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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Liberal Super-PAC's First 2014 Target: Michele Bachmann

| Thu Apr. 25, 2013 8:44 AM PDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

CREDO Super-PAC, the group that spent nearly $3 million to oust five conservative congressmen in 2012, has announced its first target of the 2014 midterms: Tea party firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). The super-PAC says it will spend at least $500,000 to boot Bachmann out of office.

CREDO Super-PAC, an offshoot of the progressive phone company CREDO Mobile*, knows Bachmann all too well. In 2012, the super-PAC named Bachmann one of the "Tea Party Ten" lawmakers that it set out to defeat. But Bachmann's opponent, Democrat Jim Graves, and the outside groups hoping to oust her fell just short: She won by a few thousand votes. When I interviewed Becky Bond, the politically geeky president of CREDO Super-PAC, after the elections, she told me her biggest regret was the Bachmann race. "If we could do it again, we would've taken her on earlier and she would've lost," Bond said.

That explains why CREDO Super-PAC is launching its anti-Bachmann campaign 18 months before the 2014 elections. In its announcement, CREDO says it will use the same data-driven, grassroots-centric strategy to oust Bachmann as it did in 2012. As I've written before, CREDO is something of an outlier on the super-PAC landscape: While most super-PACs poured millions of dollars into TV, radio, and Internet ads, in many cases to little effect, CREDO opened field offices in ten congressional districts, hired organizers, signed up volunteers, and used political data to inform their work.

Here's what CREDO said in its Bachmann announcement:

"What kind of a signal does it send that not only is Rep. Michele Bachmann in Congress, but she's on the House Intelligence Committee?" asked Becky Bond, president of CREDO Super-PAC. "Bachmann's bigotry and bizarre political views don't represent Minnesota values. Bachmann has launched an anti-Muslim witch hunt, actually believes that gay marriage is the biggest problem facing the nation, and has even claimed that Obamacare kills people.

"Bachmann won by a mere 4,000 votes in 2012, and is beatable in 2014. If our volunteers in Minnesota's 6th district can turn out enough voters, the Tea Party Caucus in Congress will be down yet one more bigoted conspiracy theorist."

Aside from being a climate denier and promoting hate and bigotry, Rep. Bachmann has been making headlines lately for being embroiled in multiple campaign scandals. Rep. Bachmann is currently under investigation by the Federal Election Commission, the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee for allegedly authorizing improper campaign payments, among a host of other potentially illegal activities.

Instead of spending millions on expensive TV advertising, CREDO Super-PAC will employ a proven campaign model that helped defeat some of the most extreme Tea Party Republicans in 2012, including former Reps. Chip Cravaack and Allen West. CREDO Super PAC will open an office in Minnesota’s 6th congressional district, hire on the ground organizers, and begin mobilizing volunteers to get out the vote against Bachmann. CREDO Super PAC will use cutting-edge research to target a specific universe of voters in MN-06 to help make the difference on Election Day.

Jim Graves, Bachmann's 2012 opponent, says he will run against her again in 2014.

Right now, Bachmann is in a tight spot. A former aide, Peter Waldron, alleged that Bachmann's presidential campaign made secret payments to an Iowa state senator in violation of Iowa ethics rules. And Bachmann's former chief of staff, Andy Parrish, said in an affidavit that Bachmann "knew and approved of" those payments to the state senator, Kent Sorenson. Sorenson has denied the allegations, calling them "totally baseless, without evidence, and a waste of Iowans' time and money." An attorney for Bachmann says the congresswoman "followed all applicable laws and ethical rules and instructed those working for her to do the same."

*Disclosure: Mother Jones is among the dozens of nonprofits which have received funding from CREDO Mobile through its customer-selected action program.

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Here's Why the Koch Brothers Would Buy the LA Times and Chicago Tribune

| Mon Apr. 22, 2013 8:39 AM PDT
Charles (left) and David Koch.

Not long after the November elections, I met with Charles Spies, a big-time Republican fundraiser who'd run the pro-Mitt Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future, to hear his take on why Romney lost. We sat across from each other at a long wooden table in a tenth-floor conference room overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue. (Before his firm moved in, Spies says the conference room used to be Al Gore's office.) We talked about super-PACs and the hundreds of millions they spent, the clout (or not) of wealthy donors and how they could get the most bang for their buck in a political campaign. Then, unprompted, Spies told me, "If I had the resources and wanted to impact the policy debate, I'd buy a newspaper or a magazine."

"Even in today's media climate?" I asked.

"Oh, absolutely." He explained:

Not to make money. They're not profitable. But imagine if I was, you know, a mogul that had 30, 40 million dollars to spend and cared about policy issues and elections. I'd buy the New York Times or the LA Times. Buy a major newspaper and put my people in on the editorial page and use that to frame issues the way I wanted to. And then I could claim that the news folks were separate from the editorial page but I think they know where the owner's heart is at.

Spies is not a friend of Charles and David Koch, the billionaire libertarians. He does not move in their political circles. But in our conversation, he laid out what may be the best reason why the Kochs and their company are reportedly considering a move to become America's newest newspaper barons.

As the New York Times reported on Sunday, Koch Industries, the massive conglomerate run by Charles Koch, is mulling a bid to buy eight prominent newspapers owned by the Tribune Company, including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and Orlando Sentinel. Those newspapers are valued at $623 million, which is a pittance compared to Koch Industries' annual revenues of $115 billion. If the Kochs wanted to do what Spies described, the megaphone that those newspapers would provide them is nothing to scoff at. The LA Times is the nation's fourth-largest paper, the Tribune the ninth-largest, and tens of millions of people combined visit the newspapers' websites each month.

A bigger platform with which to spread their free-market ideas seems to be what the Kochs want. The Times quotes one attendee of the Kochs' exclusive donor seminars as saying of the brothers, "They see the conservative voice as not being well represented."

Koch Industries spokeswoman Melissa Cohlmia told the Times that the company is "constantly exploring profitable opportunities in many industries and sectors. So, it is natural that our name would come up in connection with this rumor." She went on, "We respect the independence of the journalistic institutions referenced in the news stories. But it is our longstanding policy not to comment on deals or rumors of deals we may or may not be exploring."

If they did buy the Tribune papers, the Kochs wouldn't be the first conservative billionaire to snap up a newspaper or two in the modern era. The Washington Examiner newspaper and the Weekly Standard magazine, both staples of conservative political media, are run by a company owned by Phil Anschutz, another secretive conservative billionaire who has attended a Koch donor seminar. And of course there's Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation paid $5 billion in 2007 for the Dow Jones and Company, which includes the Wall Street Journal.

Koch Industries has, at times, a fractious relationship with the media. The company says much of the reporting about Charles and David Koch and their privately-held company is inaccurate or unfair. That sense of grievance led to the creation of KochFacts.com, a website where Koch Industries posts requests for corrections, company statements, testy correspondence between Koch officials and reporters, and favorable news and commentary.

One journalist with whom Koch Industries has clashed is David Sassoon, the publisher of InsideClimate News, a nonprofit website devoted to environmental journalism. InsideClimate News recently won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the dodgy oversight of US oil pipelines. After InsideClimate News reported on Koch Industries' ties to the Canadian tar sands business, Koch Industries blasted the site's "agenda-driven, dishonest journalism" and pressured Reuters, the global news service, to reconsider its decision to publish InsideClimate News' stories. (Reuters stood by Sassoon and his small team of reporters.)

I asked Sassoon, fresh off his Pulitzer win, what he thought of the news of Koch Industries potentially bidding on the Tribune company newspapers. "We reported on the Kochs' involvement in the tar sands, and they played hardball to try to shut us up," he wrote in an email. "They pressured Reuters to drop us as a content partner, and ran ads on Google and Facebook calling me liar...What we've experienced of them first-hand makes me think they would not be trustworthy stewards of the honorable traditions of journalism."

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