Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is vowing to block any effort by his GOP counterpart, Mitch McConnell, to loosen the nation's campaign finance limits as part of a bipartisan budget deal taking shape in Congress.
Last week, the Huffington Postreported that McConnell, who will take over as majority leader in January, wanted to slip into a major government funding bill a measure that would give presidential and congressional candidates more leeway to coordinate their campaign spending with political parties. Right now, candidates for federal office can coordinate some of their election spending with the parties—but only up to a certain amount. (The limit ranges from tens of thousands to several million dollars, depending on the size of the state's voting-age population.) Beyond that threshold, parties and candidates can't coordinate their spending plans, and the parties must spend their funds independently of the candidates they back.
The existing rule is intended to prevent donors from using political parties to skirt legal limits on donations to candidates. As it stands, donors can give up to $5,200 every two-year election cycle to each candidate for federal office. But McConnell's measure, if enacted, would create a massive loophole in that rule, says Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a group that supports limits on money in politics. If McConnell gets what he wants, rich donors who hit the $5,200 limit could simply route further donations to candidates by giving to political party committees—which may accept far larger donations and could work directly with the candidates to ensure the money was spent as the donors intended. "The practical effort here is to repeal the limits," Wertheimer says.
McConnell has a broader plan here. Politico recently noted that McConnell is seeking to direct more big money to political parties, as opposed to outside groups such as super-PACs that in theory must remain independent of candidates. In a subsequent interview with Roll Call, McConnell suggested he might not force the issue, saying his proposal is "not on the agenda" but that the coordination limit he wants to eliminate is "an absurdity in the current law."
That doesn't mean the plan is dead. Should McConnell reverse course and attach this change to the budget bill, Reid's office says the majority leader will block such a maneuver. "Reid strongly opposes and will fight against any efforts to include the McConnell [measure]," an aide in Reid's tells Mother Jones.
House and Senate members hashing out the budget bill were expected to release a version of the legislation as early as Monday evening.
North Carolina's heavily gerrymandered 12th congressional district.
Over the past four to five years, the United States has been resegregated—politically. In states where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans and presidential races can be nail-biters, skillful Republican operatives have mounted racially-minded gerrymandering efforts—the redrawing of congressional and state legislative districts—that have led to congressional delegations stacked with GOP members and yielded Republican majorities in the state legislatures.
In North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, to name just three, GOPers have recast state and congressional districts to consolidate black voters into what the political pros call "majority-minority districts" to diminish the influence of these voters. North Carolina is an especially glaring example: GOP-redistricting after the 2010 elections led to half the state's black population—1.1 million people—being corralled into one-fifth of the state legislative and congressional districts. "The districts here take us back to a day of segregation that most of us thought we'd moved away from," State Sen. Dan Blue Jr., who was previously North Carolina's first black House speaker, told the Nation in 2012.
As part of its Redistricting Majority Project—which, tellingly, is nicknamed REDMAP—the RSLC, starting in 2010, poured tens of millions of dollars into legislative races around the country to elect new GOP majorities. Next it provided money and expertise to state officials redrawing political boundary lines to favor the Republican Party—and to shrink the clout of blacks, Hispanics, and other traditionally Democratic voters. Unlike its Democratic equivalent, the RSLC has vast sums at its disposal, spending $30 million during the 2010 elections, $40 million in 2012, and $22 million in 2014.
Here is a partial list of RSLC donors—how much they donated to the group in the past four years and what they each have had to say about their own efforts to foster diversity. (All the companies on this list did not respond to requests for comment except for Altria Group, Citigroup, and Reynolds American, which declined to comment.)
"[W]e foster diversity and inclusion among our workforce, consistent with our leadership responsibilities and core values." (Source)
"AT&T’s 134-year history of innovation is a story about people from all walks of life and all kinds of backgrounds coming together to improve the human condition. It is our diversity, coupled with an inclusive culture that welcomes all points of view, which makes us who we are: a great place to work, a desired business partner and a committed member of the communities we serve." (Source)
Blue Cross/Blue Shield
"Let's get there together—with one perspective we can go far, with many perspectives we can move beyond all limits. Join an organization that values diversity." (Source)
"We see diversity as a source of strength." (Source)
"We recognize, celebrate, and support diversity and inclusion, which is at the very heart of our culture." (Source)
"Devon believes diversity, the collective mixture of similarities and differences of our employees, is a valued asset." (Source)
"Reynolds American and its operating companies have long recognized, valued and enjoyed the many benefits that diversity brings to both our employees and our businesses. Our commitment to diversity is a strong demonstration of the core values that our companies share." (Source)
US Chamber of Commerce
"Diversity and inclusion programs can provide valuable resources to recruit and retain a strong employee base that will generate novel ideas." (Source)
"Diversity has been at the core of our culture since Sam Walton opened our doors in 1962…We can only help our associates, customers and partners live better if we really know them. And that means understanding and respecting differences and being inclusive of all people." (Source)
We've seen this movie before, and it doesn't end well.
On Friday, ABC News published a story about a email listserv maintained by two Democratic operatives: Robby Mook, a former Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton campaign aide, and Marlon Marshall, an Obama White House staffer. The story's title—"EXCLUSIVE: Read the Secret Emails of the Men Who May Run Hillary Clinton's Campaign"—promised a juicy exposé. In reality, the substance of what members posted on this 150-member "secret" listserv, dubbed the "Mook Mafia," was far from explosive. The phrases "smite Republicans mafia-style" and "punish those voters" read badly out of context. But then, who hasn't dashed off a snarky email to friends that you wished you could take back and touch up a little?
The real news isn't that Mook and Marshall had a listserv for fellow Democratic operatives. It's that someone on the listserv leaked its contents in an effort to hurt Mook's chances of becoming the manager of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. In other words, the Clinton '16 effort has yet to officially launch and already the backstabbing and infighting has begun.
It's shades of Hillary '08 all over again.
Internal battles notoriously plagued Clinton's first presidential run. A Washington Post story in March 2008 described the "combustible environment within the Clinton campaign, an operation where internal strife and warring camps have undercut a candidate once seemingly destined for the Democratic nomination."
The story went on:
Many of her advisers are waging a two-front war, one against Sen. Barack Obama and the second against one another, but their most pressing challenge is figuring out why Clinton won in Ohio and Texas and trying to duplicate it. While [chief strategist Mark] Penn sees his strategy as a reason for the victories that have kept her candidacy alive, other advisers attribute the wins to her perseverance, favorable demographics, and a new campaign manager. Clinton won "despite us, not because of us," one said.
The Post published this story after Clinton had won the crucial Ohio and Texas primaries. That is, even in victory, the Clinton camp was divided, its top aides in conflict with one another.
STOP IT!!!! I have [held] my tongue for weeks. After this morning's WP story, no longer. This makes me sick. This circular firing squad that is occurring is unattractive, unprofessional, unconscionable, and unacceptable…It must stop.
Neither Mark Penn nor Clinton's first choice of campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, lasted the entire campaign. Penn left the campaign after the Wall Street Journalreported that he had lobbied in support of a trade deal with Colombia that Clinton opposed. Solis Doyle was once so close to Clinton that she liked to say, "When I speak, Hillary is speaking." But by the time of her firing, Solis Doyle and Clinton were on such bad terms that Clinton let her go by email.
Even after Penn's departure, as the Atlantic story illustrated, the acrimony continued:
Geoff Garin, the new leader, soon encountered the old problems. Obama remained the front-runner, and Clinton's communications staff disagreed on how to turn back the tide of tough stories. Garin was appalled at the open feuding and leaking. "I don't mean to be an asshole," he wrote in an e-mail to the senior staff. "But…Senator Clinton has given Howard Wolfson both the responsibility and the authority to make final decisions about how this campaign delivers its message." On the strategic front, Garin sided with the coalition opposed to Penn's call to confront Obama, and he had numbers to support his reasoning. Polls showed that a majority of voters now distrusted Clinton.
The strategic leaking of Mook's and Marshall's listserv emails wouldn't have been at all out of place during Clinton's '08 campaign, as her aides bickered and backstabbed their way to defeat against a more cohesive—or at least functional—Obama campaign.
Over the past few years, I have interviewed a number of folks who have worked on various campaigns with Mook, dating back to Howard Dean's 2004 presidential bid. I heard nothing but admiration and respect for someone routinely described to me as a smart and honest operative who kept his head down and disliked publicity. He and Obama organizing guru Jeremy Bird helped create Dean's pioneering volunteer-powered ground game in New Hampshire—a model Mook took with him to Clinton's '08 bid and Bird applied to Obama's first presidential run. And in 2013, Mook, using part of the Obama playbook, helped longtime Democratic fundraiser Terry McAuliffe win a tough fight for governor in Virginia. This victory, which impressed the Democratic political class, got people talking about Mook helming a Clinton campaign. But obviously not everyone is keen on that.
It's not known who was behind the Mook email dump. But for Democrats this prankish move raises a troubling question: Is it possible to avoid conflict within Hillaryland? In 2008, Clinton demonstrated she could not head a cohesive, effective, and drama-free operation. Democrats who yearn for her to do better this time might be forgiven for looking at this episode and wondering, here we go again?
Perhaps the most important story on Election Night 2014 was not the Republican Party winning back the US Senate, but the GOP's utter domination at the state level. Beginning in 2015, Republicans will control 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers, the most in the party's history. It will also hold 31 governorships. Republicans will maintain one-party control—holding the governor's seat and majorities in both legislative chambers—in 23 states. The Democrats control only seven. And as states go, so often goes Congress—given that states draw the lines for congressional districts and how those lines are drawn can determine who makes it to Washington.
Liberals know that they have been steamrolled in the states, and that Democrats will have a tough time growing their ranks in the US House of Representatives if they don't win at the state level. And they have a $100 million plan to do just that, according to internal memos revealed by the conservative Washington Free Beacon. The goal: to notch more state-level victories and reclaim political power before the next round of congressional redistricting after the 2020 census.
The plan comes from a little-known outfit called the Committee on States. Founded in 2006, the Committee on States is a collection of wealthy donors, political operatives, labor unions, environmental groups, and other progressive organizations raising and spending money in the states to advance a liberal agenda.
Despite its relative anonymity, the Committee on States moves big sums of money. Along with the Democracy Alliance, a similar donor club that funds national liberal groups, including the Center for American Progress and Organizing for Action, the Committee on States pumped nearly $50 million into 20 states in 2014 to build left-leaning political machines that would try to elect Democratic politicians and pass progressive policies, according to these confidential memos. By 2020, the memos state, the Committee on States plans to increase its state-level investments to $100 million a year. The documents published by the Free Beacon indicate that some of this money could flow to political committees, which usually disclose their donors, and other funds could go to dark-money nonprofit groups, which don't have to name their donors. (Scott Anderson, the executive director of the Committee on States, declined to comment.)
That money will go toward funding left-leaning organizations that focus on data and analytics, grassroots organizing, messaging and opposition researching, and of course fundraising. The goal is to create durable political machines in each targeted state. In 2013 and 2014, the Committee on States' members backed these types of groups in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington State, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. One Committee on States memo says that three more states—Georgia, Montana, and New Hampshire—are developing their own donor alliances. The same memo notes that there's interest in doing the same in Illinois, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia. If all of those states get onboard, the number of states with full-fledged lefty donor networks would reach 27.
The Democracy Alliance and the Committee on States emerged in the mid-2000s as a response to what progressive activists and Democratic officials saw as a sophisticated, nationwide network of conservative groups winning fight after fight at the state and national levels. Rob Stein, who served as chief of staff to the Clinton-Gore transition team in 1992, alerted wealthy liberals to this network with a PowerPoint presentation titled "The Conservative Message Machine and Money Matrix." As Stein told me in 2013, "I made the case [to wealthy liberal givers] that we need to get better organized, because right now we suck."
In the memo noting its $100 million goal, the Committee on States emphasizes the importance of ramping up its effort before the next round of redistricting. Republicans made huge gains at the state level in the years before the 2010 redistricting fights and subsequently redrew congressional districts to make the political playing field more favorable to GOP candidates. That helps explain how, in 2012, Democratic candidates in Pennsylvania for the US House of Representatives together received 83,000 more votes than Republican candidates, yet the state's delegation ended up with 13 Republicans and five Democrats. In Michigan that year, Democratic congressional candidates earned 240,000 more votes than Republicans, but the state's congressional delegation had nine GOPers and five Democrats. "It is imperative," one Committee on States memo reads, "to increase state political and civic engagement capacity between now and the next biennium redistricting process if we truly hope to change our national political landscape."
Big money from outside spenders like the Koch brothers' political network and the pro-Democratic Senate Majority PAC dominated this year's elections. In the battleground states, a voter couldn't watch five minutes of television, listen to the radio, or cue up a YouTube clip without being bombarded by political ads, most of them of the minor-chord, attack-ad variety. Broadcasters in Alaska, North Carolina, Colorado, and other critical states collected money by the fistful. Major candidates galore had a deep-pocketed super-PAC or a political nonprofit in his or her corner.
Here are seven big-money takeaways from the second election since the Supreme Court's landscape-changing Citizens United decision.
The price tag for 2014 will probably be the highest in American history.
Candidates, parties, PACs, super-PACs, and political nonprofits—those anonymously funded outfits including the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and the pro-Democratic Patriot Majority—were on pace to spend $3.67 billion on the 2014 races, according to projections by the Center for Responsive Politics. That would be a new record, surpassing the $3.63 billion spent in 2010.
When all the numbers are tallied, Republicans will likely outspend the Democrats—but not by much. CRP predicts that Republican candidates and their allies will unload $1.75 billion this election, while Democrats and their supporters will spend $1.64 billion. (The remaining dollars, according to CRP, went toward nonpartisan and third-party spending as well as overhead costs.)
Super-PACs and dark money are a bigger deal than ever.
All those attack ads clogging up the commercial breaks during your favorite show? Chances are they were funded not by a candidate but an outside group—a super-PAC, a labor union, or a political nonprofit.
The 2014 elections will be remembered as the cycle when outside groups handled much of the mudslinging, which traditionally was the responsibility of candidates and their campaigns. In Kentucky, for instance, a secretly funded group called Kentucky Opportunity Coalition ran 12,000 TV ads—many of which attacked Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, depicting her as an Obama clone. The group's commercials accounted for one out of every seven ads run during that race, according to the Center for Public Integrity. On paper, Kentucky Opportunity Coalition was independent of the candidate it supported, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But the group was run by a former McConnell aide and functioned effectively as an offshoot of McConnell's campaign.
This pattern unfolded across the country, as outside spending ramped up. In all, outside groups pumped $554 million—$301 million from Republican-aligned shops, $225 million from Democratic allies—into 2014 races. And you guessed it: That, too, is a new record for a midterm election.
Koch and Rove: From zeroes to heroes.
Two years ago, the biggest donors and operatives in the Republican money universe—Karl Rove, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, and the Koch brothers and their donor network—spent hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat President Obama and retake the Senate. They got nothing; it was an embarrassment.
This year, they won big.
Rove's groups—American Crossroads, a super-PAC; and Crossroads GPS, its dark-money-funded sibling—spent heavily in 10 Senate races. The Republican won in at least six of those elections. If Republican Dan Sullivan defeats Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska (Sullivan was leading the vote count the day after the election) and GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy ousts Sen. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana's runoff next month, Rove will end up 8 for 10. The Sunlight Foundation calculates Crossroads GPS's return on investment—that is, the success rate of GPS's spending to elect or defeat candidates—at an impressive 96 percent.
The Koch brothers' flagship organization, Americans for Prosperity, had an equally stellar Election Day. At least five of the nine AFP-backed Senate candidates won. The Kochs' Freedom Partners Action Fund recorded an 85 percent ROI, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
The Democrats' new George Soros had a bad night.
Tom Steyer, the billionaire investor turned environmental activist, put nearly $73 million of his money into electing candidates who believe in human-caused global warming and who want to do something about it. No single person gave more in 2014 than Steyer, according to CRP. He has become the big-money bogeyman of the right, but he fell short in multiple key races.
The bulk of Steyer's money funded NextGen Climate, the organization he started to elect more climate-savvy politicians. NextGen's super-PAC spent at least $20 million and defeated two of the four Republicans running for Senate it targeted. NextGen fared worse in governor's races: Of the three GOP governors it sought to defeat—Florida's Rick Scott, Maine's Paul LePage, and Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett—only Corbett went down to defeat. And he might have well done so without Steyer's money in the race.
North Carolina: Our Senate race cost more than yours (and yours, and yours).
The campaign pitting incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) against Republican Thom Tillis officially cost more than $100 million. It was the most expensive Senate race in American history.
To better understand that figure, consider this statistic: In the final stretch of the race, the Center for Public Integrity reports, a Senate-themed ad ran on TV somewhere in North Carolina every 50 seconds.
Larry Lessig's spend-big-money-to-fight-big-money plan flopped.
Larry Lessig, the Harvard law professor revered by the Reddit crowd, launched MayDay PAC to great fanfare in May with a plan to raise and spend millions of dollars to elect candidates who would, once in office, fight to get big money out of politics. "Embrace the irony," Lessig likes to say.
But in the end, MayDay was more hype than action. It spent $7.5 million and of the eight "anti-corruption candidates" listed on its website, only two MayDay-backed candidates won. There's little evidence to suggest that either of those candidates—Arizona Democrat Ruben Gallegos and North Carolina Republican Walter Jones—won due to MayDay's intervention on their behalf.
Every Voice, another anti-super-PAC super-PAC, didn't fare much better. Only four candidates supported by Every Voice won in the dozen races the group tried to influence.
Judicial elections keep attracting big bucks.
Nearly $14 million was spent on advertising in judicial races this year, an increase from 2010's $12.2 million, according to Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice. But the money flowing into those races from business interests and anonymous outside groups seeking to toss out incumbent justices largely failed in Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas.
The Republican State Leadership Committee, through its new Judicial Fairness Initiative, spent $3.4 million on TV advertising in judicial races in five states. The RSLC has sought to elect more pro-business judges across the country. This year, though, it failed to defeat seven judges it had targeted. Its only success was the reelection of Justice Lloyd Karmeier, who sits on the Illinois Supreme Court.