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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Meet the "Bald-Headed Bastard" Who Battles Dark Money

| Tue Jun. 19, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Watchdog Fred Wertheimer.

From his office just off Washington, DC's posh Dupont Circle, Fred Wertheimer goes to battle each day against the rising deluge of shadowy campaign spending in American politics. The walls of his office tell the tale of a career spent in the political money trenches: A photo of Wertheimer in the White House signed by President Obama is inscribed "Keep fighting the good fight." Says one framed news clip: "Ethics Watchdog Fred Wertheimer: When He Barks, Congress Listens." A 1995 Wall Street Journal editorial dubs him "The Man Who Ruined Politics." (Wertheimer is especially proud of that one.)

What few know is that Wertheimer's long war on dark money began with a phone call—and a napping Wertheimer almost slept through it.

As I report in "Follow the Dark Money," the cover story of Mother Jones' July/August issue, Wertheimer was snoozing away one afternoon in May 1971 when the ethics group Common Cause called and offered him a junior lobbyist job. His portfolio would include urging lawmakers to write new restrictions on campaign fundraising and spending. This was the Nixon era, when secret donations flooded the system and millionaires could launch a candidate's campaign with a single check. "Reform is not for the short-winded," John Gardner, Common Cause's founder, told him. Today, Wertheimer jokes, "He never told me it was 41 years and counting."

The story traces four decades' worth of scandals and secret cash drops, back-room deals and legislative battles, beginning with Watergate and arriving in the age of the super-PAC. Today, Wertheimer and his allies are on the ropes. Casino king Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers' donor network are set to pump tens of millions of dollars into outside groups to elect their favorite candidates, shadowy nonprofits spend tens of millions more on attack ads, and Republican forces prepare to spend as much as $1 billion to topple President Obama and claim control of Congress.

What prompted an enraged congressman to call Werthheimer a "bald-headed bastard" for his efforts to reform campaign finance? And how did we get to a place where billionaires are now injecting massive amounts of untraceable funds into our elections? Go ahead and click here to follow the long and winding dark money trail.

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Connecticut's Governor—A Democrat!—Sides With Dark Money (UPDATED)

| Mon Jun. 18, 2012 10:45 AM EDT
Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy (center).

This post has been updated.

One of the strongest pieces of political money disclosure legislation in the nation went down in flames on Friday, after Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, vetoed the measure. Lawmakers are already talking about reviving the legislation in a special session as early as late June.

Here's what House Bill 5556—supporters called it "disclosure on steroids"—would do if passed on the second attempt. The bill would require groups to immediately disclose the cost, funding source, and target of any TV or radio ads or other communications that cost more than $1,000 and mentioned a candidate within 90 days of an election. Political advertisers who ran ads outside that 90-day window would have to disclose key information about their ads within 24 hours—faster than current law requires. Ambiguously named groups like "Connecticut Citizens for a Better Future" or "Americans for a Stronger Economy" would have to disclose all donors who gave $1,000 or more; they would also have to include the names of their top five donors in any political ads. Any corporate political spending greater than $4,000 would have to be approved by a vote of that corporation's governing body.

Reformers had hailed HB 5556 as a dream package of disclosure measures. Gov. Malloy's veto squashed that dream—at least for now.

Malloy wrote in his veto message that he believed parts of the bill to be unconstitutional, potentially infringing on individuals' free speech protections under the First Amendment. Other parts of 5556, he argued, "represent poor public policy choices." He went on, "While I have advocated for transparency in the elections and campaign finance process for a long time, and could certainly support sensible reform in this area again, I cannot support the bill before me given its many legal and practical problems."

Malloy wasn't the only critic of HB 5556. Connecticut's largest business association, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Connecticut Daily Newspapers Association all urged Malloy to veto the bill. The newspapers association intepreted the bill to mean that sponsoring and airing a political debate would force through the onerous process of calculating and reporting the expenses of the debate as an independent expenditure.

Reformers blasted Malloy's constitutional complaints as misguided, and called his veto a pledge of support for dark money and unaccountable elections. Miles Rapoport, president of the left-leaning think tank Demos, said on Friday: "The governor's veto statement argues that HB 5556 is unconstitutional under the First Amendment, but this argument is simply incorrect. The Supreme Court has made clear on numerous occasions, including in Citizens United itself, that disclosure laws are on firm constitutional footing."

Nick Nyhart, president of the pro-reform group Public Campaign, jabbed Malloy even harder: "Malloy had a chance to be a national leader on reform, but opted to side with wealthy special interests and secret money."

Sheldon Adelson's $10 Million Donation to Romney Super-PAC: Tip of The Iceberg?

| Wed Jun. 13, 2012 1:06 PM EDT
Sheldon Adelson.

Sheldon Adelson, the conservative billionaire casino mogul, has reportedly given $10 million to the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future. All told, Adelson and his wife, Miriam, have pumped at least $25 million into outside political groups so far this election cycle. Most of that money went to Winning Our Future, the now-dormant super-PAC that backed Newt Gingrich's presidential bid.

But is Adelson's latest eight-figure donation as sign of more to come?

San Francisco-Bashing GOPer Sean Duffy Raised Campaign Cash in...San Francisco

| Wed Jun. 13, 2012 11:34 AM EDT
Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wisc.)

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wisc.), an alumnus of MTV's Real World (Class of '97, Boston) who rode the 2010 tea party wave into Congress, doesn't much like the campaign trackers affiliated with the outfit SuperPAC Credo following him around his northwestern Wisconsin district. That super-PAC is arm of the progressive phone company Credo Mobile, which is based in San Francisco. Late last month, Duffy went out of his way to bash the trackers on his trail as "a group of four of these radicals from San Francisco." Ouch. (Trackers, mind you, are fixtures of the campaign trail in Congressional elections.)

But Duffy's disdain for liberal San Francisco didn't prevent him from jetting out west Tuesday to raise some campaign cash. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, Duffy appeared alongside House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) at a $1,000-a-head fundraiser at San Francisco's posh Presidio Golf Club.

Here's the invitation:

Via the San Francisco ChronicleVia the San Francisco Chronicle

Duffy hasn't had any trouble raising money his first term in office. His campaign haul to date totals $1.38 million, and he has $960,857 cash on hand, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Duffy's haul puts him in the top-third in fundraising for all members of Congress. Not bad for a freshman.

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