On April 26, 2005, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law SB 436, better known as the "Stand Your Ground" law, which gave Floridians the right to use deadly force to defend themselves in public without first trying to flee from a threat. Nearly seven years later, the law has exploded into public view with the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Police released the shooter, George Zimmerman, the night of the killing after he claimed self-defense; ever since, there has been a firestorm of debate over the wisdom of Stand Your Ground laws, also known as "shoot first" laws, which now exist in 24 states.
The money trail leading to the watershed law in Florida—the first of the 24 across the nation—traces primarily to one source: the National Rifle Association. When Gov. Bush conducted the 2005 signing ceremony, standing alongside him was Marion Hammer, a leader and familiar face from the pro-gun lobbying powerhouse. But the NRA's support for the Stand Your Ground law was far more than symbolic. An analysis by Mother Jones of election and lobbying records reveals that the NRA was instrumental in creating Stand Your Ground: Over a nine-year period the organization gave more than $73,000 in campaign donations to the 43 Florida legislators who backed the law. That money was buttressed by intense lobbying activity and additional funds spent by the NRA in support of the bill's introduction and passage.
The NRA's point man in the Florida legislature was state Rep. Dennis Baxley (R). In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Baxley, a card-carrying NRA member and an ally of Bush's, reaped financial support from the NRA's Political Victory Fund. In 2000 Baxley received a $500 campaign donation from the NRA (the state's legal limit per election cycle) on top of nearly a thousand dollars more in independent spending backing him. By 2004, the NRA awarded Baxley its "Defender of Freedom" award. And in 2007, the NRA spent a whopping $35,000 on radio advertising to support Baxley in a primary fight. (He lost.)
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.
George Zimmerman is free to walk the streets of Sanford, Florida. But the gun he used to shoot and kill 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is in police hands, Mother Jones has confirmed.
A spokeswoman for the city of Sanford says that the Sanford Police Department took into evidence the gun that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, fired at Martin on February 26. That was the day that Zimmerman had called 911 to report "a real suspicious guy" clad in a hoodie, who turned out to be a kid walking home from a nearby 7-Eleven with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. Zimmerman's pursuit of Martin led to a physical altercation between the two, wherein Zimmerman shot and killed Martin. Zimmerman's lawyers claim it was an act of self-defense, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
One month has passed since Martin's killing, which has since ignited a national controversy. To mark the sober anniversary, the Brady Center To Prevent Gun Violence, a leading gun control group, blasted out a press release: "GEORGE ZIMMERMAN STILL HAS HIS GUN AND HIS LICENSE TO CARRY AND USE IT." That's half-right. Zimmerman no longer possesses the gun he used to kill Martin. But he still has a permit to carry a concealed weapon—and, thanks to Florida's gun laws, he still has the right to buy a new handgun instantly and travel to 35 other states while packing heat.
Protesters march outside the Wisconsin state capitol in February 2011 in response to Gov. Walker's anti-union "budget repair" bill.
Earlier this month, a shadowy Wisconsin political group with a post-office box address joined the fight to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The group, Wisconsin for Falk, spent more than $500,000 on TV ads backing Democratic recall candidate Kathleen Falk yet did not disclose its funders or who started the group. Walker's recall campaign alleged Wisconsin for Falk was funded by "big government, public sector union bosses."
On a warm, sticky winter morning, I waited nervously in a parking lot in Foshan, a city in southeastern China's smog-choked Pearl River delta, for a man I'd never met. His name was Mr. Ou, and he ran the sprawling factory in front of me, a jumble of offices, low-slung buildings, and warehouses. Though the factory was teeming with workers, a Subaru SUV and BMW coupe were the only cars in the lot. Drab, gray worker dormitories loomed nearby, and between them ran a dusty road that led to the factory. At last a young man emerged from an office building. He motioned for me to follow him in.
I settled onto a plush leather couch and absorbed the decor. Framed awards and certificates covered the walls. A shopping-cart-size wooden frog stood sentry in the center of the room. Ping golf clubs leaned against one wall; a Rolling Stones commemorative electric guitar gathered dust behind a chair. And there were grills: a small kettle grill on a desk, a brushed-steel gas grill on the far side of the room, grills stacked atop other grills. This was Mr. Ou's trade: supplying Western retailers with the cooking apparatus of patio parties and Fourth of July bashes.
The young man closed the door. He took the chair to my right, lit a cigarette, and met my stare as if to say, Let's get on with it. Only then did I realize I was not talking to an assistant.
Mr. Ou had the good looks of a judge on one of those breathless Chinese talent shows. He wore a tailored blazer, an expensive-looking watch, polished leather shoes, and colorful striped socks. He asked why I'd come to China, why I cared about his factory. An American consultant, I said, had suggested I tour his operation, Foshan Juniu Metal Manufacturing, because Mr. Ou was part of a hallmark sustainability program launched by the company I had come to China to investigate—Walmart.