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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Bill O'Reilly Defends Al Franken?

| Fri Apr. 2, 2010 10:21 AM EDT

Yes, you read that right. Bill O'Reilly, the bloviating face of Fox News, actually came to the (somewhat) defense of Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) the other night on his wildly popular show. O'Reilly was speaking with Jason Mattera, editor of Human Rights, about the latter's recent ambush of Franken (a classic O'Reilly tactic, of course) in an airport and interrogating him on the recently passed health care bill, without ever letting a dismayed Franken actually respond. Shockingly, O'Reilly scolded Mattera, who, as evidence of his intellectual rigor, previously claimed the left's notion of freedom consists of "smoking cocaine," for the Franken stunt: "The mistake you made," O'Reilly intoned, "was you were disrespectful for him—to him, when you called him 'Sen. Smalley,' and you gave him a reason to blow you off."

Here's the video of the exchange, courtesy of Talking Points Memo:

OK, so O'Reilly was just giving Mattera some helpful hints, in father-like way, on how best to be a pesky right-wing journalist. Still, maybe Bill's warming to that loveable senator from Minnesota after all.

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Barney Frank Blasts Aide Turned Lobbyist

| Thu Apr. 1, 2010 3:04 PM EDT

The story didn't make headlines, but it offered yet another glimpse of the endlessly spinning Washington-Wall Street revolving door: Peter Roberson, formerly a top policy adviser on the House financial services committee, recently left the committee to work as a lobbyist for a financial powerhouse in the derivatives industry—which also happens to be an industry the House committee is in charge of reforming as part of Congress' financial reform legislation.

Roberson's move to Intercontinental is so contentious because both the House and Senate are currently deciding whether to push much of the $600 trillion opaque, over-the-counter derivatives market onto transparent exchanges, like the New York Stock Exchange is for stocks. Intercontinental happens to own two major derivatives clearinghouses; the company processes trillions of dollars in derivatives trades. "This is a classic example of a revolving door abuse," Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, which backs tougher lobbying rules, told Bloomberg News. "He will be instrumental for Intercontinental." (Roberson did not respond to a request for comment from Mother Jones.)

Today, Roberson's former boss, financial services committee chairman Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), blasted the former adviser's move. "I completely agree" with criticism of Roberson's departure from Hill staffer to financial lobbyist, Frank said in a statement. The Massachusetts congressman said that when he heard of Roberson's potential move, Frank ordered his committee to sever ties with the staffer. And while there's a one-year ban on Roberson's interaction with members of the financial services committee, Frank said he's extending that ban for as long as Frank chairs the committee.

Here's Frank's full statement on the matter:

"Several people have expressed criticism of the move by Peter Roberson from the staff of the Financial Services Committee to ICE, after he worked on the legislation relevant to derivatives. I completely agree with that criticism. When Mr. Roberson was hired, it never occurred to me that he would jump so quickly from the Committee staff to an industry that was being affected by the Committee’s legislation. When he called me to tell me that he was in conversations with them, I told him that I was disappointed and that I insisted that he take no further action as a member of the Committee staff. I then called the Staff Director and instructed her to remove him from the payroll and provide him only such compensation as is already owed.

Stories about this correctly noted that there is a one year ban on his interaction with members of the Committee staff, but I do not think that is adequate. I am therefore instructing the staff of the Financial Services Committee to have no contact whatsoever with Mr. Roberson on any matters involving financial regulation for as long as I am in charge of that Committee staff. Fortunately, examples of staff members doing what Mr. Roberson has done are rare, but even one example is far too much and that is why I wanted to make clear I share the unhappiness of people at this, and my intention to prohibit any contact between him and members of the staff for as long as I have any control over the matter."

Oregon Will Fight...for Health Bill

| Thu Apr. 1, 2010 11:10 AM EDT

As MoJo's own Suzy Khimm writes today, the more than a dozen states set to fight President Obama's health care bill in court may not succeed, but there's still plenty they can do to undermine how reform is implemented. Like how states establish insurance exchanges, as the new law requires, which require plenty of supervision and appointees at the state level. Now another state, Oregon, has now joined the states' legal health care battle—but it's on the side fighting for the bill.

Oregon's attorney general, John Kroger, announced yesterday that he's readying a massive defense alongside the state's governor to defend the constitutionality of Obama's health bill. (Both men are Democrats.) "The health care reform cases present some of the most important constitutional issues facing this generation," Kroger said in a statement.

Oregon's defense of health care reform faces stiff opposition from a spate of attorneys general nationwide. The AGs already vowing to fight Obamacare, as opponents call it, hail from Florida, Alabama, Michigan, South Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Indiana, Idaho, South Dakota, and Washington. (All of these states are party to the same suit, filed by Florida AG Bill McCollum.) The Virginia AG has also announced that he'll sue the Obama administration over the health bill as well. One particular piece of the health bill that has these state AGs up in arms is a mandate that all Americans buy medical insurance or pay a fine; the states say this demand violates the constitution's commerce clause, which gives the feds the power to regulate interstate commerce. These states counter by saying insurance contracts aren't commerce, and thus fall under state's regulatory power. Their opposition also stems from states' broader fiscal woes, with budgets already deep in the red and likely to suffer more when required to implement Obama's health care plan.

With Oregon now joining the fray, the fight over Obama's health reform is shaping up to be a bruiser. And don't be surprised to see more states chime in the coming days and weeks.

Top GOPer Disavows Wall St. Bill

| Wed Mar. 31, 2010 10:41 AM EDT

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), a top GOP negotiator in the Senate's financial reform battle, told the Wall Street Journal that he "absolutely cannot support" the Senate's Wall Street overhaul, a thousand-plus-page bill largely crafted by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT). Dodd is the chairman of the banking committee, which recently passed a financial reform bill on a 13-10 party-line vote; Corker is a member of the committee as well, who'd closely negotiated with Dodd for weeks on the bill. "I couldn't support the bill in its current form," Corker told the Journal. "I am absolutely not throwing in the towel. I have no plans to support the current legislation. I hope we'll get back to the negotiating table."

Corker had more recently made headlines as a potential defector from the Republican camp to side with Democrats on financial reform. (The Huffington Post exclaimed, in a blaring headline, that Corker was "going rogue.") In remarks at the US Chamber of Commerce last week, Corker criticized the GOP's decision to not negotiate financial reform in committee, instead saving the inevitable battle for the Senate floor. The Tennessee senator called this decision "a major strategic error" by Republicans.

Now, however, top GOP brass appear to have reined Corker back in with a party that largely opposes the financial reform bill as it stands. The Republicans have clashed with Democrats on a number of issues in the bill, including an independent consumer protection agency, the creation of a council to guard against too-big-to-fail, and greater shareholder input on executive compensation. The potential loss of Corker could be a blow to Democrats, who need at least one Republican vote to pass the bill. The Senate plans to begin negotiations on financial reform when they return from recess in mid-April.

Obama Sells Out College's Working Class

| Wed Mar. 31, 2010 10:15 AM EDT

President Obama took a huge step yesterday toward expanding access to higher education. By cutting out private student loan lenders, he's saving a projected $61 billion, which will go toward beefing up the Pell Grant program; annual loan payments are now capped at 10 percent of income, so students aren't deterred from enrolling by the specter of crippling debt; and a host of other funding programs will now support minority-oriented institutions and other colleges. Yet conspicuously absent from HR 4872, the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act, was much-touted effort called the American Graduation Initiative (AGI).

The AGI was the most ambitious presidential plan since Truman to bolster community colleges, the nearly 1,200 schools that cater to students who can't afford a traditional university, want to work and go to school at the same time, want to use community colleges as a stepping stone to a four-year school, or want job re-training when looking to change careers. (Full disclosure: My dad's an English professor at a community college.) These colleges enroll anywhere from 35 to 50 percent of undergraduates nationwide. They enroll more low-income and minority students than four-year schools. 95 percent of community colleges are open admission—in other words, everyone's welcome here.

The AGI recognized the role of community colleges—increasingly so in light of the economic recession, when fewer people can afford skyrocketing tuition costs. Most importantly, the initiative proposed spending $12 billion over ten years to increase community college graduates by 5 million over the next decade.

But when higher ed reform got grafted on the health care bill, and a melee ensued to pass that package, the AGI somehow died. Apparently the community college "lobby" couldn't keep the AGI in the reconciliation bill signed by Obama. What these two-year schools did get out of the final bill was $2 billion to fund existing programs, mostly for disabled workers—nothing to scoff at, but a far cry from what Obama envisioned last summer, when he unveiled the AGI to much fanfare. "I know the colleges are grateful for the money that's in there, but it's for the status quo," Sara Goldrick-Rab, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin, told NPR. "The money for focusing on college completion might have been transformative."

Losing the AGI is, in short, a major loss for working class students. The initiative specifically targeted them and sought to offer the upward mobility of a college degree to millions of new students. So much for that idea. And considering how much political capital Obama expended to pass health care and student loan reform, it's unlikely we'll see future transformative initiatives for community colleges anytime soon. In the meantime, community colleges are increasingly cutting back on class offerings and are unable to hire enough qualified instructors—full time or part time—to meet a growing demand. Thanks to Obama's new bill, access to four-year colleges—a nice spot if you can afford it—may be increasing, but working class students will find themselves again shut out.

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