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

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GOP Governor's Ex-Campaign Manager Pleads Guilty In Leaked E-Mail Saga

| Wed Jun. 18, 2014 2:02 PM EDT
Jamie Estrada leaves federal court in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after pleading guilty to intercepting Gov. Susana Martinez's personal emails.

The circus is over before it could begin. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez can breathe a sigh of relief.

This summer, Martinez was expected to testify in court in a high-profile case involving a former campaign manager accused of intercepting her personal emails. Prosecutors alleged that Jamie Estrada, a Republican operative who served in George W. Bush's Commerce Department, illegally accessed messages sent using Martinez's 2010 campaign's domain name, including messages about her online shopping and banking information. Estrada also faced charges of misleading federal investigators about how he gained access to the emails. For months, Estrada, who left Martinez's campaign in December 2009, fought the charges. Martinez recently cleared her calendar in anticipation of her testimony.

But this week, Estrada changed course and pleaded guilty in what New Mexicans have dubbed "Emailgate." Estrada pled to two felony counts: unlawfully intercepting Martinez's personal emails and making false statements to FBI agents. He did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement issued to reporters, Martinez said Estrada's guilty plea "vindicates what I have said from the beginning which is that these personal and private emails were indeed stolen." She continued, "This is a case about a fired former employee who wasn't given a state job and then sought to get even by illegally intercepting personal emails from numerous individuals, including personal bank account statements and my personal undergarment orders, all of which were made public in a misguided effort to harm me and others in a revenge scheme."

Estrada, who is 41, could spend up to a year and a day in jail and lose his ability to vote. The United States Attorney for New Mexico, Damon Martinez, told the Santa Fe Reporter that his team will argue for some amount of jail time for Estrada.

More from the Reporter:

In the plea agreement, Estrada admitted to "knowingly and willfully" making "false, fraudulent, and material statements and representations to the FBI" during a September 19, 2012, interview at his Valencia County home, "including falsely telling the agents that I had not paid for the renewal of the Domain using a pre-paid gift card." Agents had executed a search warrant on the home.

He also admitted to logging onto the Martinez campaign's domain account in July 2011 and paying for the renewal of the domain under a fake name. He admitted to then intercepting "hundreds" of email messages intended for Martinez and her campaign staffers.

"I gave the emails to Governor Martinez's political opponents knowing that certain emails would be disseminated to others," reads the plea agreement. "After some of the intercepted emails were published in the press, on or about June 29, 2012, the governor released a public statement to the effect that she had asked federal authorities to "investigate the interception of the emails."

As I reported in my recent piece on Martinez, Estrada's trial was a potential headache for the governor, who might've faced fierce questioning about various controversies that have dogged Martinez during her first term. She's now free to focus on her reelection campaign, hoping for a commanding victory that could further elevate her national prospects.

Karl Rove-Backed American Crossroads Attacks GOP Candidate as "Perennial Loser"

| Tue Jun. 10, 2014 12:17 PM EDT

Last year, American Crossroads, the super-PAC conceived of by Republican operative and fundraiser Karl Rove, hatched a plan: Inject itself into 2014 GOP primary races to protect incumbents from hard-line challengers in the mold of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock who could cost the party winnable seats in Congress. Immediately, conservatives howled with outrage over an establishment group targeting tea partiers—Mike Huckabee called it "fratricide." The plan never got off the ground, and American Crossroads itself has largely shied away from picking primary fights.

But here's an exception: A brand-new Crossroads ad slams Matt Doheny, who's vying with Elise Stefanik to be the GOP nominee in New York's 21st congressional district, as a "perennial loser." Crossroads accuses Doheny, a investment fund manager, of mistreating his employees and not paying his rent on time, while at the same time depicting him as a one-percenter who owns two islands. "With his selfish fiscal irresponsibility, Matt Doheny is no conservative," the narrator says. "And he's a big mistake for Congress."

Stefanik, Doheny's opponent, appears to be the establishment's pick in the NY-21 race. As Mother Jones reported, she received more than $110,000 in the first quarter of 2014 from a fundraising committee backed by Paul Singer, a hedge fund manager and major GOP donor, and other prominent party funders. Singer also gave $250,000 to American Crossroads in early 2014, the group now attacking Doheny.

Neo-Confederate Ally Chris McDaniel Moves One Step Closer to Winning Mississippi's Senate Race

| Wed Jun. 4, 2014 12:01 PM EDT

For months, conservatives have thrown their money and might behind Mississippi state Senator Chris McDaniel in an effort to defeat longtime Sen. Thad Cochran in the state's GOP Senate primary. Tea party activists swooned over McDaniel as the candidate who, in a year of failed challenges from the right, could succeed in knocking off a GOP incumbent. Mississippians went to the polls on Tuesday and gave McDaniel a slight edge over Cochran. A run-off is likely. With a fired-up base behind him, McDaniel is in a solid position to defeat the six-term senator.

As Mother Jones has reported, McDaniel is a southern conservative with a controversial track record. Last summer, he delivered the keynote address at an event hosted by a chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a neo-Confederate group that, as my colleague Tim Murphy wrote, "promotes the work of present-day secessionists and contends the wrong side won the 'war of southern independence.'" McDaniel spoke at past Sons of Confederate Veterans-affiliated events, according to a spokesman for the group.

From 2004 to 2007, McDaniel hosted a syndicated Christian conservative radio program, Right Side Radio. Once, McDaniel weighed in on gun violence in America by blaming "hip-hop" culture. "The reason Canada is breaking out with brand new gun violence has nothing to do with the United States and guns," he said in a promotional sampler for the radio show. "It has everything to do with a culture that is morally bankrupt. What kind of culture is that? It's called hip-hop." He went on:

Name a redeeming quality of hip-hop. I want to know anything about hip-hop that has been good for this country. And it's not—before you get carried away—this has nothing to do with race. Because there are just as many hip-hopping white kids and Asian kids as there are hip-hopping black kids. It's a problem of a culture that values prison more than college; a culture that values rap and destruction of community values more than it does poetry; a culture that can't stand education. It's that culture that can't get control of itself.

McDaniel also used his radio show to defend the efficacy—despite reams of evidence saying otherwise—of torture as a way to gather intelligence.

In April, McDaniel raised eyebrows when he appeared on a different radio show, "Focal Point," hosted by the Bryan Fischer, an top official at the rabidly anti-gay American Family Association. Here's a brief rundown of Fischer's penchant for bomb throwing:

In March, Fischer told his listeners that while he didn't think President Obama is the antichrist, "the spirit of the Antichrist is at work" in the Oval Office. He has said that people turn to homosexuality (which he'd like criminalized) when the Devil takes over their brains. He once called for a Sea World Orca whale to be Biblically stoned after it killed its trainer. He said the secretarial job in his office is "reserved for a woman because of the unique things that God has built into women." Even some Republicans have distanced themselves from Fischer—at the 2011 Values Voters Summit in Washington, DC, Mitt Romney condemned Fischer's "poisonous language."

Mark your calendars: A McDaniel-Cochran run-off would take place on June 24.

Obama to Donors: "I Might Be In a Very Strong Position" To Demand Constitutional Change on Money in Politics

| Tue Jun. 3, 2014 11:28 AM EDT

Ken Vogel knows what it is like to get tossed out of a good party. Among us campaign finance reporters, Vogel is known as a fearless crasher of political fundraisers and invite-only donor schmoozefests, from which he is usually—but thankfully not always—ejected. As the chief investigative reporter for Politico, the hyper-competitive town organ for Washington, DC, Vogel has for years chronicled the rapidly increasing flow of money into American politics and the eccentric, grouchy, madcap millionaires and billionaires who, in Vogel's telling, "are—in a very real and entirely legal way—hijacking American democracy."

Vogel's new book, Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp—On The Trail of the Ultra-Rich Hijacking American Politics, propels us through the ever-changing world of what he calls "big-money politics." Here are four juicy tidbits from Big Money.

1) Bill Clinton told donors that a controversial new pro-Obama nonprofit group could be used to influence the 2014 midterms—despite the nonprofit's pledge to be issue-only

Vogel reports on a January 2013 private speech by Clinton to a group of Obama fundraisers on behalf of Organizing for Action (OFA), the rebooted version of Obama's 2012 campaign. Launched at the start of the president's second term, Obama officials said OFA would focus strictly on issues—gun control, immigration, raising the minimum wage. But that's not how Clinton saw it:

"This is a huge deal, this midterm election," said Clinton. "And I think even more important, this question is whether we can use the techniques that actually gave people the chance to debate health care, debate economic policy, understand what happened in the Recovery Act, all these things that were an issue last time, understand why the welfare reform act was wrong, and the Medicare Act was wrong. Can we use that to actually enact an agenda in the Congress and then go into the midterm and protect the people who voted for it?"

2) Josh Romney invited all of his dad's biggest rainmakers to a future Romney White House inauguration ceremony

On the eve of the 2012 Republican Party convention in Tampa, Vogel got inside a reception for major Romney donors and fundraisers (also known as bundlers). At one point in the shindig, Josh Romney, one of Mitt's sons, appeared to go a little overboard when thanking his dad's money-men:

"My dad will be the next president of the United States of America and you are all invited to the inauguration," [Romney] proclaimed to rousing cheers before backtracking sheepishly, as if wondering whether the complicated campaign and ethics rules forbade inviting big donors to the inauguration. "I don't think I'm really allowed to do that," he said, looking offstage to his right, perhaps for guidance from a campaign official familiar with the rules, before letting his exuberance and sense of kinship with the campaign's rich supporters takes over. "But it's a big place, so you all can come."

3) Romney's inner circle flirted with using a legally dicey big-money committee for his first presidential run

Top aides secretly hatched a plan to boost Romney's 2008 campaign by forming a so-called 527 committee, a big-spending precursor to super PACs. They called it Turnaround America and enlisted a well-connected fundraiser named Phil Musser to run the group. But the plan didn't get far:

Musser laid it all out in a PowerPoint presentation, and he spent a few months crisscrossing the country on his own dime, delivering it to Romney's richest backers. Several liked the plan and made tentative commitments. But most got cold feet after they checked with their lawyers, who explained that it could expose them to legal risk. The plan was too far ahead of its time, and Musser scrapped it before he ever filed the paperwork, leaving no trace that more than two years before the Citizens United decision Romney's allies had foreseen the power of what would become super PACs.

4) Obama privately suggested he'd push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United during his second term

Obama made waves during an August 2012 Reddit "Ask Me Anything" forum by voicing support for a constitutional amendment to roll back the effects of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. It turns out that such a radical move, favored by many activists on the left, had been on the president's mind for quite a while.

Vogel quotes the president stumping for an amendment during a February 2012 Q-and-A at a private Seattle fundraiser:

"Now, I taught constitutional law," Obama continued to [Bill] Gates et alia. "I don't tinker with the Constitution lightly. But I think this is important enough that citizens have to get mobilized around this issue, and this will probably be a multiyear effort. After my reelection, my sense is that I may be in a very strong position to do it."

Obama added that a reelection victory "may allow me to use the bully pulpit to argue forcefully for a constitutional amendment." So far, the president has done no such thing.

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