Erika Eichelberger

Erika Eichelberger

Reporter

Erika Eichelberger is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She has also written for The NationThe Brooklyn Rail, and TomDispatch. Email her at eeichelberger [at] motherjones [dot] com. 

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Millionaires to Washington: More Taxes, Please!

| Thu Nov. 15, 2012 6:03 AM EST

A pack of millionaires descended on Washington, DC, Wednesday to tell Congress to take more of their money. The Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, a group formed in 2010 to push Obama to allow the Bush tax cuts on millionaires to expire, are back, and lobbying for the same thing as Congress faces the looming fiscal cliff.

A dozen or so 1-percenters, representing the group's total membership of about 200, are meeting with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle this week to deliver the message that "we care as much about our country as we do about our money," and that any budget agreement Congress cobbles together in the coming weeks should include fat taxes on the rich.

At a press conference to kick off the campaign Wednesday, Frank Patitucci, CEO of NuCompass Mobility, explained why the group is seemingly advocating against its own interests. "We believe we've been able to achieve our circumstance in life because of the vibrancy of the American system we live under," he said. "Right now we're in danger of losing some of what has been valuable to us." He noted that Americans like him often pay lower tax rates than, say a middle-income single mom with two kids. "We're losing the opportunity to achieve the American dream the way we have."

Garrett Gruener, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur from Oakland, California, laid out the specifics of their demands: allow top tax rates to return to Clinton-era rates of 39.6 percent, and create a new tax bracket for those who make over $10 million; let taxes on capital gains return to Clinton-era levels of between 20 and 28 percent; tax dividends at the same rate as ordinary income; bring back a hefty estate tax; and limit itemized deductions for the wealthiest Americans.

The millionaires are quick to point out that they are not just a bunch of bleeding-heart libs. They're a coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and independents who see upping taxes on the rich as a practicality, not charity.

"I'm acting out of selfishness," said Woody Kaplan, a businessman from Boston (who incidentally voted for Gary Johnson for president). "With every business I've owned, customers have been terribly important. If we give the middle class a break, then we're much more likely to grow the middle class, and that will make all of us stronger."

That sounds nice, but what about all that GOP grumbling that higher taxes on the rich will curb job creation? Balderdash, says Gruener. "Their theory is by reducing my tax rates, I'll do more to create jobs. It just isn't true. If I thought they were right about that I'd be on their side of this negotiation. But my own experience as a venture capitalist is that this sort of investment they're talking about, in fact, has nothing to do with marginal tax rates."

T.J. Zlotnitsky, chairman and CEO of iControl Systems, agreed. "When it's time for my company to hire someone, I don't make a decision based on my personal tax rate. It's based on what my customers need. It's whether we see a new opportunity, a new concept."

The Patriotic Millionaires are meeting with nine Dems and three Republican legislators over two days. When asked how exactly they planned to convince the GOP to include the millionaires' plan in a budget compromise, Zlotnitsky appeared almost offended by the idea that their proposal was partisan. "There's an assumption that everyone here is of one political persuasion," he said. "I don't think it's about that. I think it's about putting Americans first. Putting country ahead of our party. The message is that people who are fortunate in this country such as ourselves are prepared to do more for our country. Now it's up to [the GOP] to be patriotic as well."

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Raul Ruiz Ekes Out Victory Over Rep. Mary Bono Mack in California

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 3:27 PM EST

The race in California's 36th congressional district shouldn't have been close. Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack hung onto the seat for six terms (after gaining it in a special election when her husband Sonny Bono, who had previously held the seat, died). Her Democratic opponent, emergency room physician Raul Ruiz, is a political neophyte; plus he was recently confronted with a politically unsavory bit of his past: a tape of him reading a letter of support of Leonard Peltier, a Native American convicted of murdering two FBI agents in 1977.

But Ruiz won, by three percentage points, after counting went into overtime last night and today.

The district, which includes Riverside County and Coachella Valley, was reconfigured this year and now officially has more Democrats than Republicans. Almost half of the district's residents, and about a quarter of its voters, are Hispanic. Apparently these folks were not fond of Bono Mack's Romney-ish positions and style.

Voter ID Chaos in Pennsylvania

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 6:48 PM EST
Misleading flier handed out by a poll volunteer in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is quickly emerging as the national epicenter of voting chaos. In addition to epic lines, voting machine malfunctions, and what voting rights advocates describe as a possible "unreported purge of voters," Mother Jones has received numerous reports of voters being asked to show ID at the polls. In March, Pennsylvania passed one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, but last month a state judge blocked it from taking effect until 2013.

Nevertheless, voters across the state report encountering signs and election volunteers requesting identification. Even the polling place in Shaler where Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett voted this morning boasted a hand-scrawled sign informing voters to be prepared to show a photo ID, a poll worker at the precinct told Mother Jones

This Green Party Candidate Could Swing One of the Most Hotly Contested Races in the House

| Mon Nov. 5, 2012 5:40 PM EST

Ursula Rozum.

A nose-ring-wearing, bike-fixing, chore-sharing 28-year-old could decide one of the most expensive and closely watched congressional races in the country.

Ursula Rozum is running on the Green Party ticket in New York's 24th District, an upstate region that includes Syracuse. Dan Maffei, a Democrat who lost his seat by several hundred votes in 2010, is hoping to take it back from Republican Ann Marie Buerkle. Polling shows the race is razor tight. That means a few extra lefty votes for Rozum could Nader-ify the contest and deliver the seat to Buerkle. And New Yorkers aren't the only ones who are hip to this reality. A family of rich Republicans from Florida, who may be rooting for this very scenario, recently sent thousands in friendly campaign cash Rozum's way.

Rozum is a staff organizer for the Syracuse Peace Council and lives at the Bread and Roses Collective, a group house whose residents commit to social-justice activism, gardening, chore- and meal-sharing, and bike fixing. They do not run around naked or do drugs, she told the Syracuse Post-Standard

Rozum has been visiting college campuses and holding rallies, handing out "Voting Green Is Sexy" stickers, and talking about climate change, job creation, student debt, cutting defense spending, and legalizing marijuana. And her message seems to be getting through: People are jumping on board her "commie lib" train. In the latest polls, Rozum had 7 percent of the vote, and Maffei and Buerkle were tied at 43 percent, with 7 percent undecided.

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