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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Jerry Brown Jumps On Anti-Wall St. Bandwagon

| Wed Jun. 9, 2010 11:02 AM EDT

Here's a takeaway from Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln's surprise primary victory last night: Taking a tough stance against Wall Street and big banks can pay dividends on election night. It looks like California Attorney General Jerry Brown has learned a thing or two from Lincoln, sending a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on election day yesterday exhorting her to include tough consumer protections and beefed up powers for state AGs in the final financial reform bill. Yesterday, Brown won the Democratic gubernational nomination for California in a blowout, with 84 percent of votes.

In his letter, Brown identifies two keys areas of financial reform that he sees as crucial to any reform bill. First, national banks and state-based banks should be subject to the same state consumer protection laws. (Right now, national banks are not subject to those state-based laws.) And second, Brown wants state AGs to have the power to enforce their state's consumer protection laws against both national and state banks. Right now, national banks are preempted from state-based regulations, which allowed big banks in the past to escape predatory lending laws in states like Georgia. (Mike Konczal has a great post explaining this issue here.)

For Brown, prodding Pelosi to ensure strict consumer protection laws is a win-win scenario. As a veteran state attorney general, he gets to empower his position as much as possible. And as a gubernatorial candidate facing a wildly popular Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, he knows that backing financial reform is great for his optics. The question is, who'll be the next candidate to jump on the Wall Street reform bandwagon?

Here's Brown's full letter:

Dear Speaker Pelosi:

In anticipation of a compromise on the House and Senate financial services reform bills, I urge you to press for the strongest possible language to protect consumers and our economy from another debilitating crisis caused by reckless Wall Street banking practices and complicit federal regulators.

Two elements of a compromise bill are key to that protection. One, national banks should be subject to the same state consumer protection laws as state banking institutions and virtually a! ll companies operating in industries other than financial services. And, two, state attorneys general should have the authority to enforce all applicable consumer protection laws against national banks.

The House language is preferable on both points, and I recommend that you push for its adoption. It would establish a higher burden for the OCC to preempt state consumer protection laws. It also would allow state attorneys general to enforce all federal consumer protection laws against national banks, not just regulations that may be adopted by the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

Sincerely,

EDMUND G. BROWN JR.

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Lincoln's Surprise Win—And the Tough Road Ahead

| Tue Jun. 8, 2010 11:27 PM EDT

Despite a barrage of attack ads from labor unions, opposition from the left, and dwindling momentum in recent weeks, Sen. Blanche Lincoln bucked the year’s anti-incumbent mood and won Arkansas' Democratic US Senate run-off election Tuesday night. She claimed 51 percent of votes, while her opponent, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, fell just short with 48 percent, according to an Associated Press projection. The odds were tilted in Halter’s favor, with Lincoln trailing by 4 points in a recent R2000/Daily Kos poll before tonight’s run-off.

So what’s behind Lincoln’s surprising win? For starters, scoring the endorsement of Bill Clinton, the rock star of Arkansas politics, turned out to be a big boost for Lincoln. It also stands as a reminder of how valuable the Clinton touch remains when it comes to election season.

Lincoln was also helped by her anti-Wall Street, populist blitz on financial reform. The Arkansas senator shocked many experts, colleagues, and the banking community by producing a last-minute, surprisingly tough proposal to crack down on derivatives, the tricky financial products that helped explode the economy—and which are a cash cow for big banks. Her measures to rein in derivatives trading and force the likes of JPMorgan Chase and Bank of American to break off their lucrative derivatives trading operations have faced attacks from all sides—Republicans, fellow Democrats, the White House, banks—yet those proposals might still make it into the final bill that lands on Obama’s desk, especially now that she’s prevailed in her primary race.

Halter wasn't the only loser in this contest—labor unions threw serious campaign muscle behind him. Indeed, as our own Suzy Khimm reported, labor took full advantage of slackened campaign finance laws, thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, to rally behind Halter. Unions deployed "express advocacy" ads—which urge viewers to vote specifically for or against a certain candidate—using their own general funds, something they couldn’t do a year ago. And even then, they couldn’t push their man over the top. As a senior White House official told Politico's Ben Smith on Tuesday night, "Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members' money down the toiled on a pointless exercise...If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November."

Not that the road ahead for Lincoln is easy. Her likely opponent this fall, Republican Rep. John Boozman, commands a 20-point lead in the latest poll by R2000/Daily Kos. Other polling has put Boozman ahead of Lincoln in a hypothetical fall matchup by anywhere from 17 points to 38 points. Which is to say, Lincoln’s got her work cut out for her in the next five months to translate her surprise victory tonight into reelection.

Dominant, SC's Haley Heads To Runoff

| Tue Jun. 8, 2010 10:32 PM EDT

Suspiciously timed allegations of extramarital affairs in the weeks before tonight's primary couldn't stop Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley. Endorsed by Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin, Haley all but swept aside the salacious claims of infidelity made by a conservative blogger and South Carolina political consultant, and scored a dominant victory tonight. Forty-nine percent of Republican voters chose her, while the next highest vote-getter, Rep. Grisham Barrett, received less than half that, with 22 percent support.

But would Haley have reached or surpassed the 50 percent mark without the affair allegations? If she'd cleared this hurdle, she would've surpassed the threshold requiring a run-off vote against the number two candidate in the primary. Instead, Barrett will challenge Haley, a Barrett aide tells Politico, in a June 22 run-off to decide who gets the South Carolina GOP's nomination for the fall election.

Obviously, Haley would've rather won outright in today's primary and avoided a few weeks of intraparty battling. Worse yet, the 14 days between now and the Haley-Barrett face-off will give the second-place candidate more time to harp on the allegations that dogged Haley in the past two weeks. Then again, if Haley had surpassed 50 percent, she'd likely face similar questions from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen, who won today's primary with 59 percent of the votes.

On one hand, Haley's victory is a high-profile win for female candidates on a night in which we'll likely see victories from California's Meg Whitman, a GOP gubernatorial candidate, and Carly Fiorina, a GOP US Senate candidate. Both powerful executives turned Republican politicians, Whitman and Fiorina entered today's primaries leading in the polls, and have a good shot at claiming their respective GOP candidacies.

On the other, as National Democratic Governors Association director Nathan Daschle has said (via Real Clear Politics), Haley's victory is just as much a win for Democrats: "Democrats are the clear winner in both tonight's primaries. The divisive, ugly GOP primary has done nothing but turn off voters who are tired with politics-as-usual. The next two weeks promise a race to the bottom as Nikki Haley and Gresham Barrett battle it out for the nomination."

Few Show Up for Wacky Maine Race

| Tue Jun. 8, 2010 8:12 PM EDT

Tonight's Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primaries in Maine are about as wide open as these kinds of elections get. Here's what I reported yesterday on Maine's comically diffuse primaries:

On the blue side, the frontrunner by the slimmest of margins is state Sen. Libby Mitchell with 13 percentage points, followed by former state attorney general Steve Rowe (12 points), businesswoman Rosa Scarcelli (7 points), and Maine conservation department commissioner Patrick McGowan (6 points).

In the Republican primary, the field is even more fragmented. Businessman (and former Boston Red Sox vice president) Les Otten leads the way with 17 points—a 7-point gap over his nearest competitor, Paul LePage, mayor of Waterville. Rounding out the rest of the Republican slate, all with single-digit support, are state Sen. Peter Mills, education executive Bill Beardsley, businessman Bruce Poliquin, and Matt Jacobson, who heads a Maine job creation organization. Whew.

Perhaps the most telling statistic is this: The undecided comprise 62 percent of Democratic primary voters and 47 percent of GOPers. When Maine voters show up tomorrow, there's no telling who'll take the nominations.

Now, with the polls closed, the latest news in Maine's primaries is that voter turnout is expected to—not surprisingly—be quite low. Maine's secretary of state told the Associated Press he's expecting a turnout of just 20 percent. That throws the results of today's Maine primaries further into flux, with so few votes spread across an array of challengers, each separated by a few percentage points in the polls. When the votes are all counted later tonight, whoever does come out on top will likely do so by squeaking out the narrowest of victories.

On Obama Scandals, Public Shrugs

| Tue Jun. 8, 2010 3:48 PM EDT

Remember the supposed White House "scandals" in which Obama administration officials tried to get two Democratic politicians, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Penn.) and Colorado's Andrew Romanoff, to drop their respective US Senate bids by offering them other jobs? If you answered "No," shrugged your shoulders, or just don't care, then you're likely among the 44 percent of voters, according to a new Rasmussen poll, who say such offers are standard operating procedure for Washington. Only 19 percent of those polled said they saw anything unusual about the Sestak and Romanoff snafus. "While politicians profess to be shocked at the job offers, voters see business as usual," Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports, said.

Now, that's not to say the two events mean nothing to voters. According to the poll, 62 percent of respondents said the White House's efforts to get Sestak and Romanoff to ditch their Senate campaigns would be somewhat important to how they vote this fall. (Only 32 percent said the White House's gaffes will have a major impact on how they vote.) The public's view of the Obama administration's ethics also took a hit from the Sestak-Romanoff flub: 40 percent believe the Obama White House is less ethical than most of its predecessors, while just over 30 percent say Obama and co. are more ethical.

What's certain is that, on voters' priority lists, Dropout-gate isn't anywhere near the top. Any candidate railing the administration's supposed ethics lapses—and not economic or national security issues, which huge majorities list as their top priority—should just, well, drop out now. Word on the street is the White House is hiring.

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