Mariah Blake

Mariah Blake

Senior Reporter

Mariah Blake is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. She has also written for The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The Nation, The New Republic, The Washington Monthly, and The Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. E-mail her at mblake [at] motherjones [dot] com or follow her on Twitter.

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Koch-Tied Groups Funded GOP Effort to Mess With Electoral College Rules

| Fri Jan. 31, 2014 9:26 AM EST

A Koch brothers mask at a 2013 protest.

Last election season, a shadowy nonprofit pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign to change how electoral votes are counted. The group didn't disclose who was funding its efforts—a fact that Mother Jones highlighted in a story titled "Who's Paying for the GOP's Plan to Hijack the 2012 Election?" But now, thanks to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonpartisan government watchdog, it's clear that organizations with ties to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch footed at least some of the bill.

Each state and the District of Columbia has a certain number of electoral votes, based on their population, and they get to decide for themselves how those votes should be allotted. Currently, every state except Maine and Nebraska gives all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the statewide popular vote. But in 2011, GOP lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin introduced bills that would divide electoral votes among candidates based on how many congressional districts they won. Because Republicans drew the boundaries of the districts in those states, this scheme would be almost certain to hand Republican presidential candidates the majority of their electoral votes—even if more voters cast ballots for Democrats. (Read more about how the plan would work here.) Presuming the race is close enough, this could decide the nationwide outcome.

In the case of Pennsylvania, a mysterious nonprofit called All Votes Matter spent large sums lobbying for these changes. Local officials wondered about its funding sources. "They raised an awful lot of money very quickly—$300,000 in just a few days," Democratic Pennsylvania state Sen. Daylin Leach told Mother Jones at the time. "We're all curious where that level of funding comes from." But All Votes Matter didn't disclose its donors, nor did it have to. The group is organized as a 501(c)4 "social welfare" nonprofit, which means that it can spend money on politics while keeping its donors secret. (Such groups are not supposed to spend more than half of their budget on political causes, but IRS enforcement is slack.) Thus the public knew little about the agendas behind this effort to upend the mechanics of presidential elections.

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WATCH: Senate Candidate Claims IRS is Training "Brown Shirts" to Enforce Obamacare Using Assault Weapons

| Fri Jan. 17, 2014 11:58 AM EST

This election season, as in 2012, many sitting Republicans face challenges from tea party candidates, who aren't afraid to tout conspiracy theories or say brash things about women's bodies. One GOP Senate challenger, vying against veteran Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), has gone as far as claiming that the IRS is training an army of "Brown Shirts" to enforce Obamacare—with assault weapons no less.

South Carolina state Sen. Lee Bright argued in a speech last August that we should "get rid of that IRS." (See the video above). He also discussed comments from US Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, who toured a federal law enforcement facility last spring and reported seeing IRS agents training with the semi-automatic AR-15 rifles. Bright added:

If that’s true…and they're doing assault-weapon training, the Brown Shirts are next because that's the enforcement for Obamacare, is the IRS. If you don't have an IRS, you don't have Obamacare. That's the mechanism that's controlling our lives for far too long.

In fact, the armed agents Duncan saw probably belonged to a special criminal investigation division, which sometimes goes after drug traffickers and money launderers. At the time, according to Politico, Duncan questioned whether "that level of firepower is appropriate when they could coordinate operations with other agencies, like the FBI, especially in a time of austerity." That's a far cry from likening IRS agents to Nazi storm troopers.

WATCH: George Zimmerman's Girlfriend Reveals Disturbing New Details in Police Video

| Fri Jan. 3, 2014 11:27 AM EST

Last November, after a heated domestic dispute and a frantic call to 911, George Zimmerman's girlfriend told police that he had threatened her with a shotgun. The allegations were eerily similar to those lodged by Zimmerman's ex-wife following his acquittal on charges of murdering unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, and they seemed to signal a pattern of uncontrolled violence.

Zimmerman's girlfriend, 27-year-old Samantha Scheibe, later recanted the accusations, saying in a sworn statement that she was "intimidated" during police questioning and believed investigators had "misinterpreted" her words. But a recently released video of Scheibe's police interview casts doubt on her disavowal. It also adds credibility and violent new detail to Scheibe's original account.

The officer who questioned Scheibe, Stephen LaGuardia of the Seminole County Sheriff's office, did not come across as intimidating. And Scheibe's description of events was detailed and vivid—not the kind of thing most people concoct on the fly. Having broken off the relationship, Scheibe said she told Zimmerman to leave her house. He began packing his belongings, including his AR-15 assault rifle. As he removed the clip and shoved it in his rifle bag, a bullet fell on the floor. Zimmerman then grabbed and cocked his shotgun, apparently so that there was a shell in the chamber, and stuffed it in the rifle bag, too.

Miami and Los Angeles Sue Banking Giants Over the Sub-Prime Mortgage Debacle

| Mon Dec. 23, 2013 11:03 AM EST

Some of the cities hardest hit by the sub-prime mortgage crisis are fighting back with lawsuits against the banks whose predatory lending fueled the collapse of the housing market. Most recently, the city of Miami filed three separate suits against Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup, claiming their lending practices violated the federal Fair Housing Act and cost the city millions in tax revenue.

The cases, all of which were filed in the Southern District of Florida, focus on the banks' treatment of minority borrowers. According to the city, minority residents were routinely charged higher interest rates and fees than white loan applicants, regardless of their credit history. They were also stuck with other onerous terms—such as prepayment penalties, adjustable interest rates, and balloon payments—that increased their odds of falling into foreclosure.

It's no secret that some big banks discriminated against minority borrowers during the housing bubble. Racial bias ran so deep inside Wells Fargo's mortgage division that employees regularly referred to subprime mortgages as “ghetto loans" and African American borrowers as “mud people," according to testimony from former bank officials. In 2011, Bank of America paid $355 million to settle a Justice Department lawsuit, charging that its Countrywide Financial unit steered hundreds of thousands of minority borrowers into predatory mortgages.

Lawyers for the city of Miami, which is roughly 60 percent Latino and 20 percent African American, argue that these discriminatory practices are one key reason that the fallout from the sub-prime lending frenzy hit the city so hard. "The State of Florida in general, and the City of Miami in particular have been devastated by the foreclosure crisis," reads the city's complaint. "As of October 2013, the State of Florida has the country’s highest foreclosure rate, and Miami has the highest foreclosure rate among the 20 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the country." The city is seeking compensation for the drop in real estate tax revenue due to foreclosures, which have further depressed property values, and for the cost of providing municipal services to abandoned homes.

In a written statement to the Miami Herald, Wells Fargo called the discrimination claims “unfounded allegations that don’t reflect our corporate values,” while Citigroup insisted that it “considers each applicant by the same objective criteria.” Bank of America also defended its lending practices as fair and said it had "responded urgently" to assist customers during the financial crisis.

Miami isn't the first city to take on the banking giants. Earlier this month, Los Angeles—which claims to have lost more than $78 billion in home value due to foreclosures—sued Citigroup, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo on the same grounds. Richmond, California, a working-class Bay Area suburb, plans to rescue borrowers whose mortgages are underwater by seizing their properties using eminent domain. Homeowners will remain in their homes and be given new loans for amounts that reflect current values. And the city will have a fighting chance of shoring up its dwindling tax revenue. It's a good deal for everyone—except the bankers behind the housing implosion.

Fri Apr. 25, 2014 1:42 PM EDT