about spying on Congress fester, we might see the House or Senate haul Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, back to Capitol Hill to testify. That'll make for exciting daytime television.

Read Bernie Sanders' letter to the NSA:

 

Koch-Backed Group Opens 2014 With $2.5 Million Obamacare Ad Assault

| Thu Jan. 2, 2014 11:35 AM EST
Screenshot of Americans for Prosperity's new ad attacking Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).

Americans for Prosperity, the national conservative group backed by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, has kicked off 2014 right where it left off in 2013. On Thursday, AFP unveiled a TV ad campaign hammering three Democratic senators for their support of the Affordable Care Act.

AFP has spent more than $2.5 million on a three-week run of ads starting this week that criticize Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). Two of those three senators—Hagan and Landrieu—are among the most vulnerable Democratic senators running for reelection this November, according to polling. (Polls consistently show Shaheen with strong support back home.)

Here's one of the AFP ads, this one attacking Hagan:

While the Hagan ad quotes North Carolina resident (and vocal Obamacare critic) Sheila Salter as saying Hagan "just doesn't get it," the other two spots slam Landrieu and Shaheen for specifically claiming that Americans could keep their existing health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. This was a popular talking point of President Obama's that, well, turned out not to be true. PolitiFact named the statement its 2013 Lie of the Year.

AFP's latest Obamacare ad blitz offers a taste of a midterm election year in which President Obama's health-care law will be a hot topic of debate and a political bludgeon wielded by the law's opponents. AFP is one of the leading anti-Obamacare groups, spending more than $16 million on ads criticizing the law since August, according to AFP spokesman Levi Russell.

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