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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The Lawyer Behind the Supreme Court's Latest Campaign Finance Decision Has a New Cause: Sarah Palin for Senate

| Mon Apr. 14, 2014 12:23 PM EDT

When the Supreme Court recently demolished yet another chunk of the nation's campaign finance laws, Dan Backer arguably cheered louder than anyone. It was Backer, a Washington, DC-area attorney active in conservative politics, who had convinced an Alabama businessman named Shaun McCutcheon to challenge the government's limit on the number of candidates, party committees, and political action committees an individual can contribute to in a single election cycle. (The basic limits on how much money that donor can give to each candidate, party, or PAC remain intact.) Backer, who represented McCutcheon, responded to the news of the Supreme Court's decision by tweeting (in apparent reference to William Wallace in Braveheart): "FREEEEDOMMMMM!!!!"

Backer's victory is shining some light on another high-profile cause of his: Convincing Sarah Palin to run for US Senate.

In an email headlined "Palin for Senate" recently blasted out by a PAC called the Tea Party Leadership Fund, Backer writes, "Sarah's the proven leader we need." He goes on, "She has a better grasp on world politics, and she knows what it means to cherish and protect our American freedoms far better than THE MAN WHO IS SUPPOSED TO BE LEADING THE FREE WORLD." Backer slams incumbent Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) for spending "too much time in Washington, DC, begging the Obama administration for favors rather than representing the good people of Alaska." Palin supporters need to act quick, Backer warns: The window for her to get into the race "has almost closed." And so Backer asks recipients to sign a petition and gather enough signatures to "to push Sarah Palin over the top in a critical run for Alaska's Senate seat in 2014."

In an interview, Backer said almost 100,000 people had signed the Palin for Senate petition. If Palin did enter the race,he said the Tea Party Leadership PAC would bolster her candidacy with direct mail and radio ads. "Nobody's going to be a greater agent for change than Sarah Palin from Alaska," Backer told me. "She will bring something to the race and she will disrupt the Senate. And disruption is good."

Read the email:

 

Backer's plea isn't entirely out of left field. Palin has made noises about running for Senate in Alaska. Last summer, she said on Sean Hannity's radio show that she was considering a run. "I've considered it because people have requested me considering it," she said. "But I'm still waiting to see what the lineup will be and hoping that...there will be some new blood, new energy, not just kind of picking from the same old politicians in the state." But this email comes when it's getting late for a possible Palin campaign. (The filing deadline is six weeks away.) Right now, the much-watched Alaska Senate race pits Begich against Republican Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell. Most polling shows Begich in the lead, but the seat is considered a toss-up Senate race that could determine which party ends up controlling the upper chamber.

Backer's email asks for more than just a signature; it includes a plea to donate $5 or more to the Tea Party Leadership Fund PAC. (Backer is the PAC's treasurer.) A cynical political observer might wonder if this "Palin for Senate" effort could be more of a fundraising ploy than a realistic attempt to get Palin into the race. Campaign records show that the Tea Party Leadership Fund has so far raked in $3.8 million in the 2013-14 election cycle, and most of that money—almost $9 of every $10—has gone to fundraising, legal fees (to Backer's own firm), consulting, and other related expenses.

But Backer says the Tea Party Leadership PAC has spent so much non-electoral money because it was building its donor lists during 2013, an off year. This year, he says, the PAC plans to be a counterweight to the outside money from corporations and trade associations backing establishment Republican candidates. "We knew this was going to be a tough cycle and a tough year," he said. "You need resources you can put on the ground when you need them."

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New Ad Hammers Gov. Andrew Cuomo For Abandoning His Pledge to Fight Corruption

| Fri Apr. 11, 2014 4:06 PM EDT

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) signed his new $140 billion budget into law last week, he hailed it as a "grand slam." For New York State's ethics reformers and good government groups, however, the budget was an epic flop. And now one national pro-reform group is planning to hammer Cuomo on the airwaves for failing to make good on his pledge to overhaul the state's cash-fueled, noxious brand of politics.

The new ad—paid for by the Public Campaign Action Fund, a non-profit funded by individuals, labor unions, and foundations—blasts Cuomo for signing a budget that doesn't include a so-called fair elections system for all statewide races. (The budget instead features a pilot program that half-heartedly applies the fair elections model to only this year's state comptroller race.) The ad also hits Cuomo for eliminating a commission—created by the governor just last year—devoted to rooting out corruption in state government. Public Campaign Action Fund has bought nearly $300,000 worth of airtime to run the ad, starting Saturday, for nine days in the Syracuse and Buffalo media markets.

The ad's narrator says:

When Governor Cuomo introduced his ethics and reform plan, it was going to clean up Albany. But he let the rule limiting campaign contributions get cut. Then the commission that was supposed to investigate corruption in state government got cut. And the promise to reduce the influence of big money in all state races? All cut, except for one office. And now the governor says he’s proud of what’s been achieved? Gov. Cuomo, get back to work and deliver the reform you promised.

Reform groups had pressed especially hard this year for Cuomo and the New York State legislature to overhaul how state elections are funded by implementing so-called fair elections, a campaign funding system that rewards candidates who accept lots of small donations by matching those donations with public money. This type of system is already used in New York City, where it helped progressive Bill de Blasio become mayor.

GOP Chairman: Let's Get Rid of ALL Donation Limits

| Wed Apr. 9, 2014 10:54 AM EDT

Last week, Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, hailed the Supreme Court's recent decision in McCutcheon vs. FEC, which eliminated the cap on the number of contributions a donor can make to candidates, parties, and political action committees. Of course he would: The cash-starved parties now stand to rake in bag-loads more cash than they did before the decision.

But Priebus wants to go further. On Hugh Hewitt's radio show Tuesday, Priebus called for eliminating all limits on campaign contributions. All of 'em. The $2,600 limit on candidate donations, the $5,000 limit on PAC donations, the $32,400 limit on party committee donations, and so on. "I don't think we should have caps at all," he said.

Priebus says he wants the RNC to get behind any effort to demolish those limits, just as it joined Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon in his recent legal fight. "Absolutely, I would" look to get the RNC involved in future deregulation lawsuits, Priebus said. "And I would look to cases that allow us to raise soft money, and I would look to cases that allow us to raise money for the conventions, and—but disclose it all. That's kind of where I'm at personally."

If Priebus gets his way—and don't forget, he already has one major ally; Justice Clarence Thomas, in his separate opinion in McCutcheon, called for gutting all donation limits—we're looking at a pure free-for-all when it comes to money in politics. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who gave nearly $93 million to outside groups during the 2012 campaign, or movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave and raised more than $30 million to reelect President Obama, wouldn't need outside groups like super-PACs. Hell, they wouldn't need political parties. They could donate $1 million, or $10 million, or $100 million directly to their candidate of choice.

Priebus might even go further. In the wake of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich's ouster over his $1,000 donation to an anti-marriage equality ballot proposal, the RNC chairman suggested he was losing interest in disclosure laws, too. "Even [campaign finance laws] that I want to agree with are getting to be very difficult," he told Hewitt.

No limits, (maybe) no disclosure: If Priebus gets his way, this is the shadowy, cash-drenched future of American politics.

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