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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NRA's Wayne LaPierre: "There Weren't Enough Good Guys With Guns" During Navy Yard Shooting

| Mon Sep. 23, 2013 11:57 AM EDT

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It was déjà vu all over again. On Sunday, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, told Meet the Press host David Gregory that one cause of last week's shooting at Washington, DC's Navy Yard was that "there weren't enough good guys with guns."

Sound familiar? It should. LaPierre trotted out the same talking point in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December. At the NRA's first press conference after gunman Adam Lanza killed 27 people at Sandy Hook, ​LaPierre singled out a host of supposed ills—other than guns themselves—to explain Lanza's spree: violent video games, violent movies, violent music, and more. Then he said, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

On Meet the Press, LaPierre not only called for more "good guys with guns," but he also blamed "the mental health situation in the country" which he described as "in complete breakdown." News reports in the wake of the Navy Yard shooting revealed that 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, who killed 12 people and was shot and killed himself at a Navy Yard facility, had exhibited erratic behavior for months. He told police in Rhode Island earlier this year that he heard people talking to him through walls and transmitting microwave vibrations into his body to keep him awake at night.

As for LaPierre's claim that more good guys with guns would've stopped mass shootings like those at Sandy Hook and Navy Yard, the evidence does not back this up. As Mother Jones has reported, not one of the 67 mass shootings in America in the past three decades was stopped by an armed civilian. Those who've tried have been badly injured or killed. And law enforcement officials don't want "good guys with guns" trying to play cop.

Sean Eldridge—Investor, Democratic Donor, and Husband of Facebook Cofounder Chris Hughes—Is Running for Congress

| Mon Sep. 23, 2013 9:51 AM EDT

When I first met Sean Eldridge last summer, at a Ritz-Carlton lobby bar that doubled as a see-and-be-seen salon for Democratic bigwigs attending the party's national convention in Charlotte, he seemed to fit in just fine. Eldridge, who runs a small investment fund in New York State's Hudson River Valley, met with me to discuss his latest effort, a political group called Protect Our Democracy that planned to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to support replacing the state's lax campaign finance system with publicly funded elections. It was clear, though, that Eldridge had far loftier political aspirations than campaign finance activist.

On Monday, Eldridge finally unveiled his candidacy for New York’s 19th Congressional district. I say "finally" because it's been an open secret for months now that Eldridge, who is married to Facebook cofounder and New Republic owner Chris Hughes, wanted to run for Congress. In a July 10 story titled "Young, Rich, and Relocating Yet Again in Hunt for Political Office," the New York Times told of how Eldridge and Hughes had first bought a house in the city of Garrison, an hour north of New York City, but when it became clear Eldridge had little chance of winning in that congressional district, the couple purchased a $2 million home further north in Ulster County.

The 19th congressional district voted for Barack Obama by six percentage points in last year's election. Rep. Chris Gibson, a two-term Republican and a 24-year Army veteran, currently represents the district. Gibson declined to comment for the Times' July story about Eldridge's political aspirations, except to say: "There are some things money can’t buy."

Eldridge will not lack for campaign cash. Hughes, Eldridge's husband, pocketed upwards of $500 million from his time at Facebook, and even before he announced his candidacy, the donors to Eldridge's exploratory committee included liberal financier George Soros and Napster founder Sean Parker.

Despite Eldridge having zero experience in elected office, he's pretty savvy about money and its role in politics. Here's an excerpt of my profile of Eldridge from the November/December 2012 issue of Mother Jones magazine:

Eldridge backed into New York's political money wars. In 2009, he dropped out of Columbia Law School the day after the state Senate defeated a same-sex marriage bill. He joined Freedom to Marry, a national organization backed by gay philanthropist Tim Gill, which helped oust three unfriendly New York lawmakers and whose pressure on Albany proved crucial in passing same-sex marriage on the second try in 2011. Freedom to Marry and other outside groups also rallied the public behind the cause, creating a groundswell that helped lift the bill to passage.

While in the trenches of the marriage equality fight, Eldridge had an epiphany: Money influences every policy fight, large and small. Control the spigot of campaign cash and you can get the policies you want. "Voters will list the 10 issues they care about most, and none of them is campaign finance," he told me. "But what I realized is that campaign finance underpins every one of those issues."

In June, Eldridge took a cue from the marriage equality fight by launching Protect Our Democracy, a PAC/nonprofit focused on promoting the issue of political money reform. Protect Our Democracy's main goal: introducing publicly financed matching campaign contributions to New York state. It plans on working with a coalition of progressive groups to replicate New York City's practice of matching every dollar given by small campaign donors (up to $175 each) with $6 in taxpayer money. By supersizing small-dollar gifts, the thinking goes, candidates will listen to ordinary supporters more than corporations, unions, lobbyists, and trade groups. Such a plan would also encourage candidates who aren't wealthy or well connected. According to an analysis by the Campaign Finance Institute, New York City's system works as intended: The number of small donors to competitive candidates has spiked by 29 percent, and the overall share of small donations (not including public matching funds) has jumped 26 percent.

The annual cost to taxpayers for a statewide version of this public financing system, Eldridge says, would be negligible—$3 or $4 per New Yorker. That's central to his pitch: For the cost of a latte, citizens can curb big-money politics.

New York could use the overhaul, critics say. Between 1976 and 2010, more public officials in the Empire State were convicted for corruption than anywhere else in the United States, according to researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Reformers blame this rampant sleaze on the state's lax campaign laws: Individuals can give candidates up to $150,000; corporations and their subsidiaries can give up to $5,000. The State Integrity Investigation project recently gave New York a D- for campaign finance on its Corruption Risk Report Card. Albany, for many New Yorkers, is shorthand for dysfunction and graft.

Reform advocates have long advocated a small-donor matching system. What makes Eldridge's campaign different is the unlikely coalition of supporters he has cobbled together. He hired former Karl Rove protégé Bill Smith to lead Protect Our Democracy's political team, and the effort's supporters include economist Jeffrey Sachs, former Securities and Exchange Commission chair (and George W. Bush appointee) William Donaldson, and former New York City Mayor Ed Koch. Media executive Barry Diller and gay philanthropist Jon Stryker, both high-profile Democratic donors, have also contributed to Protect Our Democracy.

This Is How Private Prison Companies Make Millions Even When Crime Rates Fall

| Thu Sep. 19, 2013 1:43 PM EDT

We are living in boom times for the private prison industry. The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation's largest owner of private prisons, has seen its revenue climb by more than 500 percent in the last two decades. And CCA wants to get much, much bigger: Last year, the company made an offer to 48 governors to buy and operate their state-funded prisons. But what made CCA's pitch to those governors so audacious and shocking was that it included a so-called occupancy requirement, a clause demanding the state keep those newly privatized prisons at least 90 percent full at all times, regardless of whether crime was rising or falling.

Occupancy requirements, as it turns out, are common practice within the private prison industry. A new report by In the Public Interest, an anti-privatization group, reviewed 62 contracts for private prisons operating around the country at the local and state level. In the Public Interest found that 41 of those contracts included occupancy requirements mandating that local or state government keep those facilities between 80 and 100 percent full. In other words, whether crime is rising or falling, the state must keep those beds full. (The report was funded by grants from the Open Society Institute and Public Welfare, according to a spokesman.)

All the big private prison companies—CCA, GEO Group, and the Management and Training Corporation—try to include occupancy requirements in their contracts, according to the report. States with the highest occupancy requirements include Arizona (three prison contracts with 100 percent occupancy guarantees), Oklahoma (three contracts with 98 percent occupancy guarantees), and Virginia (one contract with a 95 percent occupancy guarantee). At the same time, private prison companies have supported and helped write "three-strike" and "truth-in-sentencing" laws that drive up prison populations. Their livelihoods depend on towns, cities, and states sending more people to prison and keeping them there.

You might be wondering: What happens when crime drops and prison populations dwindle in states that agreed to keep their private prisons 80 percent or 90 percent full? Consider Colorado. The state's crime rate has sunk by a third in the past decade, and since 2009, five state-run prisons have shuttered because they weren't needed. Many more prison beds remain empty in other state facilities. Yet the state chose not to fill those beds because Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and CCA cut a deal to instead send 3,330 prisoners to CCA's three Colorado prisons. Colorado taxpayers foot the bill for leaving those state-run prisons underused. In March, Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, estimated that the state wasted at least $2 million in taxpayer money using CCA's prisons instead of its own.

That's just one example of how private prison companies keep the dollars rolling in, whether crime is rising or waning. Not surprisingly, In the Public Interest's report calls on local and state governments to refuse to include occupancy requirements and even ban such requirements with new legislation. "With governmental priorities pulling public funds in so many different directions, it makes no financial sense for taxpayers to fund empty prison beds," the report says.

Read the full report below:

 

Report: Pentagon Audit Says the Navy Gave Contractors Too Much Access to Its Facilities

| Tue Sep. 17, 2013 4:26 PM EDT

The Department of Defense's inspector general released a new report on Tuesday afternoon showing that, in an effort to cut costs, the Navy bungled its efforts to control how government contractors gained access to naval facilities. The report lands a day after 34-year-old Aaron Alexis killed 12 people at a Navy Yard facility in southeast Washington, DC. It was the fifth mass shooting of 2013. Alexis worked as part of a government subcontract under Hewlett-Packard, and he entered the Navy Yard with a valid badge.

The report found that 52 convicted felons had received "routine, unauthorized installation access, placing military personnel, civilians, and installations at an increased security risk." The reason, the inspector general found, was because the Navy "attempted to reduce access control costs." You can read the full report below:

 
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