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, where he's an associate editor. Email him at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. He tweets at @AndyKroll.

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California Watchdog: "Koch Brothers Network" Behind $15 Million Dark-Money Donations

| Fri Oct. 25, 2013 11:42 AM EDT
Charles (left) and David Koch.

On Thursday, the California attorney general and the state's top election watchdog named the "Koch brothers network" of donors and dark-money nonprofits as the true source of $15 million in secret donations made last year to influence two bitterly fought ballot propositions in California. State officials unmasked the Kochs' network as part of a settlement deal that ends a nearly year-long investigation into the source of the secret donations that flowed in California last fall.

As part of the deal, two Arizona-based nonprofits, the Koch-linked Center to Protect Patients Rights and Americans for Responsible Leadership, admitted violating state election law. The settlement mandates that the two nonprofits pay a $1 million fine to California's general fund, and the committees who received the secret donations at the heart of the case must also cut a check to the state for the amount of those donations, which totaled $15.08 million.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Will Shutter His Dark-Money Fund

| Tue Oct. 22, 2013 11:02 AM EDT
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.

For months, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has been under fire for a nonprofit his administration has used to pay the salary of a top lieutenant, as well as housing and travel costs for Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager appointed by Snyder to shore up Detroit's finances. On Monday, Snyder announced he would soon dissolve the nonprofit, known as the New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify (NERD) Fund.

Snyder told reporters, according to the Detroit Free Press, that the NERD Fund—which has never disclosed its donors—was becoming a distraction. "I think it is appropriate to say, 'Let's wind it down and go forward in a fund where all the donors will be disclosed and the information will be online,'" he said.

Allies of the governor incorporated the NERD fund in February 2011, shortly after Snyder took office, to offset the costs of certain employees and initiatives. Its goal, as the fund's directors put it, to "advance good government in Michigan while easing the burden on taxpayers." The NERD Fund raised $1.3 million in unlimited donations from anonymous sources in 2011, but just $368,000 in 2012, according to tax filings. The only publicly revealed donor to the NERD Fund is the pharmaceutical chain CVS, which gave $1,000 in March 2012, according to a company disclosure.

Earlier this month, Snyder testified under oath that he didn't know who the NERD Fund's donors were. That hasn't stopped Snyder's critics, mainly the state's labor unions, from raising questions about the influence gained by the fund's donors.

A spokeswoman for Snyder said the NERD Fund will not reveal its previous donors even after dissolving—a decision that raised fresh questions about the fund's backers. "Closing the NERD Fund without full disclosure of past donors only begs the question: What is Gov. Snyder hiding?" Karla Swift, president of the Michigan state AFL-CIO, told the Detroit News.

Power Company Comes Clean: We Bankrolled Arizona's Anti-Solar Blitz

| Mon Oct. 21, 2013 12:08 PM EDT

In recent months, sunny Arizona has been the scene of a shady dark money-fueled battle pitting Arizona's largest electricity utility against the burgeoning solar power industry. Over the weekend, the fight took an interesting turn: The utility, the Arizona Public Service Company (APS), outed itself as a funder of two secretive nonprofits fueling the anti-solar fight—and revealed that it had funneled its anti-solar money through a political operative associated with the Koch brothers and their donor network.

Follow that? Some backstory might help.

The fight between APS and the solar industry concerns an issue called net metering. The way net metering works, private consumers who use solar panels can transfer extra energy they generate back to the power grid; the credits they receive for that excess energy, proponents argue, make solar an economical and smart choice for energy generation. APS wants changes to the net metering program that would, in effect, add $50 to $100 a month to power bills of solar users. That additional money, solar companies argue, would make solar power look uneconomical and do serious damage to the industry's business.

Earlier this year, a coalition of solar companies, including SolarCity and Sunrun, launched TUSK (short for "Tell Utilities Solar won't be Killed") and hired Barry Goldwater Jr., the son of the onetime presidential candidate, to fight the net metering changes. TUSK accused APS of being anti-solar and trying to kill the burgeoning solar energy industry. In response, a pair of secretly funded nonprofit groups began running ads on TV, radio, and online calling net metering credits "corporate welfare" and comparing SolarCity and Sunrun to Solyndra, the solar panel company that accepted $500 million in government loans and then went bankrupt.

Here's one of those anti-net-metering ads by the 60 Plus Association:

The 60 Plus Association, a Virginia-based nonprofit, has received money from the Koch brothers' donor network. The other nonprofit fighting net metering is Prosper, which was started by former Arizona State House Speaker Kirk Adams. Although the ads run by 60 Plus and Prosper championed the cause of APS, the utility denied that it was funding the groups' anti-solar ads, saying it was a coincidence the groups had joined the net metering fight.

Now, APS has changed its tune. The utility told the Arizona Republic that it had in fact donated to both groups. What's more, APS told the Republic that it had given that money through Sean Noble, a political consultant described in a recent Huffington Post story as "the wizard behind the screen" for the Koch donor network's activities in 2012. "We needed to respond to these ridiculous assertions that we do not support solar," John Hatfield, an APS spokesman, told the Republic. (Noble no longer appears to be in the good graces of Kochworld: The Huffington Post story reported that he had fallen out of favor with Charles and David Koch and their donor network. "Noble has had his wings clipped," one Republican operative is quoted as saying.)

The Arizona Corporation Commission could vote within weeks on whether to accept or reject the net metering changes backed by APS, or to side with the solar industry. What the commission decides could have major ramifications for the renewable energy industry in the southwest. Expect to see plenty more dark money flying around in the run-up to that vote.

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