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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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?

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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.

Iowa State Senator Allegedly Wanted Cash for Ron Paul Presidential Endorsement

| Thu Aug. 8, 2013 12:21 PM EDT
Iowa state senator Kent Sorenson.

A few days before the 2012 Iowa presidential caucuses, Kent Sorenson, an influential Republican state senator in Iowa, caused a stir by cutting ties with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and endorsing libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). "The decision I am making today is one of the most difficult I have made in my life," Sorenson said. "But given what's at stake for our country, I have decided I must take this action."

Making Sorenson's decision a lot easier was, allegedly, the offer of a whole lot of cash.

According to an October 2011 email obtained by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), an ally of Sorenson's allegedly told Ron Paul's campaign that they could have Sorenson's full support in exchange for an $8,000-a-month salary for Sorenson, $5,000-a-month salary for an acolyte of Sorenson's, and $100,000 in contributions to a political action committee run by Sorenson. (It remains unclear how much, if any, money actually changed hands. Iowa campaign finance filings contain no record of a $100,000 donation to Sorenson's Iowa Conservatives Fund PAC.)

In exchange, the email says, Sorenson would ditch Bachmann's campaign, endorse Paul, join Paul on the campaign trail in Iowa, and provide Paul's campaign with a member list of the "main Iowa home-school group" for "targeted home-school mail." The bombshell email was allegedly written by Aaron Dorr, who runs Iowa Gun Owners, and is addressed to John Tate, Paul's 2012 campaign manager. An aide to Paul's 2008 presidential campaign, Dennis Fusaro, gave the email to CRP, which you can read below:

 

Here's more from CRP:

The lengthy memo sent on Oct. 29, 2011, was addressed to John Tate, who was then the Ron Paul 2012 campaign manager, Dorr not only lays out Sorenson’s alleged requests for money and what he will do in return, but says that because of a major Iowa Senate leadership meeting coming up on Nov. 10, Sorenson couldn’t quit the Bachmann campaign until Nov. 11. In a second email chain Fusaro provided, Benton emails Dorr on Nov. 14, writing that, "with those meetings in the rear-view mirror, I though (sic) now might be a good time to revisit Kent and your brother joining our team."

On Nov. 21, Dorr replied to Benton and Tate that he was going to step out of the negotiations because Dimitri Kesari, a Ron Paul staffer, had gone to Sorenson’s house for dinner.

"As I'm no longer needed to facilitate a conversation at this point, I’ll bow out and let you, John, Dimitri, and Kent work this out," Dorr wrote.

Kasari, Tate, Dorr and Benton did not return calls and emails for comment. Today, The Iowa Republican, a conservative blog in Iowa, published an audio recording of what is alleged to be a conversation between Fusaro and Sorenson in which the senator tells Fusaro that Kasari gave his wife a $30,000 check from an account belonging to a jewelry store Kasari's wife owns. In the recording Sorenson said he did not cash the check.

In response, Sorenson told TheIowaRepublican.com, which also reported on the alleged Sorenson-Paul arrangement, that Fusaro had fabricated the email and that he'd never received any money. The other players implicated in this alleged pay-to-play deal did not comment to CRP. If true, this scheme is yet another headache for Sorenson. He is currently under investigation by a state ethics committee for allegedly pledging his support to Bachmann's campaign in return for renumeration, and he has denied any wrongdoing in that matter, too.

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