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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Dark Money Deluge: Crossroads GPS Unveils $25 Million Ad Campaign

| Wed May 16, 2012 10:55 AM EDT
Crossroads GPS' new ad hammering President Barack Obama.

Crossroads GPS, the deep-pocketed nonprofit created by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, announced Wednesday that it plans to pump $25 million into a new ad campaign running in ten battleground states including Colorado, Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The group's announcement is a direct response to the Obama campaign's pledge earlier this month to spend $25 million on ads this month. 

The first phase of Crossroads' blitz will be a two-week run of the ad "Obama's Promise," which slams the president for supposedly failing to fulfill promises to help struggling homeowners, cut the deficit, and not raise taxes on working and middle class families. Crossroads says it will spend an initial $8 million on this push.

Here's the ad:

To the average viewer, this spot resembles an open attack on President Obama. No one watching it would consider it anything but a call to vote for Obama's opponent. But there's a catch. Because the ad doesn't tell viewers to "vote for Mitt Romney" or oppose Obama in the November election, it is not considered an overtly political ad. It is instead known as "issue advocacy."

Here's why that distinction matters. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, Crossroads GPS can engage in politicking, but that can't be the majority of what it does. Its focus, the law says, must be on promoting "social welfare" by discussing issues like debt, taxes, military spending, etc. And so when Crossroads runs so-called "issue" ads like "Obama's Promise," it allows them to bash Obama while staying on the right side of the law. Crossroads' tax status also allows the group to keep secret its donors.

Make no mistake: this sort of dark money double-whammy is something you'll see much, much more of between now and November.

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The Chamber of Commerce's Dark Money Days May Be Over

| Wed May 16, 2012 8:24 AM EDT

In the annals of loopholes, one that the Federal Election Commission, the nation's election watchdog, created in 2008 could rank as one of the most absurd. The FEC's Republican commissioners decided that shadowy nonprofits running political ads (think: the US Chamber of Commerce) could hide the identities of people who donate more than $1,000, as long as those donors didn't earmark their money for a specific ad. So, for instance, a donor couldn't say, "I want you to run an ad attacking Nancy Pelosi next Monday at 7 p.m. on NBC." Donors and political operatives are not idiots, of course, and figured out how to capitalize on the loophole by just giving that money without specific requests, allowing groups like the Chamber to keep more and more donations in the dark.

But those days could be over. In March, a district judge ruled that the FEC's loophole broke the law, and on Monday night, the Court of Appeals in the DC Circuit rejected a request to stay the ruling. It goes into effect now. The decision deals a blow to dark-money politics, while delivering reformers and transparency lovers a big win. "The American people have a right to know who is bankrolling the ads that are designed to influence their votes," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the lead plaintiff in the case challenging the loophole, said in a statement. "In its decision to deny the stay of the lower Court's ruling, the Court of Appeals has signaled that the public interest is best served by increased donor disclosure."

The appeals court's decision on Monday could impact a slew of powerful political nonprofits spending big bucks in the 2012 elections. That includes Crossroads GPS, the brainchild of Karl Rove; Americans for Prosperity, which receives funding from the Koch brothers; and the Chamber of Commerce, which spent $32.9 million on the 2010 elections.

Dragging dark money into the sunlight is no small matter, either. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, conservative nonprofits such as Rove's Crossroads GPS have already spent $121 million in the 2012 cycle without naming who funded the ads. Overall campaign spending by dark money groups has spiked from 1 percent to 47 percent since the 2006 midterm elections. And in the 2010 elections, 72 percent of political ad buys by independent groups came from sources that had been banned from spending any money at all back in 2006. A recent UPI headline summed up the state of things before Monday's ruling quite nicely: "2012 election drowning in secret money." 

New Obama Ad Blasts Romney As a Job-Killing "Vampire"

| Mon May 14, 2012 10:02 AM EDT

Mitt Romney knew his past at private equity firm Bain Capital would come under assault in the general election, as it did during the primary campaign. And now, with Romney the GOP's presumptive nominee, the attacks have begun.

President Obama's campaign is out with two new, hard-hitting television ads blasting Bain's role in the 2001 bankruptcy of GST Steel in Kansas City, Missouri. As Reuters reported, Bain invested in GST in the early 1990s when Mitt was at the helm, only for the deal to collapse, the mill to close, and 750 workers to lose their jobs. GST's bankruptcy is often spotlighted by Romney's critics as evidence that he's a cutthroat capitalist willing to fire workers to pad his own pockets.

People to Politicians: Eliminate Super-PACs And We'll Vote For You

| Wed May 9, 2012 2:54 PM EDT

Newsflash: Americans want political candidates who'll get rid of super-PACs and rid our elections of unaccountable dark money. And according to the results of a new poll, they're prepared to vote to make that happen.

That's a key takeaway from a poll unveiled Wednesday by Democracy Corps, the polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and Public Campaign Action Fund, which supports curbing the amount of money in politics. Fifty-two percent of those polled, of all political persuasions, said they wouldn't vote for a candidate unless he or she committed to reducing the role of money in politics.

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