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

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Will Andrew Cuomo Go the Distance on Post-Citizens United Campaign Reform?

| Wed May. 1, 2013 9:40 AM PDT
Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

It's crunch time in New York State. For more than a year, reformers fighting to get big money out of politics have asked, nudged, and cajoled New York lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pass new legislation enticing candidates to spurn big-dollar checks from wealthy donors in favor of lots of small donations from everyday voters. New York, for the reformers, is the front line in the post-Citizens United battle against big-money politics. Now, the reformers have just six to seven weeks to get the job done. A big question looking over their final blitz is this: Will Cuomo fully commit himself to their plan?

The coalition pushing for political money reform in New York State is led by Citizen Action of New York, the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause New York, the Working Families Party, and a handful of labor unions. They have the support of dozens more progressive stalwarts, not to mention an unlikely mix of donors, business types, and more. They want for New York State what New York City already has: A so-called public match system, in which small-dollar donations raised by candidates are matched six times over by public funds. So a candidate who raises, say, $50 from small donors receives $300 in matching funds. The more small donations a candidate reels in, the more matching money she gets. You get the point.

In Albany, the political calculus is straightforward enough. The Democratic-controlled New York State Assembly is already onboard with the reformers' plan: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver recently introduced his own bill that includes the matching system the reformers want.

The state Senate is where things get tricky. A strange coalition of "independent" Democrats and Republicans controls the upper chamber, albeit tenuously. The leaders of that coalition are divided over their support for a public financing bill: Jeff Klein, the leader of the independent Democrats, has a public financing bill of his own, but the top Republicans oppose any new reforms. Reformers are confident they have the votes to pass good legislation, but getting to a Senate-wide vote is the biggest hurdle, says David Donnelly, executive director of the Public Campaign Action Fund. "The big question is: how do they get a bill to the floor?" he asks.

Donnelly says he and his allies are planning an all-hands-on-deck blitz to press the state Senate into action. Reformers will heavily lobby state senators and their staffers in the coming weeks, while also launching door-to-door canvassing efforts in key districts and hosting community forums on the need for public financing throughout New York. Organizing for Action, the rebooted version of President Obama's 2012 presidential campaign, will mobilize its 700,000-plus members in New York State on the public financing issue. Right now, the three senators in the reformers' crosshairs are Mark Grisanti of Buffalo and Lee Zeldin and Philip Boyle of Long Island. Reformers say they'll pressure additional senators before the legislature's session ends in June.

In a briefing with reporters, Jonathan Soros, one of the leading funders and advocates for public financing in New York, explained that reformers see the state's recent corruption scandals as a boon to their efforts. On April 1st, federal prosecutors announced that they'd caught State Sen. Malcolm Smith, one of those "independent" Democrats, trying to bribe his way onto the New York mayoral ballot (as a Republican, no less). The investigation ensnared not only Smith but also two New York City Republican officials who offered to help get Smith on the ballot. Instead, Smith and his buddies ended up as Albany's latest cautionary tale of political corruption. And with corruption in the headlines, Soros says, there may be no better time to make the case for political money reform.

But neither Soros nor Donnelly can say whether Cuomo will go the distance on reform. Publicly, Cuomo has said exactly what the reformers want to hear: He's stumped for it his "State of the State" speeches, crowed to the press about the need to clean up state politics, and held the first tele-town hall of his governorship with 1,350 activists pushing for a public financing bill. But the reformers say they're unsure if this is an issue on which Cuomo intends to get dirty, to twist the arms of wobbly lawmakers and do whatever it takes to pass a bill. That's what he did on gay marriage and gun control, two major legislative victories of his tenure.

Reformers intend to use a mix of "carrots and sticks," as Soros put it, to win Cuomo's full support. Soros, Donnelly, and the reformers know that Cuomo's involvement is crucial, but they say they won't shy away from calling him out if he fails to step up on this issue. "Our principal thesis," Soros says, "is that there are consequences for political inaction on this issue."

Ed Markey Is On Track to Replace John Kerry—With the Help of the "Green Billionaire"

| Tue Apr. 30, 2013 9:43 PM PDT
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Congressman Ed Markey is one step closer to replacing Secretary of State John Kerry in the US Senate. On Tuesday, he cruised past Stephen Lynch, a fellow Democratic congressman, in the special Democratic primary in Massachusetts to fill Kerry's vacated seat. With nearly all precincts reporting, Markey held a commanding lead of 57 percent to 43 percent over Lynch.

Markey will face ex-Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez in a special general election to be held in late June. Gomez is a political newcomer. His only prior run for office was a bid to win a seat on the board of selectmen in tiny Cohasset, Mass. (He lost.) That didn't stop Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super-PAC, from describing Gomez as "Mitt Romney Jr.," a businessman-turned-politician who wants to cut benefits for senior citizens and lower taxes for the wealthiest Americans. Gomez, for his part, has pledged to "reboot" Congress by instituting, among other changes, term limits for politicians and a lifetime ban on lobbying.

Markey has carved out a liberal record during his 20 terms in the House—a long political career that his opponents will no doubt use against him. Over those years, he has established a reputation as one of Congress' leading advocates for protecting the environment and fighting climate change. He co-authored one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation to address climate change, the American Clean Energy and Security Act in 2009, which failed to make it through Congress.

Markey's strong environmental record helps explain why he got an assist in his win over Lynch from the San Francisco hedge fund investor and environmentalist Tom Steyer. Despite Markey and Lynch agreeing to a "People's Pledge" to keep outside money out of their race, Steyer's NextGen super-PAC spent more than $400,000 on online ads and microtargeting, often hammering Lynch over his support for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Steyer's involvement added some drama to a off-year primary with a lackluster turnout.

Steyer says he will use his fortune, estimated at $1.4 billion, to drag the issue of climate change into the spotlight in American politics and to combat the influence of climate change deniers and the oil lobby. He's taking a similar approach to the climate issue that New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg takes on gun control: supporting candidates who see things his way and attacking those who do not. "Really, what we're trying to do is to make a point that people who make good decisions on this should be rewarded, and people should be aware that if they do the wrong thing, the American voters are watching and they will be punished," Steyer told the Hill.

Long active in California politics, the Markey-Lynch race was Steyer's first big foray as an outside spender into a marquee Congressional race. He drew howls with an open letter giving Lynch a deadline of "high noon" to flip his position on the Keystone pipeline. But by the end of the campaign, Steyer's spending appeared to have boosted Markey (even if the veteran congressman didn't really need the help to win Tuesday's primary). And a dedicated environmentalist is now on the cusp of filling John Kerry's old seat—exactly what Steyer wants.

Steyer has yet to say if he'll go after Gabriel Gomez in the general election. But he's one for one so far, and given every indication he plans to spend a lot more money in the months and years ahead.

This Libertarian Presidential Hopeful Wants Your Bitcoin Donations

| Mon Apr. 29, 2013 7:43 AM PDT

Darryl W. Perry says he's running for president in 2016 as a libertarian, and he's pledging to be the first White House hopeful to accept Bitcoin, the online currency currently en vogue in tech and libertarian circles.

Bitcoin appeals to libertarians who are skeptical of the Federal Reserve and other central banking institutions. As Jim Harper, the director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, recently told Mother Jones, "There are types like me, libertarian gold-buggish folks," for whom "inflation is a constant worry" and who "see the cryptography in Bitcoin as insulation against inflation." The US Libertarian Party accepts Bitcoin donations on its website, and the Libertarian Party of Canada joined the Bitcoin bandwagon in March.

Perry laid out his decision to accept Bitcoin in a recent open letter to the Federal Election Commission, the nation's beleaguered elections watchdog. The Darryl W. Perry for President campaign, he said, will not accept any donations "in currencies recognized by the federal legal tender laws." The only currencies going into Perry's campaign war chest are Bitcoin, Litecoin (another online currency), and precious metals. "I am attempting to put into practice a belief that I hold that we should get rid of the Federal Reserve, which is a central bank," he recently explained. "And unlike some who want to get rid of the Fed, I don't want the government stepping in to fill the void."

Believe it or not, refusing to accept actual money may not be Perry's biggest obstacle to running for president. Unlike the Libertarian Party, Perry disavows the very existence of the FEC and denies its authority to regulate campaigns. Perry says he will not file any paperwork with the commission establishing his presidential campaign, nor will he disclose whom his bitcoin/litecoin/gold contributors are or how he spends their money. He ends his letter by writing, "I intend this to be the last communication I have with this commission as part of my campaign."

How serious is Perry's candidacy? His website is, well, far from inspiring, and there's one brief mention of him on the US Libertarian Party's website. But he's nonetheless one of the early Bitcoin adopters in politics, following candidates in North Dakota, Vermont, and New Hampshire who decided to accept the online currency. Provided Bitcoin doesn't bottom out in the months or years ahead—the price of a Bitcoin is vulnerable to wild swings, evidenced by a 60-percent drop a few weeks ago, quickly shedding $115 in value—I wouldn't be surprised to see more libertarian types embrace Bitcoin donations.

Therein lies a challenge: Explaining Bitcoin to the average voter is hard enough. If the FEC ever tried to regulate it, well, good luck.

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