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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It's Not Just Those Emails. Here's The Secret Investigation That Should Worry Scott Walker.

| Fri Feb. 21, 2014 3:27 PM EST
Governor Scott Walker.

This week, the media got the chance to pore over more than 27,000 pages of previously unreleased emails and other documents gathered during a three-year secret investigation of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's staff when he was executive of Milwaukee County. That secret probe—what Wisconsin law enforcement calls a "John Doe" investigation—resulted in charges against three former aides to Walker, a major campaign donor, and a Walker appointee. The John Doe probe figured prominently in Democrats' attacks on Walker during his June 2012 recall election that the governor handily won. Walker himself never faced any charges.

The recently released emails shed new light on the activities of Walker and his aides. Walker had insisted that staffers in his county executive office had been prohibited from doing political work on county time, yet these records show the opposite was true. The future governor and his underlings set up a private WiFi network to communicate with staff on his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, and county staffers used private laptops so that their campaign-related work wouldn't appear on their county computers. The emails also show the degree to which Walker's staff (whose salaries were funded by taxpayers) worked to get him elected governor while on the county clock. As Mary Bottari of PRWatch notes, Kelly Rindfleisch, a former Walker aide who was convicted of campaigning on county time, sent and received a whopping 3,486 emails from representatives of Friends of Scott Walker, most during normal work hours. (Walker, through his spokesman, declined to comment about the emails.)

State and national Democrats want the public to see these emails as part of a Chris Christie-style scandal. But there's a big difference: This case is closed—and it has been since March 2013. So while the emails may result in some unflattering stories and uncomfortable questions for Walker, especially if he later runs for president, there's nothing serious (read: legal) to worry Walker. Christie, on the other hand, faces two active probes of Bridgegate and related matters—one mounted by a legislative committee, the other by a US attorney—that could drag on for months, if not years.

But there is an investigation that should keep Walker up at night: a second John Doe investigation reportedly focused on his 2012 recall campaign. (After Walker targeted public-sector unions following his 2010 election as governor, labor and its allies launched a petition drive to throw Walker out of office via recall election.) John Doe probes are conducted in secret so the public can't know all the details, but leaked documents suggest investigators are looking at possible illegal coordination between Walker's recall campaign and independent groups that spent millions of dollars to keep him in office. Here's how the progressive Center for Media and Democracy wrote about the investigation recently:

The John Doe probe began in August of 2012 and is examining possible "illegal campaign coordination between (name redacted), a campaign committee, and certain special interest groups," according to an unsealed filing in the case. Sources told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the redacted committee is the Walker campaign, Friends of Scott Walker. Campaign filings show that Walker spent $86,000 on legal fees in the second half of 2013.

A John Doe is similar to a grand jury investigation, but in front of a judge rather than a jury, and is conducted under strict secrecy orders. Wisconsin's 4th Circuit Court of Appeals unsealed some documents last week as it rejected a challenge to the probe filed by three of the unnamed "special interest groups" that had received subpoenas in the investigation and issued a ruling allowing the investigation to move forward.

The special interest groups under investigation include Wisconsin Club for Growth, which is led by a top Walker advisor and friend, R.J. Johnson, and which spent at least $9.1 million on "issue ads" supporting Walker and legislative Republicans during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections. Another group is Citizens for a Strong America, which was entirely funded by Wisconsin Club for Growth in 2011 and 2012 and acted as a conduit for funding other groups that spent on election issue ads; CSA's president is John Connors, who previously worked for David Koch's Americans for Prosperity and is part of the leadership at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity (publishers of Watchdog.org and Wisconsin Reporter). Other groups reportedly receiving subpoenas include AFP, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and the Republican Governors Association.

Unlike the first John Doe probe, this newer one seems to have Walker's political operation in its sights. This ought to have Walker and his aides far more concerned than some old emails from his Milwaukee County days.

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Potential 2016 Contender Martin O'Malley Supports New Bill to Wean Politicians Off Big Money

| Wed Feb. 12, 2014 12:01 PM EST
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

While Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee in the 2016 presidential contest, has made headlines lately for the big-money-fueled super-PACs lining up in her corner, another potential Democratic contender, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, is embracing the other end of the political money spectrum.

O'Malley, who would likely run to the left of Clinton in 2016, says he supports the Government By The People Act, a new bill recently introduced by Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes intended to increase the number of small-dollar donors in congressional elections and nudge federal candidates to court those $50 and $100 givers instead of wealthier people who can easily cut $2,500 checks. The nuts and bolts of the Government By The People Act are nothing new: To encourage political giving, Americans get a $25 tax credit for the primary season and another $25 credit for the general election. And on the candidate side, every dollar of donations up to $150 will be matched with six dollars of public money, in effect "supersizing" small donations. (Participating candidates must agree to a $1,000 cap on all contributions to get that 6-to-1 match.) In other words, the Sarbanes bill wants federal campaigns funded by more people giving smaller amounts instead of fewer people maxing out.

What makes the Sarbanes bill stand out is breadth of support it enjoys. The bill has 130 cosponsors—all Democrats with the exception of Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.)—including Sarbanes and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) And practically every progressive group under the sun has stumped for the Government By The People Act, including the Communication Workers of America, the Teamsters, Sierra Club, NAACP, Working Families, Friends of Democracy super-PAC, and more. Through efforts like the Democracy Initiative and the Fund for the Republic, progressives are mobilizing around the issue of money in politics, and their championing of Sarbanes' bill is a case in point.

But O'Malley is the first 2016 hopeful to stump for the reforms outlined in the Government By The People Act. "We need more action and smarter solutions to improve our nation's campaign finance system, and I commend Congressmen John Sarbanes and Chris Van Hollen for their leadership on this important issue," O'Malley said in a statement. "Elections are the foundation of a successful democracy and these ideas will put us one step closer toward a better, more representative system that reflects the American values we share."

No other Democratic headliners, including Clinton, have taken a position on the Sarbanes bill. (New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did include a statewide public financing program in his latest budget proposal. And Clinton, as a senator, cosponsored the Kerry-Wellstone Clean Elections Act.) Yet with nearly every major liberal group rallying around the money-in-politics issue, any Democrat angling for the White House in 2016 will need to speak up on how he or she will reform today's big-money political system.

JPMorgan Paid $20 Billion in Fines Last Year—So Its Board Is Giving Jamie Dimon a Raise

| Fri Jan. 24, 2014 2:42 PM EST
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon.

The New York Times reported Friday that Jamie Dimon, the silver-haired CEO of JPMorgan Chase, the nation's largest bank by assets, is getting a raise. Dimon is poised to add a few million to the $11.5 million compensation package he took home in 2013.

If you so much as glanced at the news last year, this bit of news may puzzle you. JPMorgan, in many ways, had a miserable 2013. JPMorgan paid $1 billion in fines in the wake of the "London Whale" scandal, in which the bank lost $6 billion on a market-rattling blunder by a trader named Bruno Iksil. The bank also paid $13 billion to settle charges that it'd peddled risky mortgage-backed securities. And it forked over another $2 billion to settle charges for failing to spot Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme, which Madoff perpetrated largely using JPMorgan accounts. All told, the bank paid out roughly $20 billion in penalties to federal regulators over a slew of screw-ups and failures.

2013 was a rough year for JPMorgan. So why is Dimon getting a raise? The answer, in part, will make your blood boil. Here's the money quote in the Times:

Mr. Dimon's defenders point to his active role in negotiating a string of government settlements that helped JPMorgan move beyond some of its biggest legal problems. He has also solidified his support among board members, according to the people briefed on the matter, by acting as a chief negotiator as JPMorgan worked out a string of banner government settlements this year.

[...]

Mr. Dimon's star has risen more recently as he took on a critical role in negotiating both the bank’s $13 billion settlement with government authorities over its sale of mortgage-backed securities in the years before the financial crisis and the $2 billion settlement over accusations that the bank turned a blind eye to signs of fraud surrounding Bernard L. Madoff.

Just hours before the Justice Department was planning to announce civil charges against JPMorgan over its sales of shaky mortgage investments in September, Mr. Dimon personally reached out to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.—a move that averted a lawsuit and ultimately resulted in the brokered deal. Just a few months later, Mr. Dimon acted as an emissary again, this time, meeting with Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan leading the investigation into the Madoff Ponzi scheme.

In other words, as big as those multibillion-dollar settlements were, JPMorgan board members believe the bank's legal problems could've been worse. Blast-a-hole-in-our-balance-sheet worse. And so Dimon's pay bump is a reward for locking horns with bank regulators and federal authorities and hashing out settlement deals that were favorable to the bank. He's getting a raise because he beat the regulators, played them so well, JPMorgan board members seem to be saying, that he deserves to be rewarded for the deals he helped engineer.

There are other factors, too. Despite its legal headaches, JPMorgan's stock price climbed 22 percent over the past year, and the bank recorded profits of $17.9 billion in 2013. But to read that Dimon's savvy negotiating has won him a raise—and don't forget that no top bank executives have gone to jail for actions related to the 2008 financial meltdown—brings to mind the old Dick Durbin quote about banks and Washington: "They frankly own the place."

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