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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Is Congress' Golf Habit Out of Bounds?

| Mon Jul. 12, 2010 3:35 PM EDT

Each year, two familiar haunts on Washington political circuit—the Capitol Hill Club (GOP) and the National Democratic Club—host popular golf outings where members of Congress, their staffers, and other paying participants hit the links to raise money for the two clubs. The more big-name lawmakers who show up, enjoying for free a round of golf that usually costs $3,000 to $8,000, the better. But by letting lawmakers swing away and dine for free, are the clubs breaking House ethics rules?

That's what one government transparency group, the Sunlight Foundation, is alleging. According to ethics rules, members of Congress and their aides aren't allowed to play in golf fundraisers like the Capitol Hill Club's and the NDC's. (They are, however, cleared to play charity fundraisers, so long as they're not for social and recreation clubs.) The two clubs skirt these rules by obtaining ethics waivers for lawmakers and their staffers, according to Sunlight, even though the House ethics handbook warns against giving out individual waivers.

Here's more from Sunlight on the funny business with lawmakers attending golf tournaments that should be out of bounds for members of Congress:

National Democratic Club operations manager Dana Ehlman declined to say how many members would play in the 32nd Annual Tip O’Neill Golf Tournament at in Potomac Falls, Va.

"Two or three" members and the same number of staffers are expected to attend the Capitol Hill Club outing in Alexandria, fewer than usual, because of the event’s timing, right after the Independence Day recess, according to Lawson...

All year, members pay the clubs to host fundraisers for their campaigns and leadership PACs. This year there are over 500 invitations to Capitol Hill Club fundraisers and over 70 to the NDC and its next door townhouse in Party Time’s database of invitations.

The NDC has members, staffers, and lobbyists on its board of directors, according to its website. As of its 2008 tax return, the same was true for the Capitol Hill Club.

The exemption letter for the NDC is written specifically for the golf tournament, which is the only fundraiser by the club all year, Ehlman said. The Capitol Hill Club puts on three to six fundraisers per year and its exemption allows all of these events, Lawson said.

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Rick Scott's Abortion Distortion

| Mon Jul. 12, 2010 1:33 PM EDT

Rick Scott, the former health care CEO running as a Republican in the Florida governor's race, likes to tout his pro-life cred by pointing to a multimillion-dollar million lawsuit his company lost in 2003. Scott, the St. Petersburg Times reports, claims his former employer, Columbia/HCO, lost the suit because his hospital saved the life of a child, born prematurely with severe complications, even though the parents didn't want that. As Scott tells it, the story comes across as the ultimate pro-life narrative, an unwavering opposition to abortion even in the face of grave medical complications.

Except Scott's version is far from the whole story. According to the Times, when the mother of the child, Karla Miller, was rushed to hospital, the complications surrounding her 23-week-old were many. The odds the child would live anything resembling a normal life were slim, if the child survived at all. Facing this grave outlook, the Millers chose to terminate the pregnancy. But the hospital ultimately made that choice for them, and began trying to save the fetus' life. In the end, the child, named Sidney, survived—but only after a brain surgery and other drastic medical interventions that led to serious and life-altering complications, both for Sidney and her parents.

Can Big Labor Recover In the 2010 Elections?

| Mon Jul. 12, 2010 10:17 AM EDT

Big labor is on the march.

The AFL-CIO is unveiling the first phase of its on-the-ground operations for the November midterm elections. The nation's largest federation of labor unions is set to distribute 300,000 pieces of campaign fliers at workplaces in 23 different states, from Florida and Michigan to Colorado to New Hampshire, the Washington Post reports. The fliers tackle House races all the way up the gubernatorial elections, taking both positive and negative positions depending on the candidate.

But will any of it matter?

This spring, we saw AFL-CIO and other labor groups throw their full electoral muscle—not to mention $10 million—behind Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, a progressive challenging incumbent Blanche Lincoln for the state's Democratic nomination to the US Senate. Unions had ripped Lincoln for being anti-worker, citing her opposition to card-check legislation, which would've made it easier for workers to unionize and boosted dwindling union membership totals. The unions were so intent on helping Halter topple Lincoln that AFl-CIO and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) were among the first groups to take advantage of the Citizens United ruling, cutting campaign ads that expressly called for Lincoln's ouster—something unions couldn't do before the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in January.

In the end, Halter forced Lincoln into a runoff, but lost by 4 percentage points in the early June election. Halter's loss dealt a stinging blow to unions and cast doubt on their electoral clout. Conservative pundit Michael Barone wrote, "Lincoln's victory removes the credibility of the unions' threat to end the careers of Democrats who don't do their bidding. The unions rode into Arkansas like Custer rode into Little Big Horn, and unlike Custer they managed to ride out—but without the scalp they were desperately seeking."

Whether the unions' credibility is all but lost, as Barone suggests, is doubtful. After all, it's far easier to influence House races than a blockbuster Senate primary like the Lincoln-Halter race, one on which the eyes of country were trained. (Also, Arkansas has one of the lowest rates of unionization in the country, so the unions had less pull there than they might elsewhere.) But as AFL-CIO rolls out the first stage of its 2010 battle plan, it's worth watching how much of an effect labor really has on what's shaping up to be a tumultuous midterm election.

Lady Gaga, National Security Threat?

| Fri Jul. 9, 2010 8:40 AM EDT

Apparently if you're trying to smuggle classified Defense Department data for leaking purposes, all you need is a catchy dance-pop CD—in disguise. The New York Times reports today on the latest updates in the case of 22-year-old Pfc. Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of leaking some 150,000 cables, secret videos, and government presentations. At least one of those leaks, a video of a 2007 American helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two journalists, was published online by Wikileaks in April under the title "Collateral Murder." Earlier this month, Manning was charged with leaking the data, and could face up to 52 years in prison. For his efforts, Manning has been hailed by some as his own generation's Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers.

What we've learned today is how Manning did it—and that he had help. From pop star Lady Gaga. Yes, that Lady Gaga. Apparently Manning pulled the data off a protected Defense Department computer, the Times reports, using a sneakily labeled music CD and a bit of play-acting:

He was able to avoid detection not because he kept a poker face, they said, but apparently because he hummed and lip-synched to Lady Gaga songs to make it appear that he was using the classified computer’s CD player to listen to music.

Adrian Lamo, a well-known former hacker, had traded electronic messages in which Private Manning described his unhappiness with the Army—and, Mr. Lamo said, his activities downloading classified data.

Mr. Lamo said Private Manning described how he had used compact discs capable of storing data, but tucked inside recognizable music CD cases, "to bring the data out of the secure room."

"He indicated he disguised one as a Lady Gaga CD," Mr. Lamo said Thursday in a telephone interview. "He said he lip-synched to blend in."

Where to start?! First, kudos to Times reporter Thom Shanker for slipping that "poker face" reference into this Gaga-inspired story. (If you don't get it, watch this.) Honestly, I thought the news pages of the old gray lady were too stiff for a quip like that. Second, Lamo says Manning "lip-synched to blend in." Really? Are we to think that intel officers in Iraq and Afghanistan sit around all day humming hits like "Love Game" and "Alejandro"? (They're certainly not letting them watch that ludicrous "Alejandro" video, at least.) And finally, who still owns CDs anymore? In the age of the iPod/Zuma/Pandora/etc., the fact that anyone would own an actual compact disc and bring it to work is about as suspicious as a steel-plated briefcase handcuffed to your wrist.

Jokes aside, though, this is pretty serious stuff, that a soldier could so easily lift 150,000 diplomatic cables from a supposedly protected computer. So much for "classified" data. And just like Defense Secretary Robert Gate's crackdown on media access after Gen. Stanley McChrystal's resignation, keep an eye out for a ban on postmodern, synth-heavy, dance-pop CDs wending its way through the halls of the Pentagon right now.

Sharron Angle's BP Gaffe...And Apology

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 2:41 PM EDT

When Sharron Angle, the tea party-loved candidate gunning for Harry Reid's Senate seat in Nevada, branded BP's $20 billion escrow fund a "slush fund" this week, the comment raised more than a few eyebrows. Angle reportedly agreed with a caller to a local Nevada radio station who said the fund equated to "extortion," with Angle adding, "Government shouldn't be doing that to a private company. And I think you named it clearly: It's a slush fund." The Washington Post's Greg Sargent dubbed it her "Rand Paul moment." Of course, Angle's remark wasn't all that surprising, given that the "slush fund" label has been thrown around by other Republicans like Rep. Joe "We're sorry, BP" Barton (R-Tex.). And also given that Angle herself is prone to gaffes, including calling a reporter an idiot for quoting her website and suggesting armed revolt if "this Congress keeps going the way it is."

What is surprising is Angle's response and retraction, offered today in a statement from her campaign. The former Nevada assemblywoman now says the slush fund quip was "incorrect" and insensitive on her part. The statement also says, "My position is that the creation of this fund to compensate victims was an important first step—BP caused this disaster and they should pay for it." Here, in full, is Angle's statement:

Setting the record straight about BP and the Obama Administration

There's been some confusion this morning regarding my position on BP and the oil spill.

Having had some time to think about it, the caller and I shouldn't have used the term "slush fund"; that was incorrect.

My position is that the creation of this fund to compensate victims was an important first step—BP caused this disaster and they should pay for it. But there are multiple parties at fault here and there should be a thorough investigation. We need to look into the actions, (or inactions) of the Administration and why the regulatory agency in charge of oversight was asleep at the wheel while BP was cutting corners. Every party involved should be held fully accountable.

All in all, a pretty thorough correction by Angle, and a necessary one. Now, if she would only retract her armed insurrection idea, and her lemons-into-lemonade reference when talking about pregnancies resulting from incest and rape, and her idea to abolish the Department of Education, and her claim that the unemployed are "spoiled"...well, then we might be able to take her a bit more seriously.

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