Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer


Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent the last year hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

GOP Super-Lawyer Jim Bopp Crashes Press Conference Call About Jim Bopp

| Tue Jul. 9, 2013 3:21 PM EDT
James Bopp, GOP super lawyer behind Citizens United.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington today filed a whistleblower complaint with the IRS against campaign finance super lawyer James Bopp, the legal genius behind the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for corporate money in campaigns. CREW alleges that he's using a nonprofit organization he controls to divert money into his law firm without paying taxes on it.

Bopp's Terre Haute, Indiana-based law practice works with clients including the Republican National Committee, the National Organization for Marriage, and a variety of anti-abortion groups. He is also the general counsel to the James Madison Center for Free Speech, a nonprofit legal organization that shares an office with Bopp's law firm.The Madison Center has only one employee: Bopp himself, and all of the money it raises is used to pay Bopp's firm. (Much of the complaint seems spurred by this Slate story that detailed the unusual arrangement and which is included as an exhibit to CREW's complaint.)

CREW sees this arrangement as a clear violation of federal tax law, which bans nonprofits from providing a substantial benefit for private parties. The group finds it especially egregious and possibly criminal that Bopp has signed forms saying that the Madison Center doesn't employ any independent contractors who make more than $50,000, when it's paid his firm hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past few years. The fees paid to his firm are listed on the center's tax returns simply as legal fees, rather than fees to a contractor. CREW also alleges that the board of the Madison Center, which includes Amway heiress and deep-pocketed GOP donor Betsy DeVos, has violated its fiduciary duty by allowing this arrangement. It estimates in its complaint that Bopp is liable for more than $6 million in unpaid excise taxes and other penalties. (CREW has also made complaints against Bopp with the US Attorney in Indiana and the state attorney general.)

Bopp finds most of this preposterous. "I'm the only one that does any work, so I'm the only one that gets paid," he told me. "I'm not on the board. My firm is hired. The vast majority of things we do pro bono." He says he's not worried about the complaint, noting that despite CREW's long list of complaints filed against various people and organizations, "I can't find that they’ve ever won one. I've represented some of the people they’ve complained about and the IRS didn't do a damn thing."

When CREW convened a conference call with reporters today to discuss its complaint, Bopp phoned in to defend himself. "You didn’t ask me questions before you filed this ridiculous complaint," he exclaimed when CREW's executive director Melanie Sloan told him to convene a conference call of his own. "So I'm going to answer the questions." Reporters seemed happy to have him there to respond, but CREW cut him off after he started to dominate the discussion.

While liberals might like to see Bopp slapped down by the IRS, the CREW complaint seems like rather small potatoes, despite the high-profile target. The Madison Center's budget is relatively small, especially compared to what Bopp makes representing various political groups and the legal fees he recoups in court when he wins First Amendment cases. The center averages a little more than $200,000 in annual income, much of it coming from the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group. If Bopp really were trying to use the nonprofit to avoid taxes, he's not funneling much of his money through it. 

Sloan admits the potential infraction is fairly small, but argues that the size is insignificant. "I grant you it's not a ton of money, but anybody working in this sphere needs to follow the law," she says. "People don't just get to ignore the laws that are inconvenient for them. We have a lot of legal support for our claims. Sometimes I think when you're as significant a figure as Bopp is, you think the law doesn’t apply to you."

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These Numbers Show the Obama Administration Isn't Following Its Own Deportation Policy

| Tue Jul. 9, 2013 12:50 PM EDT
Percentage of all deportation filings related to criminal activity

In August 2011, the Obama administration announced that it would no longer devote the scarce resources of the federal government to deporting undocumented immigrants whose only real crime was entering the US to find a job. Instead, the administration promised smarter enforcement, focused primarily on criminal aliens. "It makes no sense to spend our enforcement resources on these low-priority cases when they could be used with more impact on others, including individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes," wrote Cecilia Munoz, the administration's director of intergovernmental affairs, in a White House blog post. "This means more immigration enforcement pressure where it counts the most, and less where it doesn't."

Fast forward two years. New data crunched by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, which uses the federal Freedom of Information Act to collect massive amounts of federal records, shows that little has changed since the administration announced the change in policy. In the current fiscal year, through June, only 14.7 percent of deportation filings have been related to criminal activity. Most of the rest have been for garden variety immigration offenses. TRAC points out that this is slightly worse than in the last year of the Bush administration, when 16 percent of deportation filings were criminal-related. And it's far different from what was going on in 1992, when nearly 30 percent of deportation filings involved allegations of criminal activity. Of course, back then, the US was deporting far fewer people, just shy of 90,000 compared with more than 212,000 in 2012. Even so, the alleged criminals make up a pretty small percentage of the deportation docket. 

The numbers vary radically by state, too. Out of the 700 deportation filings from Tennessee, only 11 were for alleged criminals. But in Hawaii, where 108 people were hit with deportation filings this year, 51 were alleged criminals, nearly 50 percent and the best record in the country for focusing primarily on criminal aliens.

TRAC's numbers, taken from official federal data, have consistently undermined the president's assertions that he's trying to ease up on Latino communities by focusing only on criminals and not all the other immigrants in this country. The administration has insisted that past TRAC reports on this issue are wrong because they don't have all the information on the criminal cases at the root of some of the deportations. TRAC, though, has asked the administration for more data, and the administration hasn't been forthcoming. 

The new immigration numbers offer one other interesting data point: Thirty-one people supposedly have been slated to be deported for terrorism or national security reasons this year. The vast majority of them were Cubans, Mexicans, or other Central Americans. Perhaps TRAC, or the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, need some other way of categorizing these people, because it's really hard to believe that they're all alleged terrorists. After all, only Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) believes Al Qaeda has a big Mexican affiliate, and none of the people captured and identified as real potential terrorists are going anywhere, much less back home. 

Tea Partiers Explain How to Properly Celebrate the 4th of July

| Thu Jul. 4, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

A Member of the Tea Party during a nationwide protest at IRS offices.

The modern Independence Day celebration typically involves things like parades, fireworks, and backyard barbecuing. For the Tea Party Patriots, though, the 4th is a much more solemn occasion, a time for reflecting on all the history that the rest of us tend to gloss over while wilting in the summer heat over the grill. The group has helpfully provided an "Independence Day Tool Kit" with detailed instructions on how to celebrate the holiday, tea party-style. 

According to the Tea Party Patriots, a proper 4th of July celebration should naturally kick off with the reading of the Declaration of Independence (or, if time is an issue, just the important parts). A prayer might also be in order, and the program outline helpfully advises that "smaller families might want to invite another family to join them." The extra people are important because the tea partiers recommend that American families spend their day off acting out a play called Unite or Die, whose text on TPP's website is accompanied by a pattern for making tri-corner hats out of construction paper.  

unite or die
Unite or Die, an Independence Day play for the whole family recommended by Tea Party Patriots. Charlesbridge

For the kids, TPP recommends "colonial games" including leapfrog and hopscotch. Once they've worked up an appetite jumping over each other, the kids might be ready for a colonial refreshment, such as Swamp Yankee Applesauce Cake or 1776 molasses dumplings (recipes included). 

TPP's Independence Day toolkit also includes coloring books for the kids, which illustrate the great sacrifices made by the Founders and educate children on the birth of the nation—at least from the perspective of the National Center for Constitutional Studies. The group was founded by Glenn Beck's favorite anti-communist Mormon author, the late W. Cleon Skousen, whose work is quoted in an "Independence Day Message" that the toolkit recommends reading to holiday guests. The message conveys a rather different interpretation of the Declaration of Independence than most Americans might have come to understand. In it, for instance, Earl Taylor, the head of NCCS, declares that "Acceptance of the Declaration of Independence is Acceptance of God as Our King," and that the founding document is a "declaration of our individual belief that God is our one and only King." 

Viewed that way, of course, the 4th of July is no longer a day for fireworks, but a religious holiday, which sort of explains TPP's rather dour prescriptions for celebrating it. I'm guessing that not many Americans will trade their beer, burgers, and lounge chairs for colonial cakes and a few rounds of leapfrog. But hey, that's the great thing about living in a free country: The Declaration of Independence means that the tea partiers can tell the rest of us how to celebrate the 4th, and we are free to utterly ignore them. 

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