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.
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.
In an interview on Thursday morning with the National Review's Robert Costa, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made an intriguing comment that caught our eye. Fresh from helping to broker the deal to end the government shutdown and lift the debt ceiling, McConnell was asked by Costa if political factors in Kentucky were shaping his legislative strategy in Washington. As we've reported, McConnell faces a tough reelection fight, including a fierce primary challenge, with Kentucky tea partiers steaming over McConnell's deal-making on issues like the 2012 fiscal cliff deal, Syria, and now the debt ceiling.
McConnell's response: "Oh, that's the Mother Jones thesis."
Here's the full exchange:
COSTA: A lot of reporters think your decisions are driven by political considerations in your home state, especially your primary versus Matt Bevin and a potential general-election campaign versus Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. How are those factors shaping your strategy?
MCCONNELL: Oh, that’s the Mother Jones thesis. I have nothing to say about my primary opponent. And this week, it’s pretty obvious about whether that’s driving my decisions. As for [Lundergan Grimes], the whole rationale for her candidacy is that I’m part of the dysfunction in Washington, so she’s probably been pretty unhappy over the past 24 hours. I’ve demonstrated, once again, that when the Congress is in gridlock and the country is at risk, I’m the guy who steps forward and tries to get us out of the ditch. So it’s been a bad 24 hours for her, and she’s going to need to find a new rationale.
We're flattered to know that McConnell, arguably the most influential Republican official in Washington, reads Mother Jones. We assume he's referring to a September 19 story by David Corn which examined whether McConnell's tea-party challenger, Matt Bevin, was preventing the minority leader from fully engaging in the shutdown negotiations. "McConnell must fear the wrath of [Kentucky Senator Rand] Paul and the Paulites, should he engage in wheeling and dealing that results in any accords that offend the sensibilities of the tea partiers," Corn wrote. "Caught between Rand Paul and the White House, one of the most powerful and sly politicians in Washington has little room to work his behind-closed-doors magic."
The deal to lift the debt ceiling and reopen the federal government unveiled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday barely touches Obamacare. That's a major blow to conservative lawmakers in the House and Senate who shut down the government on October 1 over demands to delay or defund President Obama's health-care law. This deal, crafted by Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, leaves them empty-handed, with little, if anything, to show for their anti-Obamacare crusade.
Now, one prominent conservative group is telling Republicans that they cannot claim to oppose Obamacare if they vote yes on the Reid-McConnell deb ceiling deal. Those members who support the deal "can't credibly claim they oppose Obamacare if they vote for this deal," Rick Manning, a spokesman for Americans for Limited Government, tells Mother Jones. "This vote is a vote for funding Obamacare."
Manning says that ALG will urge members to vote no on the Reid-McConnell deal. "This whole thing was about Obamacare," he says. "And now this deal doesn't touch Obamacare at all."
The glitches marring the roll-out of Obamacare's insurance exchanges, which opened for business on October 1, are even more reason to do everything possible to kill the law, Manning says. "We now have dramatically more evidence that this thing is a failure. Even if you like Obamacare, you can't like what you're getting right now."
The Club for Growth, another heavy-hitting conservative group, is also telling members to vote no on the Reid-McConnell bill. The House and Senate are expected to vote on the bill later on Wednesday or early Thursday.
When conservative activists began laying the groundwork months ago for their plan to shut down the federal government, their stated goal was delaying or defunding the Affordable Care Act, the equivalent of landing a haymaker on President Obama's signature policy achievement. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tromped around Texas railing against the health care law, a banner proclaiming "DEFUND OBAMACARE" hanging behind him.
Yet the ultimate goal of conservative interest groups such as Heritage Action and FreedomWorks has always been the wholesale repeal of Obamacare. Some conservative lawmakers reportedly even insisted on repealing Obamacare as part of a deal to end the government shutdown that began on October 1.
But on Fox News Wednesday morning, Michael Needham, the CEO of Heritage Action, brought some reality to the discussion over repealing Obamacare:
Fox News: With a Democrat in the White House and Harry Reid with the majority in the Senate, what can you do [to stop Obamacare]?
Needham: Well, everybody understands that we're not going to be able to repeal this law until 2017. And that we have to win the Senate and win the White House.
But right now, it is clear that this bill is not ready for primetime. It is clear that this bill is unfair. The president's given a waiver to employers; why can't we give that waiver to the individual people all across America?"
So there you have it. Obamacare isn't going anywhere until Republicans wrest full control of Congress and the White House. They won't get a shot at that until the 2016 elections, and by then, with Obamacare fully implemented, it could be too late.