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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Andrew Cuomo's Much-Touted Corruption Watchdog Is Beginning to Look Like a Joke

| Tue Oct. 8, 2013 10:10 AM EDT
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

In June, an anti-corruption bill that included the holy grail of money-in-politics reforms—public financing of elections—died in the New York State Senate. Progressives and election reformers had pinned their hopes on passing a public financing system modeled after New York City's, a system that helped Bill de Blasio clinch the Democratic mayoral primary. But they weren't left empty-handed when the bill died: In its place, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) created the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption to get at the root of Albany's corruption woes and to study the funding of state elections.

Now, it looks like Cuomo's commission is not all it's cracked up to be. And the Cuomo administration is partly to blame.

State lawmakers are refusing to turn over the information about their outside income that the corruption commission requested, the New York Times reports. Cuomo's staff, meanwhile, "has leaned on the commission to limit the scope of its investigations," according to the Times.

Here's more from the Times:

The turmoil over the commission began in late August, when it asked members of both houses of the Legislature to release information about their outside income above $20,000. Several weeks later, lawyers for the Legislature refused, saying, "These demands substantially exceed what New York law authorizes."

The commission's relationship with the governor's office has also been freighted. It issued a flurry of subpoenas at the start, but then was slowed by Mr. Cuomo's office in several instances, according to people familiar with the situation who insisted on anonymity because they feared retribution by the governor.

In one such instance, when the commission began to investigate how a handful of high-end residential developers in New York City won tax breaks from Albany, its staff drafted, and its three co-chairmen approved, a subpoena of the Real Estate Board of New York. But Mr. Cuomo’s office persuaded the commission not to subpoena the board, whose leaders have given generously to Mr. Cuomo's campaign, and which supported a business coalition, the Committee to Save New York, that ran extensive television advertising promoting his legislative agenda.

A Cuomo spokeswoman told the Times that "ultimately all investigatory decisions are up to the unanimous decision of the co-chairs." Still, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he's worried about "interference and micromanagement" at the commission, and good-government groups are increasingly disillusioned over the commission's trajectory. "New Yorkers are losing patience with the continuing culture of corruption in Albany and the continued indictment of their representatives," reads a letter from Common Cause New York to Cuomo. "The commission was established to help restore their faith in government, not confirm their cynicism that the system will never change."

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Democratic Super-PAC Targets GOP "Crybabies" With Hilarious Ad

| Mon Oct. 7, 2013 9:57 AM EDT

Here's a political ad that gets right to the point.

House Majority PAC, the super-PAC angling to win back the House for the Democrats next year, is on the airwaves with a new TV ad depicting a crying baby and likening a crew of House Republican lawmakers to petulant children. The ad targets House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and a crew of tea party lawmakers—including Reps. David Joyce (R-Ohio), Gary Miller (R-Calif.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.)—saying these GOPers are, well, big crybabies throwing a temper tantrum over their failed efforts to derail Obamacare.

"Speaker John Boehner didn't get his way on shutting down health-care reform," the ad's narrator says. "So he shut down the government and hurt the economy." The ad features the Twitter hashtag #GOPTemperTantrum.

The partial shutdown of the federal government now enters its second week, with no resolution in sight. On ABC's This Week, Boehner said he would not move to reopen the government until President Obama agrees to negotiate over Obamacare, the centerpiece of which went into effect last Tuesday. Asked whether the nation was set to default on its obligations in mid-October when it hits the government's borrowing limit, Boehner replied, "That's the path we're on." Obama, of course, refuses to enter talks about weakening or defunding his health insurance overhaul.

Don't be surprised, then, to see more crying babies on your TV set in the days ahead.

Movie Mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg Raises $1 Million for Mitch McConnell's Democratic Foe

| Mon Sep. 30, 2013 9:17 AM EDT
Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Hollywood is betting big on Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic challenger to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Jeffrey Katzenberg, the movie mogul and Democratic kingmaker, raised more than $1 million for Grimes at a recent fundraiser at the Spago restaurant in Beverly Hills, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Katzenberg, who marshaled more than $30 million to reelect President Obama, has trained his sights on the McConnell-Grimes race for 2014 election season.

In an email to potential donors sent earlier this month, Katzenberg said of the Kentucky Senate race, "There is no more important election being held next year in this country." Katzenberg wrote that he sees McConnell as an obstructionist who has crippled the US Senate and hurt the democratic process in Congress. "Alison is the antidote to McConnell and all he represents," Katzenberg wrote. "She can win, and she will win if she gets the support she needs."

Here's more on Katzenberg's fundraiser from the Hollywood Reporter:

As the event concluded shortly before 8 p.m. and the room emptied out, the studio head and his political adviser, Andy Spahn, lingered at a table chatting with the candidate. As Grimes made her own exit, she paused to thank lingering campaign staff members, who laughingly told her the effort “came from the top down,” a reference to the intense hands-on role Katzenberg took in orchestrating the visit.

Asked for names of donors, Katzenberg simply responded, "Everybody."

The total was particularly impressive since individual donors can contribute only $5,200 to a candidate for federal office.

One of the Hollywood insiders who sized Grimes up during the whirlwind visit told THR that—while there are no formal records kept–the $1 million total is thought to be a record for a single visit by a senatorial candidate raising money in the L.A. entertainment industry.

A knowledgeable source also told THR that Katzenberg is preparing to renew his strong support for Democratic Super PACs as a way to level the electoral playing field in Kentucky, where Republican independent expenditure committees are expected to spend major cash to secure McConnell’s reelection.

Grimes herself made a strong impression at the luncheon, cocktail event and private meetings she attended during a visit that began Wednesday and wrapped up Thursday night. "I spent some time talking with her," said one Hollywood supporter. "She's very smart, very attractive, very poised. She has a good story about her Kentucky roots and her life there. She is very serious. She really wants to win this.

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

| Fri Sep. 27, 2013 10:13 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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