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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CNN Flip-Flops: Newt's PAC Donations Don't Violate "Crossfire" Ethics Rules [UPDATED]

| Fri Sep. 27, 2013 11:13 AM EDT
Newt Gingrich.

This post has been updated.

On Wednesday, David Corn and I reported that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was raising money for a political action committee that so far in 2013 has raised $1.4 million—supposedly to dole out to conservative candidates—but only donated 1 percent of this haul to politicians, including $5,000 each to Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Our story raised this question: Is Gingrich's American Legacy PAC just a cash cow for his favorite consultants and associates? As it turned out, the article raised another issue: Gingrich's work for the PAC—which lists him as a founder and honorary co-chair—appeared to violate CNN's ethics rules covering his new job as a co-host of the rebooted Crossfire.

As Media Matters first reported in early September, CNN standards chief Rick Davis said that if Gingrich "is helping fund a candidate and that candidate's on the show, or being discussed on the show, of course he'll disclose that. Disclosure is important when it's relevant." On August 20, American Legacy PAC announced by email a donation of $5,000 to Rand Paul's 2016 reelection campaign. Weeks later, Paul appeared on the first episode of Crossfire. Gingrich did not disclose American Legacy's donation to Paul or his role with the PAC.

Pressed over whether Gingrich violated the network's rules, CNN changed its tune. In a statement to Media Matters, Davis, the CNN standards chief, says the network was "clarifying" its ethics guidelines and that Gingrich did nothing wrong:

We are clarifying the policy and making it clear Newt Gingrich is not in violation. The policy: If a Crossfire co-host has made a financial contribution to a politician who appears on the program or is the focus of the program, disclosure is not required during the show since the co-host's political support is obvious by his or her point of view expressed on the program.

Given that much of the critical political action these days occurs in primary elections and that the GOP is in the midst of an internal battle between tea partiers and establishmentarians, a viewer might not be able to assume that Crossfire's Republican co-hosts support all Republican candidates. Thus, it might enlighten viewers—and provide greater context—if a Republican co-host disclosed donations that revealed his or her party favorites. (The same is true regarding the Democratic co-hosts.) It would hardly be out of line to suggest that Gingrich might be even more supportive of a Republican candidate that he and his PAC finances. So the disclosure of his fundraising efforts certainly could be considered news-you-can-use for Crossfire viewers. Just not at CNN headquarters.

Mother Jones has made several requests for comment from Davis. So far, no response.

UPDATE: Via a spokeswoman, CNN standards chief Rick Davis sent this statement to Mother Jones about Gingrich's PAC fundraising and his Crossfire job:

Crossfire hosts have never been required to disclose their contributions regarding guests on the show because their political support and activism are there for all to see. It's obvious they support liberals or conservatives.

Davis' earlier statement that Gingrich would have to disclose any work "helping fund a candidate" who appears on Crossfire or is discussed on the show is no longer the case.

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NRA's Wayne LaPierre: "There Weren't Enough Good Guys With Guns" During Navy Yard Shooting

| Mon Sep. 23, 2013 11:57 AM EDT

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It was déjà vu all over again. On Sunday, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, told Meet the Press host David Gregory that one cause of last week's shooting at Washington, DC's Navy Yard was that "there weren't enough good guys with guns."

Sound familiar? It should. LaPierre trotted out the same talking point in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December. At the NRA's first press conference after gunman Adam Lanza killed 27 people at Sandy Hook, ​LaPierre singled out a host of supposed ills—other than guns themselves—to explain Lanza's spree: violent video games, violent movies, violent music, and more. Then he said, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

On Meet the Press, LaPierre not only called for more "good guys with guns," but he also blamed "the mental health situation in the country" which he described as "in complete breakdown." News reports in the wake of the Navy Yard shooting revealed that 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, who killed 12 people and was shot and killed himself at a Navy Yard facility, had exhibited erratic behavior for months. He told police in Rhode Island earlier this year that he heard people talking to him through walls and transmitting microwave vibrations into his body to keep him awake at night.

As for LaPierre's claim that more good guys with guns would've stopped mass shootings like those at Sandy Hook and Navy Yard, the evidence does not back this up. As Mother Jones has reported, not one of the 67 mass shootings in America in the past three decades was stopped by an armed civilian. Those who've tried have been badly injured or killed. And law enforcement officials don't want "good guys with guns" trying to play cop.

Sean Eldridge—Investor, Democratic Donor, and Husband of Facebook Cofounder Chris Hughes—Is Running for Congress

| Mon Sep. 23, 2013 9:51 AM EDT

When I first met Sean Eldridge last summer, at a Ritz-Carlton lobby bar that doubled as a see-and-be-seen salon for Democratic bigwigs attending the party's national convention in Charlotte, he seemed to fit in just fine. Eldridge, who runs a small investment fund in New York State's Hudson River Valley, met with me to discuss his latest effort, a political group called Protect Our Democracy that planned to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to support replacing the state's lax campaign finance system with publicly funded elections. It was clear, though, that Eldridge had far loftier political aspirations than campaign finance activist.

On Monday, Eldridge finally unveiled his candidacy for New York’s 19th Congressional district. I say "finally" because it's been an open secret for months now that Eldridge, who is married to Facebook cofounder and New Republic owner Chris Hughes, wanted to run for Congress. In a July 10 story titled "Young, Rich, and Relocating Yet Again in Hunt for Political Office," the New York Times told of how Eldridge and Hughes had first bought a house in the city of Garrison, an hour north of New York City, but when it became clear Eldridge had little chance of winning in that congressional district, the couple purchased a $2 million home further north in Ulster County.

The 19th congressional district voted for Barack Obama by six percentage points in last year's election. Rep. Chris Gibson, a two-term Republican and a 24-year Army veteran, currently represents the district. Gibson declined to comment for the Times' July story about Eldridge's political aspirations, except to say: "There are some things money can’t buy."

Eldridge will not lack for campaign cash. Hughes, Eldridge's husband, pocketed upwards of $500 million from his time at Facebook, and even before he announced his candidacy, the donors to Eldridge's exploratory committee included liberal financier George Soros and Napster founder Sean Parker.

Despite Eldridge having zero experience in elected office, he's pretty savvy about money and its role in politics. Here's an excerpt of my profile of Eldridge from the November/December 2012 issue of Mother Jones magazine:

Eldridge backed into New York's political money wars. In 2009, he dropped out of Columbia Law School the day after the state Senate defeated a same-sex marriage bill. He joined Freedom to Marry, a national organization backed by gay philanthropist Tim Gill, which helped oust three unfriendly New York lawmakers and whose pressure on Albany proved crucial in passing same-sex marriage on the second try in 2011. Freedom to Marry and other outside groups also rallied the public behind the cause, creating a groundswell that helped lift the bill to passage.

While in the trenches of the marriage equality fight, Eldridge had an epiphany: Money influences every policy fight, large and small. Control the spigot of campaign cash and you can get the policies you want. "Voters will list the 10 issues they care about most, and none of them is campaign finance," he told me. "But what I realized is that campaign finance underpins every one of those issues."

In June, Eldridge took a cue from the marriage equality fight by launching Protect Our Democracy, a PAC/nonprofit focused on promoting the issue of political money reform. Protect Our Democracy's main goal: introducing publicly financed matching campaign contributions to New York state. It plans on working with a coalition of progressive groups to replicate New York City's practice of matching every dollar given by small campaign donors (up to $175 each) with $6 in taxpayer money. By supersizing small-dollar gifts, the thinking goes, candidates will listen to ordinary supporters more than corporations, unions, lobbyists, and trade groups. Such a plan would also encourage candidates who aren't wealthy or well connected. According to an analysis by the Campaign Finance Institute, New York City's system works as intended: The number of small donors to competitive candidates has spiked by 29 percent, and the overall share of small donations (not including public matching funds) has jumped 26 percent.

The annual cost to taxpayers for a statewide version of this public financing system, Eldridge says, would be negligible—$3 or $4 per New Yorker. That's central to his pitch: For the cost of a latte, citizens can curb big-money politics.

New York could use the overhaul, critics say. Between 1976 and 2010, more public officials in the Empire State were convicted for corruption than anywhere else in the United States, according to researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Reformers blame this rampant sleaze on the state's lax campaign laws: Individuals can give candidates up to $150,000; corporations and their subsidiaries can give up to $5,000. The State Integrity Investigation project recently gave New York a D- for campaign finance on its Corruption Risk Report Card. Albany, for many New Yorkers, is shorthand for dysfunction and graft.

Reform advocates have long advocated a small-donor matching system. What makes Eldridge's campaign different is the unlikely coalition of supporters he has cobbled together. He hired former Karl Rove protégé Bill Smith to lead Protect Our Democracy's political team, and the effort's supporters include economist Jeffrey Sachs, former Securities and Exchange Commission chair (and George W. Bush appointee) William Donaldson, and former New York City Mayor Ed Koch. Media executive Barry Diller and gay philanthropist Jon Stryker, both high-profile Democratic donors, have also contributed to Protect Our Democracy.

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