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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What Do the Coen Brothers, Jan Brewer, and Huggies Have in Common?

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 1:47 PM EST

Forget The French Connection, Bullitt, or The Italian Job. The best chase scene in modern cinema—bring it on, boo boys—appears in Joel and Ethan Coen's bizarre, pitch-perfect 1987 classic, "Raising Arizona." (It also features the best chase scene one-liner. Mustachioed truck driver to Nicholas Cage with the cops hot on his trail: "Son, you got a pantie on yer head.") Behold:

Why the clip? One of the nation's largest labor unions has drawn on the Coen brothers oeuvre as it wages the latest battle over workers' rights in America.

In Arizona, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and state GOP lawmakers have taken a cue from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker by taking aim at the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions. Except Arizona's assault on workers' rights is more extreme than Wisconsin's. The bills introduced in the state senate there would eliminate all collective bargaining for public employees at the state, city, and county levels.

To fight back, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees launched "Razing Arizona." The new campaign rips Brewer and calls Arizona's anti-union legislation "the latest orchestrated attack from extreme right-wing lawmakers, think tanks, and their corporate cronies who are hell-bent on wiping out what’s left of the middle class." AFSCME also released an ad bashing Brewer in the style of VH1's Pop-Up Video:

The Brewer video has been viewed 2,100 times on YouTube. The Razing Arizona campaign has a thousand "likes" and counting on Facebook. And with the Arizona anti-union legislation still wending its way through the legislature, you can plenty more union counterattacks, film-inspired or no, are on their way.

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Obama to Bankrollers: Go Supe Up My Super-PAC

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 11:28 AM EST
Barack Obama.

President Obama has never liked super-PACs, the new breed of political outfit spawned in part by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. He'd probably wipe them off the map with a penstroke if he could. Yet on Monday night, Obama squared up to the reality that his re-election bid will need the heavy artillery of a super-PAC, if only to better fight the shadowy conservative groups lining up behind Mitt Romney, the likely GOP nominee.

Obama, the New York Times reports, has indicated to donors that he wants them to give to the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action, which is run by former Obama White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney. Priorities has struggled since its launch last year, raking in just $4.4 million in 2011. By contrast, pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future raised $30.2 million in 2011, and Rove's American Crossroads raised $18.4 million.

Here's more from the Times:

Aides said the president had signed off on a plan to dispatch cabinet officials, senior advisers at the White House and top campaign staff members to deliver speeches on behalf of Mr. Obama at fund-raising events for Priorities USA Action, the leading Democratic “super PAC,” whose fund-raising has been dwarfed by Republican groups. The new policy was presented to the campaign’s National Finance Committee in a call Monday evening and announced in an e-mail to supporters.

"We’re not going to fight this fight with one hand tied behind our back," Jim Messina, the manager of Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign, said in an interview. "With so much at stake, we can't allow for two sets of rules. Democrats can't be unilaterally disarmed."

Neither the president, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., nor their wives will attend fund-raising events or solicit donations for the Democratic group. A handful of officials from the administration and the campaign will appear on behalf of Mr. Obama, aides said, but will not directly ask for money.

Left- and right-wing groups bashed Obama for this decision. But there's some crucial context needed here. For starters, this clearly isn't a call Obama made lightly. In his 2010 State of the Union, he blasted the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that helped usher in super-PACs, saying it would "open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections." And more recently, an Obama campaign staffer said the president was "flat-out opposed" to the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action super-PAC.

What's more, Obama and Congressional Democrats support reforms to eviscerate super-PACs and limit the ability of corporations and unions to spend general treasury money on elections. Those reforms included the DISCLOSE Act, a piece of legislation intended to counteract the effects of Citizens United which was killed by Senate Republicans in 2010. And as Obama campaign manager Jim Messina pointed out, the president continues to back not only new legislation casting more light on money in politics, but also a constitutional amendment to boost regulation of all that money sloshing around our elections.

Obama's no fan of super-PACs. But he and his lieutenants aren't going to "unilaterally disarm," as Messina and plenty other Democrats like to say. They're going to fight fire with fire.

How Will Mitt Romney Spin These Jobs Numbers?

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 11:30 AM EST
A jobs rally sponsored by the AFL-CIO union.

Mitt Romney never misses a chance to hammer President Obama for supposedly tanking the US economy. He accuses Obama of heaping on job-killing regulations and jacking up taxes on businesses large and small. "Obama's economic failure," the Romney campaign calls it.

But Romney will need some fancy rhetorical footwork to spin away the jobs numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday, which offer arguably the most optimistic snapshot of the American job market seen in four or five years.

The headline unemployment rate dropped for the third month in a row, to 8.3 percent. The private sector created 257,000 jobs, and although the government sector lost 14,000 jobs, that still meant a net gain of 243,000 jobs overall. To boot, the number of jobs added in December was revised up. The BLS now believes the economy added 203,000 jobs in December, 3,000 more than initially thought. November's jobs numbers were revised upwards, too, to 157,000—57,000 higher than the previous estimate. That means job market growth was stronger in those months than originally thought, and the recovery continues to gain momentum.

Not all the news was rosy. Long-term unemployment—those out of work for six months or more—held steady at 5.5 million people, or 43 percent of the unemployed. And the overall unemployment rate, including the underemployed and those who've stopped looking for work, dipped by just a tenth of a percentage point, to 15.1 percent.

Still, the reaction to the jobs numbers was cheery all around. Moody's Analytics economist Mark Zandi said, "This is unambiguous. Everything is good." Financial blogger Felix Salmon called January's report "positively glowing."

Back to the presidential race. Does Friday's job report significantly boost Obama's re-election chances? You bet, at least according to New York Times stats guru Nate Silver. Silver pegs Obama's "magic jobs number," the monthly net job creation total needed to win re-election, at about 150,000. The US economy netted nearly 100,000 more jobs than that last month.

In other words, Friday's numbers are not just good news for American workers but especially for Obama and his re-election chances. Mitt Romney has his work cut out for him trying to explain away these numbers.

Romney's Super-PAC Attack Machine, Brought to You by Big Finance

| Wed Feb. 1, 2012 12:37 PM EST

Mitt Romney's thumping victory in Florida on Tuesday was due in part to the wave of negative ads barraging his opponent, Newt Gingrich, in the week before the primary. Sixty-eight percent of all Florida primary ads attacked Gingrich, and it was the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future leading the charge, spending $13.3 million to tear down Gingrich—more than all the other super-PACs combined.

Late Tuesday night, after Romney's win was in the bag, the public discovered the funders behind this anti-Newt assault. The key takeaway: FIRE.

FIRE is short for the "finance, insurance, and real estate" sector. According to a new disclosure filing with the Federal Election Commission, $11.7 million of the nearly $18 million raked in by Restore Our Future in the second half of 2011 came from the FIRE sector—financiers, investment bankers, Bain Capital directors, real estate developers, and more. That's 65 percent of all the money Restore Our Future raised. Put another way, 93 of the 199 donations to Restore Our Future came from members of the FIRE sector.

Who are these wealthy donors? They include hedge fund managers Paul Singer and Julian Robertson; Steven Roth, CEO of commercial real estate giant Vornado; GOP mega-donor and home-building magnate Bob Perry; and Kenneth Griffin, founder and CEO of the Citadel investment firm.

Even with the FIRE sector's backing, though, Restore Our Future's windfall and Romney's own haul of nearly $40 million in the second half of 2011 doesn't match President Obama's campaign war chest. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama and supporting super-PACs have raised $125 million for his re-election effort; for Romney, the figure is closer to $88 million.

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