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.

Get my RSS |

RIP: Insider Trading in Congress

| Wed Apr. 4, 2012 1:17 PM EDT

Chalk one up for the reformers.

On Wednesday, President Obama signed into the law the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which bans members of Congress and their staffs from using non-public information to get a leg up in the stock market. The law also creates a system for tracking in real-time the stock deals of those walking the halls of Congress. The STOCK Act's passage marks a victory (of sorts) for the good-government group Public Citizen, a long-time advocate of banning congressional insider trading. Here's a useful White House fact-sheet with a full rundown of the law's provisions.

What the STOCK Act does not do is shine some much-needed sunlight on the so-called political intelligence industry. Political intelligence companies meet with lawmakers and their staffs and gather valuable information for Wall Street firms and hedge funds to use in their investment decisions. But a provision forcing these companies to register like lobbyists, included in the original STOCK Act, was stripped out by House Republicans. That explains the bittersweet celebration from Public Citizen's top lobbyist Craig Holman, a driving force behind the bill. "This is a good bill—the most significant ethics achievement of the 112th Congress," he said in a statement. "But it could and should be stronger, and legislation is pending to strengthen it."

The bill's passage marks the end of a years-long, little noticed fight by Holman and others to outlaw congressional insider trading and drag political intelligence firms into the open. What set the STOCK Act on the path to passage, though, was an explosive 60 Minutes segment on the issue last November. (You can watch it here.) Coached by Holman, 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft laid out how members of Congress appeared to make investments based on non-public information. Kroft named names, among them House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio); House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), chair of the House financial services committee. (All the lawmakers denied any insider trading.)

The segment landed like a bomb in Congress. The number of co-sponsors to the STOCK Act leapt to 93. The Senate soon passed the full STOCK Act by a 96-3 vote.

Although the House would later pass a watered-down version of the bill, its passage is an important win for Holman and his allies. What's more, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) has already introduced new legislation on political intelligence-gathering.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Milwaukee Mayor Jumps Into Wisconsin Recall Rumble

| Fri Mar. 30, 2012 6:40 PM EDT
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost to Scott Walker in Wisconsin's 2010 gubernatorial race by 125,000 votes, wants another shot at governor.

On Friday afternoon, Barrett announced he would seek the Democratic nomination in Wisconsin's recall race. Barrett faces former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, a union favorite; state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout; and Secretary of State Doug LaFollette. Barrett said in a statement that Gov. Walker has "divided our state like never before and presided over a Wisconsin economy that last year lost more jobs than any state in the country."

He continued: "He 'dropped the bomb,' as he said, and ended 50 years of labor peace and worker protections—something he never said he'd do during the 2010 campaign. I know, because I was there. As governor, I will fight to restore collective bargaining rights, because it's the right thing to do, and it's necessary to heal Wisconsin."

Recent polls show Barrett heading to victory in a hypothetical Democratic primary. A recent Marquette University Law School poll showed Barrett with 36 percent of support, Falk with 29 percent, Vinehout and LaFollette with 8 percent each. A late February survey by Public Policy Polling showed Barrett beating Falk 45 percent to 18 percent. (That was an improvement for Barrett: a January PPP survey put him ahead of Falk 46-27.) In that same February PPP survey, Barrett led Walker by three percentage points in a hypothetical general election, 49-46. A Marquette University Law School poll published last week showed Barrett trailing Walker 49-47.

Barrett's entry sets up a bruising fight for the Democratic nomination in the Walker recall rumble. There is no love lost between Barrett and Wisconsin's labor unions, a bastion of Democratic support, and in recent weeks, union officials have quietly sought to undermine Barrett's standing in Wisconsin and work against a possible recall candidacy. In an interview with Mother Jones, Falk questioned the wisdom of a late entry by Barrett into the recall fray. She said she hoped Barrett would support her recall candidacy just as she supported his 2010 gubernatorial campaign. "I think it's his turn to support me and I hope he does," Falk said.

While Falk boasts of her many union endorsements, Barrett is a fixture in Milwaukee and Wisconsin politics, and already counts former Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wisc.) as a high-profile supporter in the race. Barrett's candidacy will make it harder for Falk to win widespread support in Milwaukee, a Democratic hotbed, says Charles Franklin, a visiting political scientist at Marquette University. Yet Barrett, Franklin adds, bears the burden of having already lost a governor's race to Walker in 2010. (Barrett also lost in the 2002 gubernatorial primary.)

In a statement, Falk responded to Barrett's announcement by saying, "I welcome Tom to this important race."

This story has been updated.

Want To Party With Obama? Show Him The Money

| Tue Mar. 27, 2012 2:44 PM EDT
President Barack Obama talks with senior advisors in the Oval Office, Feb. 29, 2012.

In the late 1990s, Bill Clinton and the Democratic National Committee faced blistering criticism for wooing wealthy donors with White House sleepovers, coffee breaks with the president, and rides on Air Force One. A decade later, as a candidate, Barack Obama bashed the cash-drenched culture of Washington politics. And as president, Obama has rejected lobbyist donations and pledged to keep lobbyists out of the White House and donors at a healthy distance.

Yet according to a new analysis, big-time donors are finding the Obama administration's doors flung open to them. An analysis by the Associated Press found that since mid-2009, more than half of Obama's top donors, as well as givers to a super-PAC backing his re-election bid, scored invites to the White House. Out of some 470 Obama donors, the AP found that at least 250 of them had attended White House parties or sat down for intimate meetings with Obama advisers.

At a recent state dinner, 30 Obama donors received invitations from the White House, where "they mingled with celebrities and dined with foreign leaders on the South Lawn of the White House," the AP reported.

Donors gaining access to the president, of course, is a bipartisan tradition in Washington. But the AP's analysis comes at a tricky point for Obama when it comes to campaign finance:

Obama's campaign has said it would begin encouraging supporters to donate to a "super" political action committee supporting him, Priorities USA Action, to counterbalance the cash flowing to GOP groups. The decision drew rebukes from campaign-finance watchdogs and Republicans who said Obama flip-flopped on his prior stance assailing super PAC money. The group supporting Obama has raised $6.3 million so far.

Visitor-log details of some of Obama's donors have surfaced in news reports since he took office. But the financial weight of super PACs and their influence on this year's election have prompted renewed scrutiny of the big-money financiers behind presidential candidates—and what those supporters might want in return.

Many of the White House visits by donors came before the president embraced the big-money, fundraising groups he once assailed as a "threat to democracy" on grounds they corrode elections by permitting unlimited and effectively anonymous donations from billionaires and corporations. Obama was once so vocal about super PACs that, during his 2010 State of the Union speech, he accused the Supreme Court in its 2010 decision in the Citizens United case of reversing a century of law that would "open the floodgates for special interests." But the success of Republicans raising money changed the stakes.

Obama's re-election campaign has raked in $120 million in donations to date. Priorities USA Action, the pro-Obama super-PAC started by two former Obama aides, has raised $6.3 million to date.

Tue Jun. 24, 2014 3:22 PM EDT
Thu Apr. 24, 2014 6:06 AM EDT
Mon Jan. 13, 2014 1:19 PM EST
Mon Dec. 16, 2013 10:47 AM EST
Fri Oct. 18, 2013 12:12 PM EDT