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, where he's an associate editor. Email him at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. He tweets at @AndrewKroll.

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Birther John Philip Sousa IV Wants a Tea Party Darling to Run For President

| Mon Aug. 26, 2013 12:45 PM EDT
John Philip Sousa, left, and John Philip Sousa IV.

Dr. Ben Carson went from acclaimed Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon to conservative hero when, in February, he rebuked President Obama during a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. With Obama seated a few feet away, Carson blasted the "PC police," stumped for a flat tax, and ripped the president's positions on health-care reform and deficits. Overnight, Carson became a tea party hero. The Wall Street Journal editorial board headlined its write-up of Carson's half-hour speech: "Ben Carson for President."

A new super-PAC chaired by John Philip Sousa IV, the great-grandson of the man who wrote "Stars and Stripes Forever," aims to do just that—nudge Carson into the 2016 race. The National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee recently filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money—as all super-PACs can—in an effort to convince Carson to launch a presidential run. On the super-PAC's website,, you can sign a petition that begins, "You said that if the American people were still 'clamoring' for you to run for president, you would seriously consider doing so. Well, I'm clamoring for you to run for president of the United States." As the Center for Public Integrity notes, the super-PAC's creator is Vernon Robinson, a resident of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who has unsuccessfully run for Congress three times.

As for Sousa IV, this isn't his first crack at rallying behind a tea party hero. As my colleague Tim Murphy reported in July 2012, Sousa helped bankroll Americans for Sheriff Joe, a political action committee devoted to electing controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio:

Sousa, who has largely avoided politics since unsuccessfully running for Congress as a Republican 38 years ago, says he's already raised $1 million from more than 40,000 individuals and businesses across the country. (A quarterly filing provided by the group reveals that most of that $1 million went to pay for direct-mail costs.) "I heard from the guy who filed the report for us that our report was almost the size of Obamacare, at 2,200 pages," he says.

Sousa is an immigration hardliner who notes on his personal web site that "I am tired of pressing one for English, I am tired of looking for the English instructions on boxes. If you don't speak English or you are not willing to learn English, I would strongly suspect that you should not be a permanent resident in the United States of America."

In Arpaio, Sousa found an anti-immigration champion who's not afraid to stand up for what he believes. "We had read lots about [Hispanic civil rights group] La Raza going after Sheriff Joe, about George Soros going after Sheriff Joe, about Eric Holder going after Sheriff Joe, about Obama not liking Sheriff Joe and wanting him replaced," Sousa says in an interview, explaining the genesis of his PAC. "And the immigration issues of this country are not getting fixed—not that he can fix them, but at least he enforces the laws of this country."

Sousa is also something of a birther. In an interview with Murphy, he said, "I mean, can you unequivocally say that Obama was born in the United States? I can't!" He went on: "I don't trust [the documentation]. I don't distrust it. I don't know."

What's been Carson's response to the "Draft Ben" effort? Muted, so far. He told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren that he loved John Philip Sousa's music but he wasn't going to "interfere" with Sousa IV's effort. "I believe that god will make it clear to me if that's something that I'm supposed to do," he said. "It's not something [I] particularly want to do. I find life outside of politics much more appealing."

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VIDEO: Sen. David Vitter's Own 47 Percent Moment

| Fri Aug. 16, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Video taken by YouTube user Fireezdragon (Courtney C Horne)

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) appeared at a town hall in a local library in East Baton Rouge Parish on Thursday, where he made some news by saying he favored a complete shutdown of the US government over funding Obamacare.

Near the end of the event, Vitter responded to a audience member's criticism of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, with a comment of his own that veered awfully close to Mitt Romney's infamous "47 percent" moment, when he said at a private fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans were Obama-loving government mooches who wouldn't take responsibility for their lives.

Here's what Vitter had to say in response to a questioner's criticism of Obamacare:

The only thing I'd add is, I wish you were right that nobody wants Obamacare; that's not true. And in fact, the other side, who absolutely wants it, most of whom are getting something for nothing, came out in droves for the last election and our side sat at home.

Vitter didn't expand on what he meant by "getting something for nothing"—free health care? Free food? Free Obamaphones?—but the gist was clear enough. By "the other side," he means Obamacare supporters and also those people, most of them Democrats, who voted for President Obama last November. These Obama backers, Vitter seems to say, are mostly deadbeats living off the government.

There's been plenty written about how accusing Democrats of being government leeches, as Romney and now Vitter have, isn't fair or accurate. These kinds of comments also ignore the fact that Republicans rely on the welfare state, too. A recent Bloomberg News analysis found that Romney won 213 of the 254 counties in the United States where the number of food stamp recipients doubled from 2007 to 2011.

In Louisiana alone, 914,196 people receive food stamps. That's 20 percent of the state's population. Does Sen. Vitter think all of those people are Obama-loving government mooches?

Forget Congress. These 27 States Could Begin Dragging Dark Money Into the Daylight—Today

| Mon Aug. 12, 2013 1:49 PM EDT

In the past decade, election spending by so-called 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups—so named for their particular section of the tax code—has spiked by a whopping 9,980 percent, from a few million dollars in 2002 to $256 million in 2012. Here at Mother Jones, we call this type of spending "dark money." That's because, the way the tax code works, donors to 501(c)(4) nonprofits are anonymous even as these nonprofits pour millions into elections.

As dark money has flowed into elections in greater amounts, Congress has tried to drag this spending into the sunlight with versions of the DISCLOSE Act. Each time, Republican filibusters blocked those bills. As things stand, the most promising strategy—and it's not even that promising—for shining light on secret political spending is through the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is considering a rule requiring that publicly-traded companies disclose their election-related spending.

But transparency advocates are wrong to pin their hopes on the SEC or Congress. According to a new report by New York City Public Advocate Bill deBlasio and the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending, 27 states already have laws on the books that should allow them to require far more disclosure from politically active nonprofits about their spending and their donors. That includes nine battleground states where, in 2012, the bulk of political spending took place—Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Ohio.

Here's a useful map from deBlasio's report:

Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending, Office of New York City Public Advocate Bill deBlasio

DeBlasio's report cites New York State as an example of a state that took advantage of existing laws to beef up dark-money disclosure. In June, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman rolled out new regulations requiring nonprofits registered in New York State to disclose how much of their spending went toward to influencing elections at the local, state, and federal level. Schneiderman's regulations will also force nonprofits that spend more than $10,000 on elections in New York State to file itemized spending and contribution reports, disclosing donors who give more than $100. Schneiderman didn't need a new law to authorize all this—as New York's attorney general, he's also in charge of regulating the state's charities.

This year, Connecticut, Maryland, and Utah have also passed various laws ratcheting up transparency of nonprofit groups. The states identified in deBlasio's report don't need to do that much—like New York, they can start implementing new transparency regulations right away. The only thing standing between these states and greater dark-money disclosure, the report concludes, "is the courage to act."

Here is the full report:


Mitch McConnell's 2014 Battle Could Be the Most Expensive Senate Race Ever

| Mon Aug. 12, 2013 10:12 AM EDT
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In 2014, ground zero for our cash-drenched, post-Citizens United politics will undoubtedly be Kentucky. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faces a tea party challenger, Matt Bevin, in the GOP primary and, barring a stunning upset, the Clinton-backed Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in the general election. As I reported in July, Grimes says she'll need between $26 million and $30 million to defeat McConnell. Only four Senate candidates raised more in 2012.

Now, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza has run the numbers and made a odds-on prediction: The Kentucky race will be the first $100 million Senate election—and so the most expensive—in American history.

Cillizza builds a strong case. McConnell, who raised $21 million for his 2008 reelection campaign, already has nearly $10 million in the bank. To get past Bevin, his pesky primary challenger and a wealthy businessman with millions at his disposal, McConnell could end up spending $5 million to win the primary. Cillizza says McConnell could go on to raise and spend upwards of $35 million overall. And if Grimes, the Democrat, meets her $30 million target, then we're talking about a $65 million to $70 million race.

And that's before the outside money starts pouring in. Here's Cillizza:

Consider the two national parties. The National Republican Senatorial Committee will spend almost everything it has to bring McConnell back, given his prominence within the party and the amount he has done for the committee over the years. And, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has plenty of its own incumbents to defend, beating McConnell might make up for lots of other losses in other places, and the committee knows it. It's easy to see both the NRSC and the DSCC spending in the neighborhood of $10 million each—and that might well be conservative—on Kentucky. Add that $20 million, and the cost of the race is already at $90 million.

The final piece of the spending puzzle is the super-PAC world. A pro-McConnell super PAC—Kentuckians for Strong Leadership—brought in more than $1 million in its first four months of existence. There will be much, much more where that came from. And it's a certainty that Democrats will set up a super-PAC of their own to support Grimes/beat up McConnell. Aside from those quasi-official super PACs for the two candidates, there will be lots of other interested parties who want to make their voices heard—read: spend money in the most high-profile Senate race in the country. Will all of these groups combine to spend $10 million? Um, yes.

Cillizza's prognosticating is a little fuzzy on super-PACs, so here's more to consider. Senate Majority PAC, the super-PAC devoted to electing Senate Democrats, has already hammered McConnell on the airwaves, and it will no doubt continue to attack as long as the race remains competitive. There's also the American Crossroads super-PAC and its secretly-funded sister nonprofit, Crossroads GPS. The president of the two Crossroads groups is Steven Law, McConnell's former chief of staff. You can bet that the Crossroads juggernaut will make itself heard in the Bluegrass State. With all those major outside players eyeing Kentucky, super-PAC and dark-money spending could easily blow past Cillizza's $10-million estimate. 

In 2012, the nation's marquee Senate race was in Massachusetts, pitting incumbent Scott Brown against Elizabeth Warren. That race cost more than $80 million, falling short of the $100 million threshold only because Brown and Warren agreed to a "people's pledge" keeping most super-PAC and nonprofit spending out of their race. In 2014, the spotlight is on Kentucky, and with no truce in sight, crossing that $100 million milestone is looking like a foregone conclusion.

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