Nick Baumann

Nick Baumann

Senior Editor

Nick is based in our DC bureau, where he covers national politics and civil liberties issues. Nick has also written for The Economist, The Atlantic, the Washington Monthly, and Commonweal. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. You can also follow him on Facebook.

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MoJo to UCLA: Release the Milken Documents!

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 7:30 AM EDT

Last August, the University of California-Los Angeles announced that it had accepted a $10 million gift from Lowell Milken, a key figure in the junk bonds and savings and loan scandals of the 1980s, to launch a "Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy." The University did not disclose that Milken, who is among the richest people in the world, has been banned for life from the securities industry. It also did not mention that Lowell's brother and business partner, Michael Milken, was jailed on multiple federal felony counts related to his work at Drexel Burnham Lambert, a now-defunct investment bank where Lowell also worked. Lowell was Michael's "closest confidant and adviser" at Drexel, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.

Like the University's press release, initial coverage of the Milken's donation from the Daily Bruinthe Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and the Los Angeles Daily News also neglected to mention his past. 

On August 18, the week after the donation was announced, I reported on Milken's history. The New York Times and other outlets picked up the story a few days later. When I first learned about the Milken gift, I asked a Mother Jones intern, Lauren Ellis, to file a document request with UCLA under the California Open Records Law. We asked for documents and emails related to the Milken deal and, crucially, the donor agreement between Milken and the university.

On October 5, UCLA finally responded, providing two letters from UCLA officials thanking Milken for his gift. The university refused to disclose the donor agreement or any other documents, arguing that it needed to protect "the personal privacy of its donors" and that releasing any documents beyond the two letters would "bring about a chilling effect on UCLA's Foundation, in that the personal privacy of its donors, prospective donors, and those who volunteer their time to the Foundation would no longer be protected." As Madeleine Buckingham, the CEO of Mother Jones, noted in a letter to UCLA last week, California courts have rejected both of these arguments for withholding information about donations to public universities. 

We believe that UCLA's decision to withhold the Milken documents represents a violation of California open records laws. You can read the letter (and our full argument) below:


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Chart: Why Liberals Lose Primaries More Often Than Conservatives

| Mon Jun. 18, 2012 10:25 AM EDT

The Washington Post's Rachel Weiner had a nice story on Sunday about liberal and progressive candidates losing to more moderate and conservative candidates in Democratic primaries. "Three of the seven candidates endorsed by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a leading liberal campaign organization, have lost their primaries," she notes. Jonathan Bernstein, a political scientist/blogger, argues that "there seems to be a difference" between Republicans and the Democrats on this score, with moderates more likely to win Democratic primaries than Republican ones. He wonders why this is.

There's an answer! As Bernstein no doubt knows, the GOP is more ideologically unified than the Democratic party. Self-identified conservatives make up a much larger portion (71 percent, as of 2011) of the Republican party than self-identified liberals make up of the Democratic coalition (39 percent as of 2011—up from just 29 percent in 2000). Here are two charts from Gallup that make this clear:

There are some nuances to consider involving the words "progressive" and "liberal." But it's hard to dismiss these numbers.

Supporters of Abortion Rights Should Fear a Supreme Court Shaped by Romney

| Tue Jun. 12, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Mitt Romney, shown here waving goodbye to legal abortion in red states.

Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that paved the way for legal abortions in America, is likely to be in serious danger if GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is elected in November. The future of the nation's highest court hasn't gotten a lot of attention this election year, but the subject was thrown into stark relief on Friday, when Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, discussed it with a group of journalists at Netroots Nation. "Oh my god, it's just immeasurable how bad it would be," Richards said in response to a question from my colleague Andy Kroll about Romney's potential impact on the court. "It's difficult to make it a voting issue for average Americans because they don't think of the Supreme Court every morning when they get up. But the next nominees to this court are going be critical."

Given the aging profile of the Supreme Court, the next president is expected to nominate several justices. The court already has an active conservative majority, and the next nomination is likely to be for the spot of liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is 79. Stephen Breyer, another liberal justice, is 73; conservative Antonin Scalia and Republican-appointed Anthony Kennedy (often the swing vote) are 76 and 75, respectively. If all four step down during the next administration—something that's certainly possible—whoever is president will have an opportunity to reshape the court in his image. Barack Obama, who supports abortion rights, would be able to ensure that abortion remains legal for the foreseeable future. Romney, who believes states should be allowed to outlaw abortion, would almost certainly be able to ensure that would happen. (The Senate does have to confirm Supreme Court nominees, so control of that body will matter, too.)

Here are more of Richards' comments:

Oh my god, it's just immeasurable how bad it would be. I think right now, there are several cases that could get to the court on Roe. I don't think anyone is confident that Roe will be upheld. You see more and more bills pass and signed at the state level that are unconstitutional under Roe and I think again the Supreme Court, it's difficult to make it a voting issue for average Americans because they don't think of the Supreme Court every morning when they get up. But the next nominees to this court are going to be critical. There's just no way to overstate that.


The real concern is what could happen in this country if Roe is overturned or just continues to get chipped away at, and it just becomes a country more and more where women are safe in some states and not safe in others. That's clearly what Mr Romney would like to see. I've seen that around the world and it's not pretty. The divide that you see and we're already seeing in this country is that women who have access to reproductive care—safe and legal abortion, birth control, cancer screenings—it becomes a have and have-not, and that's what really of concern. Reproductive health care will always be available to women who have money. But not for women who are struggling just to have access to basic care.


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