Caldwell

Patrick Caldwell

Reporter

Patrick Caldwell is a reporter in Mother Jones’ DC bureau. Previously, he covered domestic politics for The American Prospect and elections for The American Independent. His work has also appeared in The NationThe New Republic, and The Washington Independent. E-mail any and all tips to pcaldwell [at] motherjones [dot] com. Follow his tweets at @patcaldwell.

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Patrick Caldwell is a reporter in Mother Jones’ DC bureau. Previously, he covered all things domestic politics for The American Prospect and elections for The American Independent. His work has also appeared in The NationThe New Republic, and The Washington Independent. E-mail any and all tips to pcaldwell [at] motherjones [dot] com. Follow him on Twitter at @patcaldwell.

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Congressional GOPers Try to Stymie IRS Regulation of Dark Money

| Fri Feb. 7, 2014 7:00 AM EST

In December, the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department issued a set of much-needed guidelines that spell out how the IRS should assess the applications of political organizations seeking non-profit status. Groups that receive a 501(c)(4) designation are allowed to raise tax-exempt funds without revealing their donors, all the while spending those donations on campaign ads and other election-related activities. Political spending isn't supposed to be the primary activity of those organizations, but where that line is drawn has been murky. That lack of clarity has allowed groups like Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS to hide its donors and still devote most of its resources to influencing elections in one form or another.

These new rules explicitly define what constitutes "political activity." However, as my colleague Andy Kroll explained when these rules were released, they are only half measures, a minor improvement on the status quo but not a landscape-altering shift that will prevent millionaires who want to hide their contributions from donating to dark-money groups.

But even this half-hearted attempt at reform is enough to rile up the Republican politicians who have profited from the current lack of enforcement. Eleven GOP leaders from both chambers of Congress—including Sens. Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn along with Reps. John Boehner and Eric Cantor—have penned a letter to IRS head John Koskinen, urging him to block the new guidelines. "This rule would redefine political activity so broadly that grass-roots groups all across the country will likely be forced to shut down simply for engaging in the kind of non-partisan educational activities the 501(c)(4) designation was designed to support," the letter says.

The Republicans questioned the motivation and timing of the new rule, claiming that issuing these regulations right before the 2014 midterm election represented ill will on the agency's part. "This proposed rule is an affront to free speech itself," the letter continues. "It poses a serious and undeniable threat to the ability of ordinary Americans to freely participate in the democratic process."

That language is especially loaded in light of a measure slipped into the spending bill that Congress passed last month. That omnibus funding bill forbade the IRS from using any funds to "target citizens of the United States for exercising any right guaranteed under the first Amendment." The vagueness of that statue left tax experts concerned about its implications, and it looks like Republicans are ready to jump to conclusions that the IRS is harming the right to free speech.

The GOP letter is littered with references to the scandal that enveloped the IRS last year, when conservatives claimed that the agency maliciously targeted groups based on ideology. "As you know, the reputation of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is at an all-time low in the eyes of the public it exists to serve," the letter ominously opens. Those allegations of politically-biased misbehavior have proved unfounded, but Republicans are intent on exploiting the public perception of corruption they've manufactured. And that drummed-up-controversy just might prevent the IRS from fulfilling its responsibility to rein in political non-profits.

Read the full letter:

 

 

Michael Grimm's Greatest Hits

| Wed Jan. 29, 2014 4:37 PM EST
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.)

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) upstaged the president's State of the Union address last night. In an interview following the speech, the Staten Island representative threatened to toss Michael Scotto, a New York television reporter, over a balcony in the Capitol. The NY1 reporter's offense? Asking the congressman about allegations of campaign finance violations. "You're not man enough," Grimm said, while moving threateningly toward the reporter. "I'll break you in half. Like a boy."

Grimm's opponent quickly jumped on the comments, calling the tiff a "shameful abuse of power." Grimm has publicly apologized and invited Scotto to lunch. Grimm is hardly the first congressman with a temper, but his brief political career—first elected to Congress in 2010 and one of the eight candidates MoJo couldn't believe would actually win in 2012—has been defined by bizarre tales of Grimm's outbursts and associations with shady individuals.

That Time He Waved A Gun Around A Nightclub

In 2011, Evan Ratliff wrote an excellent deep-dive profile of Grimm for the New Yorker. Ratliff's article examined the full extent of the corruption charges against Grimm, but the highlight of the piece was a 1999 incident during which Grimm supposedly stormed into a Queens nightclub after an altercation with a date's ex-husband. According to the story, Grimm was kicked out by the club's bouncer, but he returned later with a posse and went bonkers:

Around 2:30 a.m., there was a commotion on the dance floor. According to Williams, somebody was shouting, “He’s got a gun!” Following a crowd into the club’s garage, Williams discovered that Grimm and the husband had returned, and Grimm was holding a weapon. Grimm was “carrying on like a madman,” Williams said. “He’s screaming, ‘I’m gonna fuckin’ kill him.’ So I said to him, ‘Who are you?’ He put the gun back in his waist and said, ‘I’m a fucking F.B.I. agent, ain’t nobody gonna threaten me.’ ” (Grimm said he only moved his gun from an ankle holster to his waistband.) The bouncer at the front door told Williams that, when he patted Grimm down and found his gun, Grimm had showed his F.B.I. identification. The bouncer then let him pass through the club’s metal detector. 

Grimm left the club, but at 4 a.m., just before the club closed, he returned again, according to Williams, this time with another F.B.I. agent and a group of N.Y.P.D. officers. Grimm had told the police that he had been assaulted by the estranged husband and his friends. Williams said that Grimm took command of the scene, and refused to let the remaining patrons and employees leave. “Everybody get up against the fucking wall,” Williams recalled him saying. “The F.B.I. is in control.” Then Grimm, who apparently wanted to find the man with whom he’d had the original altercation, said something that Williams said he’ll never forget: “All the white people get out of here.”

Going into Business with a Restaurateur With Ties to the Gambino Mafia and 'Fat Tony'

In between his career as an FBI agent and his first political campaign, Grimm opened an Upper East Side restaurant. He co-owned Healthalicious with his friend Bennett Orfaly, who has since been accused of having ties to a locked-up Gambino family mobster nicknamed Fat Tony (real name Anthony Morelli). It's unclear if Grimm himself had any dealings with the Sopranos character Morelli, but Orfaly's friendship with the mafioso came to light thanks to a federal investigation into whether Ofer Biton, a Grimm fundraiser and Israeli citizen, illegally funneled contributions to Grimm's campaign in exchange for green cards for foreigners.

The Other Time Grimm Yelled At a Reporter

National Journal reporter Marin Cogan recalled her own run-in with Grimm after his Tuesday outburst. In an article titled, "That Time Michael Grimm Yelled at Me," Cogan explains how she interviewed Grimm in 2011 and published a quote of the congressman dissing the tea party wing of his caucus. Grimm wasn't pleased when Cogan published the quote and called her to complain:

It's been a few years since this happened, and I don't remember all of the details. I do remember him repeatedly yelling that he "did not serve 10 years in the FBI!" to have to put up with something like this. To be clear, at no time did I feel threatened, nor did I feel particularly scared or upset--although that seemed pretty clearly to me to be what he was trying to accomplish. I was a little shocked, but I gave as good as I got, and he took it to my editor, and we eventually settled on this blog post where he got to clarify his claims. Compared to last night's outburst, it was pretty tame. Still, I've never dealt with anyone so angry before, or since.

The Most Corrupt

Why did Scotto's question on Grimm's campaign finance anger the congressman anyway? Grimm's entire political career has been dogged by several investigations mounted by the FBI, the Federal Election Commission and the House ethics committee. Grimm failed to report a free trip to Cyprus paid for by a businessman arrested on corruption charges and broke House rules when he included a video of a floor speech in a fundraising e-mail. His ex-girlfriend was arrested earlier this month for making straw donations to his campaign. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has named Grimm to their "Most Corrupt" list for the past three years.

Watch: 4 Republicans Flub Response to Obama State of the Union

| Mon Jan. 27, 2014 7:00 AM EST

Marco Rubio getting ready for his State of the Union response last year. Note the lack of a visible source of water.

President Barack Obama is set to deliver his 2014 State of the Union address on Tuesday night. Early leaks suggest a speech that will focus on steps to fight economic inequality, particularly by increasing the minimum wage and expanding universal pre-K. But let's forget all that silly policy gibberish for the moment, and focus on what the State of the Union really means: It means a Republican politician has an unparalleled opportunity to really embarrass herself.

The State of the Union response is typically a plum given to one of the opposition party's up-and-comers, and on Tuesday the honor will go to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the highest ranking woman in the GOP house leadership. But she may want to think twice before celebrating: In recent years, Republicans have found it an unenviable gig, more likely to stall or sink a rising politician than aid their ascent.

The president's speech opens with a long, applauded walk to the podium, along which he can't help but be bear hugged by every random House member. He takes the stage with before a rapturous crowd in a grandeur-filled House chamber, and he will get approximately a gazillion standing ovations.

If you're the responder, that's a tough act to follow. The networks will cut to you standing in a room, usually by yourself, awkwardly staring into a camera. Your speech writers probably had a general sense of what the president was going to say, but without specifics in advance, you'll be left unprepared to rebut his arguments and be forced to speak in broad generalities. It's a setup that makes these speeches droll, bland, and inoffensive affairs.

But that doesn't mean they can't be memorable, as a string of gaffes from Republican responders in the Obama era shows. Here's a brief selection of highlights:

2009: Obama didn't give an official State of the Union address in 2009 since he'd just been inaugurated. But the president did trek down Pennsylvania Avenue to speak before a joint session of congress that had the same pomp and circumstance. Republicans jumped at the opportunity, offering Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal the respondent's slot. Jindal, long talked about as a potential national candidate, fell to earth after the speech. He retread the same-old small-government-is-good arguments in a hackneyed, "amateurish," manner that even disappointed the Fox News crowd. Adding insult to injury, the next night Jimmy Fallon invited Georgia-born actor Jack McBrayer on his show to parody Jindal's speech.


2010: Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell got the honors for Obama's first official State of the Union. And McDonnell, who had just been elected governor a few months before, actually gave a compelling speech, generally considered the best response of the Obama years. He ditched the lone-man routine and spoke before a receptive audience in Virginia's capitol building, matching at least a bit of Washington's ceremony. It catapulted his national reputation and fed presidential speculation—speculation that disappeared when his administration became embroiled in corruption charges. Last week, the feds indicted McDonnell and his wife for accepting thousands of dollars worth of luxury gifts from a political supporter seeking favors from his administration.


2011: Rep. Paul Ryan, a good-looking GOP boy wonder, was poised to offer a dynamic alternative vision for the role of government. Instead, the Wisconsin congressman turned in a snoozefest—and was upstaged by another House Republican. Minnesota's Michele Bachmann gave the inaugural "Tea Party Response," a collection of her normal out-there theories. But everyone was too distracted by technical difficulties—she spent the entire speech staring vacantly off camera—to pay much attention to her words.


2013: Last year, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's response gave us the crème de la crème of viral moments. After opening solid, Rubio was making his way through a fine speech until physical discomfort began to set in. He looked visibly uncomfortable, smacking his lips, doubt creeping into his brow. Finally, after speaking for 11 minutes, he caved, the risk of dry mouth too great. He did his best to maintain eye-contact with the camera. But his eyes betrayed panic as he lunged off screen to nab a minute bottle of water and audibly gulp down some relief.

Please enjoy that moment over and over again in full slow motion glory:

Here's to 2014!

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