Molly Redden

Molly Redden

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Molly Redden is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Previously, she worked for The New Republic, covering energy and the environment and politics, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Her work has also appeared in Salon, Washington City Paper, and Slate. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and watching too much television. She tweets at @mtredden.

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Molly Redden is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Previously, she worked for The New Republic, covering energy and the environment and politics, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Her work has also appeared in Salon, Washington City Paper, and Slate. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and watching too much television. She tweets at @mtredden.

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Rich GOP Donor Gets Lawmaker to Draft a Bill to Lower His Child Support Payments

| Mon Jan. 13, 2014 12:55 PM EST

After Michael Eisenga, a wealthy GOP donor and Wisconsin business owner, failed to convince several courts to lower his child support payments, he came up with an inventive plan B—he recruited a Republican state legislator to rewrite Wisconsin law in his favor.

A set of documents unearthed Saturday by the Wisconsin State Journal shows Eisenga and his lawyer, William Smiley, supplying detailed instructions to Republican state Rep. Joel Kleefisch on how to word legislation capping child support payments from the wealthy. Kleefisch began work on the legislation last fall, weeks after an appeals court rejected Eisenga's attempts to lower his child support payments.

For example, in a September 13 letter, a drafting lawyer with Wisconsin's legislative services bureau complained to a Kleefisch aide, "It's hard to fashion a general principle that will apply to only one situation."

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Eisenga's current child support payments for the three children he has with his ex-wife are set at $216,000 a year. (Per the couple's prenuptial agreement, the divorce settlement left his $30 million in assets untouched.)

Current law instructs judges to calculate child support as a percentage of income, with no cap and the option to include assets. Under Kleefisch's bill, which making its way through the Wisconsin statehouse, payments would top out at $150,000 annually, and judges would be prohibited from taking assets into account when determining child support. The bill also includes language that would allow Eisenga to restart court proceedings over his child support payments, as it requires courts to slash such payments if they are 10 percent higher than they would be under the new cap.

In 2010, Eisenga donated $10,000 to Kleefisch and his wife, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, according to the Journal Sentinel. Eisenga also donated $15,000 to Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

The drafting documents, available on the Wisconsin legislature's website, leave little not doubt that the bill was written to Eisenga's specifications. According to the documents, on September 5, Eisenga's lawyer briefed him on changes he was suggesting to a draft of Kleefisch's bill. "We focused only on the portion that would require the court to modify your child support order based solely on the passage of the bill," Smiley wrote. Eisenga then forwarded that letter to Kleefisch and one of his aides, saying, "Please have the drafter make these SPECIFIC changes to the bill." The next day, Kleefisch's aide forwarded the letter to the legislative lawyer drafting the bill.

A hearing for the bill is scheduled Wednesday before the Assembly Family Law Committee.

Eisenga and Smiley declined to speak to local news outlets about their emails with Kleefisch. On Saturday, Kleefisch told the Journal, "I do a gamut of legislation with the help and assistance of many, many constituents, and whether they gave a contribution or not has not made a difference."

New Christie Bridge Scandal Email: Cops Forced to Direct Traffic Instead of Responding to Emergencies

| Fri Jan. 10, 2014 7:09 PM EST
Christie leaves Fort Lee city hall after apologizing to Mayor Mark Sokolich on Thursday.

The massive, four-day September traffic jam orchestrated by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's deputy chief of staff as an act of political retribution caused police in Fort Lee, New Jersey to spend their time directing traffic instead of responding to local emergencies, according to an email released on Friday by state investigators probing the scandal.

On September 9, the first day of the traffic problems, Robert Durando, the Port Authority's general manager of the George Washington Bridge, wrote to Cedrick Fulton, the Port Authority's director of tunnels, bridges and terminals: "Traffic conditions required Ft Lee police to remain out on corners, managing traffic instead of attending to public safety issues."

The email is more evidence of the public safety consequences of September's traffic jams. On Wednesday, a Fort Lee borough councilman told Mother Jones that the traffic slowed the police search for a missing 4-year-old child. NorthJersey.com reported that the traffic doubled EMS response times in two emergencies on September 9. In a third instance, emergency responders "took nearly an hour to arrive at a building where a person was experiencing chest pains."

Members of Christie's inner circle appear to have considered the potential public safety ramifications of the traffic jam while it was ongoing. In one exchange released on Wednesday, Port Authority official David Wildstein, a Christie appointee, waved away complaints from the Fort Lee mayor that school buses filled with children were stuck in traffic. "Bottom line is he didn't say safety," Wildstein wrote.

Durando's message was part of an email thread, "Angry Patron," describing locals' reactions to the traffic problems. In a separate email, Lisa Herrera, an employee of the Port Authority tunnels, bridges and terminals division, said she received a complaint from a woman whose husband arrived 40 minutes late for his first day of work at a job he landed after being unemployed for a year. The women accused the Port Authority of "playing God with people's jobs," Herrera wrote.

A New Jersey legislative panel investigating the bridge scandal released these emails Friday as part of a collection of hundreds of private emails and text messages related to September's lane closures. Read those documents here.

New Bridge Scandal Emails: Port Authority Official Said Christie Team's Lane Closure "Violates Federal Law"

| Fri Jan. 10, 2014 5:13 PM EST
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

Editor's note: Alhough the bulk of these emails were released to the public for the first time on Friday, the contents of some were reported by the Wall Street Journal in December.

In a September 13 email released Friday by the New Jersey Assembly panel probing Republican Gov. Chris Christie's George Washington Bridge scandal, Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye wrote that the decision to shut down access lanes to the bridge violated state and federal laws.

"I believe this hasty and ill-advised decision violates Federal Law and the laws of both States," Foye noted, explaining his decision to reopen those lanes to traffic. "I am appalled by the lack of process, failure to inform our customers and Fort Lee and most of all by the dangers created to the public."

Foye sent his email after four days of heavy traffic jams caused by the closures to nearly a dozen officials at the Port Authority, including chairman David Samson, a Christie appointee. 

Private messages released on Wednesday strongly suggested that a top aide to Christie orchestrated the lane closures as an act of political revenge. Samson's role in the scandal remains unclear. 

Screenshot from new emails released as part of an investigation into politically motivated lane closures on the George Washington Bridge

 

On Thursday, Christie expressed confidence that Samson played no part in causing the Fort Lee traffic disaster, saying, "I am convinced that he had absolutely no knowledge of this, that this was executed at the operational level and never brought to the attention of the [Port Authority] board of commissioners." Yet when Foye ordered the lanes reopened on September 13, David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority official wrote to a Christie staffer, "We are appropriately going nuts. Samson helping us to retaliate."

Another email released on Friday shows an effort to keep the story from going public. On the night of September 13, Foye received an email from Bill Baroni, a Port Authority official appointed by Christie (who resigned in December as the scandal was unfolding). It read, "I am on my way to the office to discuss. There can be no public discourse."

And another email released on Friday indicates that the Christie crew was worried about Foye. On September 18, Samson wrote Scott Rechler, the vice chair of the Port Authority Board of Commissioners,* that he strongly suspected Foye of "stirring up trouble" by speaking anonymously to a Wall Street Journal reporter about the Fort Lee traffic debacle. He went on: "This is yet another example of a story—we've seen it before—where [Foye] distances himself from an issue in the press and rides in on a white horse to save the day In this case, he's playing in traffic, made a big mistake."

These emails were released as part of a collection of hundreds of emails and text messages that journalists and investigators are now scrutinizing. Read them here.

Correction: An earlier version of this article failed to note Rechler's position in the Port Authority. He is the vice chair of its Board of Commissioners.

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