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.

Get my RSS |

Unions Should Brace Themselves for a Major Supreme Court Loss

| Thu Jun. 26, 2014 1:04 PM EDT

It's official: The Supreme Court will wait until Monday, the final day of the current term, to issue its decision in Harris v. Quinn. As I explained in May, Harris is a blockbuster case that could, in a worst-case scenario, wipe public-employee unions such as SEIU and AFSCME off the map. And the chances of a damaging decision in Harris just increased—here's why.

Heading into Thursday, the Supreme Court had Harris and three other cases left to decide. The justices chose to issue their opinions concerning presidential recess appointments (Noel Canning v. National Labor Relations Board) and so-called buffer zones keeping protesters at a distance from abortion clinics (McCullen v. Coakley). Justice Stephen Breyer, a liberal member of the court, wrote the Canning opinion; Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, took the lead in McCullen.

This makes it more likely that Justice Samuel Alito, who we've yet to hear much from, will write the opinion in Harris, which points to bad news for public-employee unions. "There's almost no question [Justice] Alito has this opinion unless he lost his majority along way," tweets Rick Hasen, a University of California-Irvine law professor. "Anti-union is his signature issue."

Labor officials can only hope Hasen is wrong. Alito is strongly anti-union. In the 2012 case Knox v. SEIU, Alito essentially invited labor's foes to challenge the basic model of public-employee unionism, in which non-union employees can be made to pay dues to a union for bargaining on their behalf, representing them in grievance issues, etc. Harris makes such a challenge; it's what Alito asked for.

Unions like to call those non-member payments "fair share" dues. If it's the union's job, they reason, to represent all members and nonmembers in a unionized workplace, then all those workers should pay their fair share for that representation. Conservatives—and Alito—say fair-share fees violate the First Amendment rights of non-union workers.

The outcome in Harris could cut a number of ways. The Supreme Court could uphold the lower court's decision dismissing the suit—a big union victory. It could strike down fair share fees—the equivalent of Congress passing a national right-to-work bill. (Right-to-work laws ban unions from collecting those fair-share fees from non-members.) Public-employee unions would survive that decision, but it would be a blow. The court could also effectively enact right-to-work nationwide and kneecap a union's ability to exclusively represent employees in a unionized workplace. That would be catastrophic for public-employee unions.

If there's any judge who might go that far, it would be Samuel Alito.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Senate Democrats Re-up Their Dark-Money Disclosure Bill—and Dare GOPers to Block It

| Tue Jun. 24, 2014 3:22 PM EDT
Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), right, and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), cosponsors of the DISCLOSE Act of 2014.

The 2014 elections are awash in dark money—and it's only getting worse. The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity alone plans to spend $125 million or more on this year's elections. In response, Senate Democrats are ratcheting up their efforts to put anonymous political spending in the headlines. On Tuesday, a group of Democrats introduced a rebooted version of the DISCLOSE Act, a bill intended to cast light on political dark money, which spiked from $69 million in 2008 to $310 million in 2012.

Cosponsored by 50 Democrats in the Senate, the DISCLOSE Act of 2014 would cover election spending by corporations, labor unions, super-PACs, and, most importantly, politically active nonprofits (like Americans for Prosperity or the Democrat-aligned Patriot Majority). Disclosing dark money is a tricky issue—here's how new bill would attempt to do it.

Say you run an anonymously funded nonprofit group planning to spend money on the 2014 midterms. Under this bill, after spending your first $10,000 on elections, you'd have to disclose that spending within 24 hours to the Federal Election Commission. You'd then need to disclose each additional $10,000 in election spending—again within 24 hours. Right now, spending by nonprofit groups can occur with little or no disclosure, so this would give reporters, parties, campaigns, and the public much more up-to-date information on who's spending money where.

What about the donors funding these groups? The new DISCLOSE Act would require groups covered by the bill to reveal the source of donations of $10,000 or more. That's no sweat for super-PACs, which already disclose their donors. But it's a huge deal for politically active nonprofits, those groups organized under the 501(c)(4) section of the tax code. Part of the appeal of these nonprofits is the anonymity they afford their funders: A donor can give $1 million or $10 million or $100 million without anyone being the wiser. (The bill does allow for groups to use separate bank accounts—one to fund election spending, another to fund issue advocacy—to give anonymity to donors who wish to support non-political work.)

The bill also targets the use of pass-throughs and shell corporations to evade disclosure rules, mandating that groups that receive such donations name the origin of the money. We've seen a few notable instances of this. In 2011, a mysterious company called W Spann LLC gave $1 million to the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future—then it dissolved. The true donor's identity remained hidden until pressure from Democrats and the media prompted Ed Conard, a former partner of Romney's at Bain Capital, to reveal that he authorized the W Spann donation. In late 2012, the Washington Post reported that Cancer Treatment Centers of America founder Richard Stephenson and his family routed $12 million in donations to the tea-party group FreedomWorks through two Tennessee companies. Until the Post's story, the true source of the $12 million was unknown.

Back to the new DISCLOSE Act. In a nutshell it calls for: More information on campaign spending, disclosed more quickly. More disclosure of previously hidden big donors—liberal and conservative and centrist—influencing elections. And no shell games to avoid the sunlight.

The bad news: The new DISCLOSE Act is likely going nowhere. Senate Republicans, rallied by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have blocked earlier iterations of the DISCLOSE Act since 2010. McConnell, currently a foe of campaign finance limits, will no doubt fight the new legislation. It is almost guaranteed the bill will not secure the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

In unveiling the new DISCLOSE Act, Senate Democrats highlighted McConnell's past support for greater disclosure of election spending. In 1987, McConnell introduced a resolution to allow Congress to set limits on outside spending intended to elect or defeat a candidate for federal office; he said the measure "would restrict the power of special interest PACs, stop the flow of all soft money, keep wealthy individuals from buying public office." In 1997, McConnell called for "expedited" public disclosure of campaign giving and spending. And in 2000, on the Senate floor, he said, "Virtually everybody in the Senate is in favor of enhanced disclosure, greater disclosure, that's really hardly a controversial subject."

Herman Cain: A First Grader Could Run America Better Than Obama

| Fri Jun. 20, 2014 2:09 PM EDT
Herman Cain.

Failed Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain—remember him?—laced into President Obama and his administration at the annual conference of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a confab for evangelicals and pro-life activists.

Cain said the Obama administration was suffering from "a crisis of crises" on the home front and abroad. He then contended that "a first grader would approach these problems a lot smarter" than Obama and his team. "I'm not saying that to be insulting," he said. "I'm just telling you the truth."

Cain also exhorted the half-filled ballroom at Washington, DC's Omni Shoreham hotel to inform themselves and get active in politics. They needed to get involved because, as he put it, "stupid people [who do vote and volunteer] are ruining America."

Those in the room need to outnumber those "stupid people," he continued. "The solution is real simple folks. Those of us who are informed have got to outvote the stupid people. And you have got to become ambassadors of intelligence, ambassadors of information."

GOP Governor's Ex-Campaign Manager Pleads Guilty In Leaked E-Mail Saga

| Wed Jun. 18, 2014 2:02 PM EDT
Jamie Estrada leaves federal court in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after pleading guilty to intercepting Gov. Susana Martinez's personal emails.

The circus is over before it could begin. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez can breathe a sigh of relief.

This summer, Martinez was expected to testify in court in a high-profile case involving a former campaign manager accused of intercepting her personal emails. Prosecutors alleged that Jamie Estrada, a Republican operative who served in George W. Bush's Commerce Department, illegally accessed messages sent using Martinez's 2010 campaign's domain name, including messages about her online shopping and banking information. Estrada also faced charges of misleading federal investigators about how he gained access to the emails. For months, Estrada, who left Martinez's campaign in December 2009, fought the charges. Martinez recently cleared her calendar in anticipation of her testimony.

But this week, Estrada changed course and pleaded guilty in what New Mexicans have dubbed "Emailgate." Estrada pled to two felony counts: unlawfully intercepting Martinez's personal emails and making false statements to FBI agents. He did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement issued to reporters, Martinez said Estrada's guilty plea "vindicates what I have said from the beginning which is that these personal and private emails were indeed stolen." She continued, "This is a case about a fired former employee who wasn't given a state job and then sought to get even by illegally intercepting personal emails from numerous individuals, including personal bank account statements and my personal undergarment orders, all of which were made public in a misguided effort to harm me and others in a revenge scheme."

Estrada, who is 41, could spend up to a year and a day in jail and lose his ability to vote. The United States Attorney for New Mexico, Damon Martinez, told the Santa Fe Reporter that his team will argue for some amount of jail time for Estrada.

More from the Reporter:

In the plea agreement, Estrada admitted to "knowingly and willfully" making "false, fraudulent, and material statements and representations to the FBI" during a September 19, 2012, interview at his Valencia County home, "including falsely telling the agents that I had not paid for the renewal of the Domain using a pre-paid gift card." Agents had executed a search warrant on the home.

He also admitted to logging onto the Martinez campaign's domain account in July 2011 and paying for the renewal of the domain under a fake name. He admitted to then intercepting "hundreds" of email messages intended for Martinez and her campaign staffers.

"I gave the emails to Governor Martinez's political opponents knowing that certain emails would be disseminated to others," reads the plea agreement. "After some of the intercepted emails were published in the press, on or about June 29, 2012, the governor released a public statement to the effect that she had asked federal authorities to "investigate the interception of the emails."

As I reported in my recent piece on Martinez, Estrada's trial was a potential headache for the governor, who might've faced fierce questioning about various controversies that have dogged Martinez during her first term. She's now free to focus on her reelection campaign, hoping for a commanding victory that could further elevate her national prospects.

Mon Apr. 15, 2013 12:38 PM EDT
Mon Apr. 8, 2013 10:24 AM EDT
Sun Mar. 24, 2013 12:34 PM EDT
Thu Feb. 21, 2013 12:37 PM EST
Tue Feb. 19, 2013 1:53 PM EST
Fri Feb. 1, 2013 4:48 PM EST
Fri Sep. 28, 2012 6:00 AM EDT