Name a major super-PAC or dark-money outfit and there's a good chance it has helped Republican Scott Brown, the former senator from Massachusetts now trying to oust Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. Karl Rove's American Crossroads? Check. The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity? Check. The US Chamber of Commerce, billionaire Joe Ricketts' Ending Spending, FreedomWorks for America, ex-Bush ambassador John Bolton's super-PAC—check, check, check, and check.
Despite being a darling of conservative deep-pocketed groups, Brown once was a foe of big-money machers. As a state legislator in Massachusetts, he sought to curb the influence of donors by stumping for so-called clean elections, in which candidates receive public funds for their campaigns and eschew round-the-clock fundraising. But during his three years in Washington—from his surprise special-election win in January 2010 to his defeat at the hands of Elizabeth Warren in November 2012—Brown transformed into an insider who embraced super-PACs, oligarch-donors such as the Koch brothers, and secret campaign spending. On the issue of money in politics, there is perhaps no Senate candidate this year who has flip-flopped as dramatically as Brown. Here's how it happened.
In November 1998, Brown won a seat in the Massachusetts House. That same year, voters in the state approved a ballot measure to implement a clean elections system; the proposal passed by a 2-1 margin. By law, however, ballot measures can't allocate taxpayer funds, and the fight to implement the new system moved to the legislature in Boston.
Brown allied himself with supporters of clean elections. As part of the state House's tiny Republican caucus, Brown clashed with the old-guard Democratic leadership, including House Speaker Tom Finneran, who viewed clean elections as inimical to incumbents. Brown did quibble with reformers over some details of the proposed clean-elections system, but he voted in 2002 against a plan that would have gutted the program.
David Donnelly, who spearheaded the clean elections effort in Massachusetts, remembers Brown as a reliable supporter of clean elections: "Over those years, Scott Brown was not only a consistent vote, but a consistently outspoken supporter of the clean-elections program." In a June 2001 letter to the editor in the Boston Globe, an activist with Common Cause, the good government group, hailed Brown's support for clean elections as "not only courageous, but gutsy and heroic."
When Brown ran for state Senate in 2004, he billed himself as "the person that bucks the system often." He frequently mentioned his support for clean elections as evidence of his reformer bona fides. "As a state representative," he said then, "I fought House Speaker Thomas Finneran's pay raise bill and supported the voters' will on Clean Elections." Brown won the special election and served in the state Senate from 2004 to 2010.
In 2010, Brown ran for the US Senate seat that had been held by Ted Kennedy for 46 years. Most people remember his ubiquitous pickup truck, the one he drove everywhere and used to burnish his regular-guy image. What's less remembered is how Brown again bragged about his support of campaign finance reform on his way to becoming a US senator.
Here's what Brown told NPR the day after his upset win over Democrat Martha Coakley:
Maybe there's a new breed of Republican coming to Washington. You know, I've always been that way. I always—I mean, you remember, I supported clean elections. I'm a self-imposed term limits person. I believe very, very strongly that we are there to serve the people.
That reformer approach vanished as soon as Brown joined the Senate Republican caucus.
In the summer of 2010, Senate Democrats heavily lobbied Brown to be the decisive 60th vote on the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would beef up disclosure of spending on elections by dark-money nonprofit groups, including Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS and David Koch's Americans for Prosperity. But Brown instead joined the Republican filibuster that killed the bill. In an op-ed explaining his vote, Brown said the bill was an election year ploy that exempted labor unions, which traditionally back Democrats, from some disclosure requirements. (In fact, the bill applied the same requirements to corporations and unions, and the AFL-CIO opposed it.) But he praised the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law as "an honest attempt to reform campaign finance" and wrote that genuine reform "would include increased transparency, accountability, and would provide a level playing field to everyone." This gave some reformers hope that Brown might support a whittled-down version of the bill.
But no. Brown later opposed two newer, slimmer versions of the DISCLOSE Act and refused to cosponsor a national clean-elections bill similar to the measure he had backed in Massachusetts. (A spokeswoman for Brown's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.)
Brown has gone on to accept millions from the interests most opposed to campaign finance reform. In 2011, he was caught on camera practically begging David Koch, the billionaire industrialist, for campaign cash. "Your support during the  election, it meant a ton," Brown told Koch. "It made a difference, and I can certainly use it again." In his 2012 race against Warren, he benefited from a super-PAC funded largely by energy magnate Bill Koch, the youngest Koch brother and also a billionaire, and casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas Sands company. And though he agreed that year to the "People's Pledge"—a pact intended to keep outside spending out of the campaign—Brown refused to make the same pledge in his current campaign against Shaheen.
As a state legislator, Brown bragged that he was someone who "bucks the system often." Today, he is relying on the system—dominated by millionaires and billionaires, overrun with money, and cloaked in secrecy—to get back to the Senate.
James O'Keefe, the conservative provocateur, has been on the prowl in Colorado, the setting of a close Senate race between Democratic incumbent Mark Udall and GOP Rep. Cory Gardner, as well as a nip-and-tuck governor's contest. Last week, O'Keefe and two of his collaborators tried to bait Democratic field staffers into approving voter fraud involving Colorado's universal vote-by-mail program, according to three Democratic staffers who interacted with O'Keefe or his colleagues.
More stories from the MoJo archive on James O'Keefe:
Democratic staffers in Colorado recently came to believe they were the subject of an O'Keefe operation after campaign workers became suspicious about would-be volunteers who had asked about filling out and submitting mail-in ballots for others. Recently, the 30-year-old O'Keefe has targeted the Senate campaigns of Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor and Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes by filming undercover videos of staffers or the candidate.
Last Tuesday, a man who appeared to be in his 20s showed up at a Democratic field office in Boulder wanting to volunteer to help elect Udall and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), according to a Democratic staffer who met with him and asked not to be identified. The man introduced himself as "Nick Davis," and he said he was a University of Colorado-Boulder student and LGBT activist involved with a student group called Rocky Mountain Vote Pride. Davis mentioned polls showing the race between Udall and Gardner was tight, and he asked the staffer if he should fill out and mail in ballots for other college students who had moved away but still received mail on campus. The Democratic staffer says he told Davis that doing this would be voter fraud and that he should not do it.
On Friday, Udall campaigned with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on the University of Colorado-Boulder campus. After the event, a woman calling herself "Bonnie" approached a different staffer and, according to this staffer's boss, asked whether she could fill out and submit blank ballots found in a garbage can. The staffer, according to her boss, said that she told her no.
That same day, the guy identifying himself as "Nick Davis" returned to the Democratic office in Boulder. He was accompanied by a man wearing heavy makeup and a mustache, according to the Democratic staffer who had met Davis three days earlier. Davis introduced his friend as a "civics professor" at the University of Colorado-Boulder and the faculty adviser to Rocky Mountain Vote Pride. Davis and the professor, who said his name was "John Miller," picked up Udall campaign literature and canvassing information.
On Monday, O'Keefe tweeted a photo of himself with a mustache and said he'd recently posed as a "45yo" for one of his "election investigations."
Only time for 2-3 more election investigations. I went in Disguised as 45yo, this time people may lose their jobs pic.twitter.com/ihuTjpierm
The repeated questions about submitting other people's ballots led Democratic staffers to suspect they were being targeted. Later, the staffers viewed photos of O'Keefe—including one taken in Colorado showing O'Keefe sans mustache and sporting a Udall campaign sticker and a Women for Udall button—and they concluded that O'Keefe and the college professor were the same person. They also said the image O'Keefe tweeted of himself with a mustache matched the man who visited the Boulder office on Friday.
O'Keefe and two male colleagues also targeted a progressive nonprofit named New Era Colorado, according to New Era executive director Steve Fenberg. On Saturday, Fenberg says, O'Keefe and his friends contacted New Era's Fort Collins office to set up an in-person meeting and identified themselves as activists affiliated with Rocky Mountain Vote Pride. The three men arrived carrying Udall campaign literature, Fenberg notes, but a New Era organizer met them outside the office's front door and refused to let them enter with the Udall materials. Outside groups such as New Era cannot coordinate with political campaigns, and Fenberg says he believes O'Keefe and his collaborators "were trying to establish evidence we were working together."
James O'Keefe and one of his collaborators
When New Era's staffers began taking pictures of O'Keefe (including the photo embedded at left), Fenberg says, O'Keefe and a colleague went to their car and returned with a large video camera and a microphone. "If you want to take photos of us, we'll take photos of you," O'Keefe said, according to Fenberg, and the New Era staffers closed the door while O'Keefe and his friend tried to push it open and stick their microphone inside. Fenberg says New Era filed a police report about the incident.
Rocky Mountain Vote Pride doesn't seem to have much of a footprint. There is a website and Facebook page for the organization, both created in July, but they provide no information about who's behind the group. Searches for Rocky Mountain Vote Pride in the University of Colorado-Boulder student newspaper, the Denver Post, and the Boulder Daily Camera turned up no results. A search of Nexis archives for the past two years yielded zero mentions.
Chris Harris, the communications director for the Udall campaign, accused O'Keefe of "using sleazy, deceptive tactics to undermine the public's trust in democracy."
O'Keefe is best known for his undercover videos attacking the community organizing group ACORN. Those videos, hyped by Fox News and the conservative blogosphere, led the GOP-led House of Representatives to hold more than a dozen votes to defund ACORN, and the group disbanded soon after. In 2010, the FBI arrested O'Keefe and three others for phone tampering at a New Orleans office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). He was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and three years of probation and fined $1,500.
This fall, O'Keefe's group, Project Veritas, launched a political offshoot with its sights set on high-profile campaigns and organizations. Project Veritas went undercover to try to get campaign staffers for Kentucky's Alison Lundergan Grimes to contradict the candidate's pro-coal message. In Arkansas, O'Keefe's group secretly filmed Sen. Mark Pryor speaking to a local LGBT group in an attempt to expose him as privately supporting marriage equality, which he has publicly opposed. Project Veritas also sought to bait workers for Battleground Texas, the group formed by Obama campaign alums to register and organize Democratic voters, into taking improper actions, but a Texas special prosecutor dismissed the group's video as "little more than a canard and political disinformation."
Neither New Era nor the Udall campaign was aware of any other contacts by staff with O'Keefe or his colleagues, and it was not clear whether other organizations in Colorado might have been contacted. Stephen Gordon, a spokesman for Project Veritas, declined to comment. "We're not making any comment on potential operations in Colorado at this moment," he said. "But watch for our upcoming videos."
Many Ebola experts think that banning travel to the US from West Africa, where an outbreak of the deadly virus has killed thousands of people, would do more harm than good. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree. But Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can't seem to settle on a position. On Tuesday and Wednesday, he stumped both for a ban and for letting the experts decide—a flip-flop within 24 hours.*
In an interview with NBC News, McConnell was asked if he thought the US should ban flights from West Africa. "I'd leave that up to the CDC to determine what the techniques ought to be in trying to contain the disease," he said. He added, "I think we ought to listen to what the CDC thinks they need either in terms of financing or certainly they'll decide the procedures for travel and all the rest. I think we need to follow the advice of the experts who know how to fight scourges like this."
Here's video of the NBC interview:
But less than 24 hours later, McConnell abruptly changed course. Asked by a Kentucky TV station about containing Ebola, McConnell said the US needs to "do everything we can to try to contain the problem where it is." He went on, "I'm not an expert on this, but it strikes me that it would be a good idea to discontinue flights into the United States from that part of the world."
Here's that video:
There are currently no direct flights from the Ebola-affected countries to the US, the New York Times' Jonathan Weisman reported Friday.
Correction: The original version of this post stated that the NBC News and Kentucky interviews occurred on the same day.
There may be no Washington lawmaker cozier with K Street than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). DC law firms and lobbying shops are stuffed with ex-McConnell staffers and pals. And he uses them well to preserve his power and position. As the conservative National Reviewreported, "McConnell has often exercised power in DC by pressuring major donors to withhold donations from a given lawmaker or organization. His allies on K Street are often the people who deliver this message and 'enforce' it." The stats below show just how close McConnell is with the well-heeled lobbyists of Washington, DC—a relationship that no doubt will serve both sides well, should the GOP win the Senate and McConnell become its majority leader.
Jeb Bush, one of the GOP's top 2016 presidential prospects, campaigned Monday for Terri Lynn Land, the Republican running for Senate in Michigan. At an event in the Detroit suburbs, a staffer for Progress Michigan, a liberal advocacy group, asked Bush whether he thought Land should support the Paycheck Fairness Act.* Bush appeared not to know what the proposal is.
The high-profile legislation, much touted by Democrats, aims to close the wage gap between men and women. It would beef up legal protections for workers who ask about the wages of co-workers or share information about their own earnings while directing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to gather information on wages from employers. In September, the bill died in the Senate after Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), filibustered it.
The bill has been part of a national debate about the GOP and women, and it has played a prominent role in this Senate campaign, in which Land is running against Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). Land, who served as Michigan's secretary of state from 2003 to 2010, has been criticized by Democrats—including President Barack Obama—for saying she did not support the Paycheck Fairness Act. Yet Bush didn't seem to know anything about this bill when the Democratic tracker asked about it:
Progress Michigan: Do you think Secretary Land should support the Paycheck Fairness Act?
Jeb Bush: Excuse me?
Progress Michigan: Do you think Secretary Land should support the Paycheck Fairness Act?
Bush: What's the Paycheck Fairness Act?
Progress Michigan: The Paycheck Fairness Act is a piece of legislation that would ensure women receive the same pay as men...equal pay for equal work.
Bush: Equal pay for the same work, not for equal work—I think that's the problem with it. I think there's a definition issue.
Progress Michigan: So you don't think Secretary Land should support it?
Bush: I don't know. You'd have to ask her.
Correction: The original version of this article stated that the tracker who questioned Bush worked for American Bridge 21st Century, the Democratic oppo research outfit.