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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Labor Unions Are Underwriting the Republican Party's Civil War

| Mon Dec. 9, 2013 8:11 AM PST

The Republican Main Street Partnership, led by former Ohio Congressman Steven LaTourette, plans to spend millions of dollars in the 2014 midterm elections supporting what it calls "the governing wing of the GOP." LaTourette's group aims to give political support and air cover to more moderate Republicans open to compromise in Congress, neutralizing the efforts of conservative stalwarts such as the Club for Growth and getting Ted Cruz-style hardliners out of Congress. The Main Street Partnership is a hybrid entity—part super-PAC, which can raise and spend unlimited sums of money but must disclose its activities, and part nonprofit, which can accept anonymous donations but can't focus primarily on campaigns and elections.

LaTourette has said his group plans to get involved in eight to 10 Republican primaries, and the Main Street Partnership has raised nearly $2 million to date. Yet according to National Journal, a good chunk of that money comes from two unlikely sources: the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Laborers' International Union of North America.

That's right: Two prominent labor unions are underwriting a group stoking the civil war that threatens to tear apart the Republican Party. Documents reviewed by National Journal show that the two unions have together given $400,000 to the Main Street Partnership, accounting for 20 percent of the group's funds.

Here's more from National Journal:

Certainly, labor's not alone in funding Main Street. The group's money is "coming from business folks, from private donors," said Main Street spokesman Chris Barron. "It has a wide range of folks who are interested in supporting the governing wing of the Republican Party."

Barron rejected critiques of Main Street's funding and positioning. "If the money came from Mother Teresa, the Club for Growth would attack where it came from," Barron said.

Both the Operating Engineers and the Laborers' union have given millions of dollars to Democratic candidates and millions more to the party's quasi-official House and Senate super PACs over the last few years. Only one other PAC gave more to Democratic candidates than the Operating Engineers' in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But both unions have also consistently invested in the campaigns of friendly Republicans, including LaTourette's (when he was in Congress). Earlier this year, LIUNA endorsed New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie for reelection and its PAC gave $300,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which ran pro-Christie advertising in the Garden State.

The Operating Engineers' PAC has given 23 percent of its donations to federal candidates to Republicans this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and it supported a super PAC called "Lunch Pail Republicans" last year. At the AFL-CIO's national convention in September, the Operating Engineers and another group offered a successful resolution urging "that the AFL-CIO take practical steps...to cultivate and nurture relationships with members of all parties" and "encourage moderate candidates" in Republican-leaning congressional districts as part of a "pragmatic, bipartisan approach" to its political giving and advocacy.

"Especially with this crazy political atmosphere, this is a place where we need to be lending support to middle-of-the-road Democrats and Republicans both, and this is part of that effort," Jeffrey Soth, the Operating Engineers' political director, said.

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ALEC Boots Mother Jones From Its Annual Conference

| Fri Dec. 6, 2013 4:00 AM PST

Starting Wednesday, hundreds of state lawmakers descended on downtown Washington, DC, for a big three-day confab hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative advocacy group that that brings together lawmakers and representatives of major corporations to draft model legislation on issues such as taxes, energy, workers' rights, education, and agriculture. These bills are then introduced in state legislatures around the country—in some cases, lawmakers pass ALEC-inspired bills without changing a word.

There were dozens of press credentials laid out on ALEC conference's check-in table when I arrived Thursday morning. Mother Jones' was not among them. ALEC's board of directors had refused my request for credentials, according to spokesman Bill Meierling.

When asked why I'd been turned away, Meierling pointed to our previous coverage of ALEC and said it's clear that Mother Jones "fundamentally hates" ALEC. We've covered ALEC for more than a decade—a 2002 exposé titled "Ghostwriting the Law," coverage of the group's proposals regarding voting rights and workers' rights, and more recently the departures of big-name corporate members.

At the same time he was explaining why I couldn't attend, Meierling stressed to me that ALEC is "moving toward transparency." To his credit, he acknowledged the irony.

If ALEC had given me a press credential, the only events I would've been allowed to cover were keynote speeches by Republican luminaries Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and Grover Norquist. But the real action at ALEC conferences, the meat-and-potatoes work, happens at the meetings of the group's many task forces—the environment and energy task force led by American Electric Power, the tax and fiscal policy task force led by tobacco giant Altria, and the international relations task force run by tobacco company Philip Morris. Meierling says that even credentialed reporters can't cover those meetings. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank learned this firsthand on Wednesday, when DC police and ALEC staff stopped him from attending the group's private task force meetings.

It's been a tough week for ALEC. On Tuesday, the Guardian reported that the group faced a "funding crisis" after 40 of its corporate members and hundreds of state lawmakers ditched ALEC in the wake of Trayvon Martin's killing last year. Those members fled after it was revealed that ALEC's model legislation included the same Stand Your Ground law invoked by George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who shot and killed Martin. ALEC has since eliminated its gun-related advocacy and, with a narrower fiscal focus, is trying to woo its erstwhile members to back into the fold.

Given the organization's recent struggles, I can understand why ALEC would be feeling defensive. Meierling, the ALEC spokesman, was polite throughout our conversation. We traded business cards before I left and promised to get a drink to talk more about Mother Jones. Fingers crossed for next year.

Conservative Think Tank Network Plotting "Coordinated Assault" on Medicaid, Education, Workers' Rights

| Thu Dec. 5, 2013 3:05 PM PST

The State Policy Network, an umbrella group overseeing a constellation of right-leaning think tanks in all 50 states, is plotting a nationwide "coordinated assault" to cut public-employee pensions, oppose cap-and-trade legislation and Medicaid expansion, and advocate for school vouchers, according to documents obtained by the Guardian newspaper.

The Guardian's documents reveal that State Policy Network's think-tank affiliates sought financial support for this blitz from the GD Searle Trust, a conservative foundation that bankrolls many major nonprofits including Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the climate-denying Heartland Institute. The documents show 40 different funding requests pitching conservative policy reforms that were written by think tanks in 34 states.

Here's more from the Guardian:

Most of the "think tanks" involved in the proposals gathered by the State Policy Network are constituted as 501(c)(3) charities that are exempt from tax by the Internal Revenue Service. Though the groups are not involved in election campaigns, they are subject to strict restrictions on the amount of lobbying they are allowed to perform. Several of the grant bids contained in the Guardian documents propose the launch of "media campaigns" aimed at changing state laws and policies, or refer to "advancing model legislation" and "candidate briefings", in ways that arguably cross the line into lobbying.

The documents also cast light on the nexus of funding arrangements behind radical right-wing campaigns. The State Policy Network (SPN) has members in each of the 50 states and an annual warchest of $83 million drawn from major corporate donors that include the energy tycoons the Koch brothers, the tobacco company Philip Morris, food giant Kraft and the multinational drugs company GlaxoSmithKline.

SPN gathered the grant proposals from the 34 states on 29 July. Ranging in size from requests of $25,000 to $65,000, the plans were submitted for funding to the Searle Freedom Trust, a private foundation that in 2011 donated almost $15m to largely rightwing causes.

[…]

The proposals in the grant bids contained in the Guardian documents go beyond a commitment to free enterprise, however. They include:

• "reforms" to public employee pensions raised by SPN thinktanks in Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania

• tax elimination or reduction schemes in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, Nebraska, and New York

• an education voucher system to promote private and home schooling in Florida

• campaigns against worker and union rights in Delaware and Nevada

• opposition to Medicaid in Georgia, North Carolina, and Utah

As I've written before, SPN exists to help out its influential state-level affiliates around the country and to push conservative policies in state capitals. It's enjoyed quite a lot of success lately: SPN members also played a role in the crackdown on workers' rights in 2011 in Wisconsin, Ohio, Idaho, and Tennessee. A year ago this month, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, an SPN member, rightly took credit for making Michigan the nation's 24th right-to-work state. Months later, Dick DeVos, the Amway heir and onetime in Michigan gubernatorial candidate, used SPN's annual conference as a chance to share his strategy with state-level allies itching for right-to-work in their states. The Guardian's documents strongly suggest that conservatives are coordinating their attacks on unions, public employees, and government.

Like prominent liberal nonprofit groups, the State Policy Network appears to have plenty more planned for the near future. If you thought the 2011 fight over workers rights was intense, what's coming next could be even fiercer.

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