Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

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.

Camp Tea Party

| Wed Jun. 15, 2011 11:49 AM EDT

Think summer camp and most people tend to envision mobs of kids swimming in lakes, rowing canoes, or weaving friendship bracelets and singing campfire songs. But conservative activists in Florida have come up with a novel idea for a summer camp this year: Camp Tea Party. In what sounds eerily like indoctrination camp, a few Tampa kids will be spending part of their summer learning about the evils of European socialism and the Christian roots of the Constitution at the "Tampa Liberty School," a summer camp created by conservative activists from a Tampa 9/12 group. Their camp cheers will include such mottoes as "government can't force me to be charitable" and "I believe in God." The St. Petersburg Times reports on some of the activities campers can look forward to:

Children will win hard, wrapped candies to use as currency for a store, symbolizing the gold standard. On the second day, the "banker" will issue paper money instead. Over time, students will realize their paper money buys less and less, while the candies retain their value...

Another example: Starting in an austere room where they are made to sit quietly, symbolizing Europe, the children will pass through an obstacle course to arrive at a brightly decorated party room (the New World).

Red-white-and-blue confetti will be thrown. But afterward the kids will have to clean up the confetti, learning that with freedom comes responsibility.

Still another example: Children will blow bubbles from a single container of soapy solution, and then pop each other's bubbles with squirt guns in an arrangement that mimics socialism. They are to count how many bubbles they pop. Then they will work with individual bottles of solution and pop their own bubbles.

The camp is a hybrid of vacation Bible school and Glenn Beck. The organizers modeled the camp after one started in Kentucky last year that seems to have taken much of its curriculum straight from Beck's favorite writer, the late W. Cleon Skousen, author of some dubious and occasionally racist histories of the nation and the bestselling 5,000 Year Leap. In the Kentucky camp, kids learned, among other things, that the early American settlers starved to death because they were communists, a piece of Skousen dogma.

The camps are the brainchild of members of groups that sprung up a few years ago at the urging of Beck, who launched what he called the 9/12 project, symbolizing the day after the 9/11 attacks when the country put partisan differences aside and came together. Beck came up with nine principles and 12 values as the basis for the organization. The 9/12 groups have been associated with the tea party movement, but they also tend to have more religious undertones than their tea party compatriots. Many of their members are Mormons, like Beck and Skousen. Still, they are supportive of the tea party's new focus on the next generation.

The Florida activists are not alone in trying to foist their agenda on America's youth. Organizers of the Tea Party Patriots organization have recently urged activists to lobby public schools to teach the Constitution using materials created by a group Skousen founded. The Tampa Liberty School founders say they hope to expand their summer camp offering into local public schools as well, according to the St. Petersburg Times. "We've had classes for adults," Karen Jaroch, who chairs the Tampa 912 Project, told the paper. "Now we want to introduce a younger generation to economics and history, but in a fun way."

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Maddow on Romney's Residency Problem

| Tue Jun. 14, 2011 7:03 AM EDT

Last night, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow did a segment on Mitt Romney as part of her run-up to the GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire. She gave Mother Jones a big shout-out, referring to a story I posted earlier in the day about allegations that Romney may have committed voter fraud last year when he voted in Massachusetts while claiming to live in his son's basement. News reports and research by another GOP candidate, Fred Karger, suggests that Romney was living in California, or maybe New Hampshire, at the time. Watch the whole clip here:

Did Mitt Romney Commit Voter Fraud?

| Mon Jun. 13, 2011 1:12 PM EDT

Did Mitt Romney commit voter fraud when he cast a ballot for Scott Brown in last year's special election in Massachusetts? On Monday, one of his lesser known opponents for the GOP presidential nomination, Fred Karger, filed a complaint with Massachusetts state election officials alleging that he voted for Brown, as well as in other Massachusetts elections, when he was not in fact a resident of the Bay State.

In his complaint, Karger lays out a chronology of Romney's real estate moves since his failed presidential bid in 2008. According to Karger's timetable, Romney and his wife, Ann, bought a $12.5 million home in La Jolla, California, in May 2008. ("I wanted to be where I could hear the waves," Romney told the AP of his move to the West Coast.) Thereafter, Romney became a regular at California political events, even campaigning for Meg Whitman during her gubernatorial bid. A year later, in April 2009, the Romneys sold their home in Belmont, Massachusetts, for $3.5 million, and registered to vote from an address in the basement of an 8,000 square-foot Belmont manse owned by their son Tagg. But where the Romneys really lived these past couple of years seems to be a bit of a mystery. While Romney was appearing at so many California political events people were speculating he was going to run for office there, the National Journal reported in May 2009 that the Romneys had made their primary residence a $10 million estate in New Hampshire.

The discrepancies in the news coverage prompted Karger to take a closer look, in part because he found it dubious that a guy worth $500 million would really be living in his son's basement. Investigating this mystery was right up Karger's alley. He spent 30 years working for one of California’s preeminent GOP consulting firms, doing opposition research for candidates, as well as the tobacco industry, so he has plenty of experience digging up dirt on political adversaries.

Fraudulent voter registration in Massachusetts carries a penalty of $10,000 and up to five years in jail. And the law in Massachusetts is pretty clear about the residency requirements needed to vote in the state. The state defines residence as "where a person dwells and which is the center of his domestic, social, and civil life."

Using that definition, Karger spent some time interviewing Belmont residents, including members of the Romneys' local Mormon Temple, where they’d been regulars, and asked people when they’d last seen the the former Massachusetts governor or his wife around town. The local fishmonger told Karger, "They flew the coop. They moved to California. I haven’t seen Mrs. Romney in over two years, and she used to come in here all the time." Likewise, churchgoers used to worshiping with the Romneys told Karger that they also hadn't seen the Romneys in a couple years. Yet the Romneys continued to vote in Massachusetts, including in the January 2010 special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. Karger says he even received personal confirmation from Ann Romney about the couple's living arrangments. In April, Karger says he ran into her in Las Vegas at a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, where Mitt was speaking. According to Karger, Ann told him they are living in California.

In July 2010, the Romneys bought an $895,000 attached townhouse in Belmont, on the grounds of the McLean Mental Hospital, a move that finally gave Mitt a permanent Massachusetts address. Karger has asked the state to open an investigation into the Romneys' residency, as well as into whether they’ve been paying Massachusetts income taxes. The Romney campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Residency issues have plagued Mitt Romney in the past. When he campaigned for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, he ran into trouble because he had switched his residency to Utah three years earlier when he moved to Park City to take over the struggling Salt Lake Olympic operation. The move technically made him ineligible to run for office in Massachusetts, which requires seven years of continuous state residency before a candidate is eligible to run. After a lot of legal wrangling and paying back taxes, he was finally allowed on the ballot.

Karger, meanwhile, has a history of tormenting Romney. As the first openly gay Republican to seek the party's presidential nomination, Karger has taken aim at his opponents' stand on gay rights from the start. But Romney has also proven a useful stand-in for the Mormon Church, which Karger has never forgiven for funding California’s Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that banned gay marriage in the state. Karger was instrumental in exposing the church's involvement in getting the initiative on the ballot and ultimately passed.

Last year, during Romney’s book tour, Karger organized protests at tour stops and ran ads calling on Romney to ask the Mormon church to abandon its involvement in the anti-gay marriage fight. On MSNBC in April, Karger declared himself the "anti-Romney candidate," and said he "plans to run a campaign specifically designed to throw a wrench into Romney's run." With Monday's complaint, Karger's certainly living up to his campaign pledge.

Trump Rally Leaves Fla. Tea Party $6,000 in Debt

| Fri Jun. 10, 2011 12:48 PM EDT

In April, the South Florida Tea Party scored a coup by landing Donald Trump to headline its Tax Day tea party rally. The get made national news, coming as it did in the midst of the media frenzy around a possible Trump presidential race. Everett Wilkinson, head of the tea party group, told the Daily Caller, "Our members are ecstatic" about Trump's participation. They may not be quite so ecstatic now, though.

Fast forward a few months. Trump has dropped out of the race as a flash-in-the-pan candidate, and the South Party Tea Party is on the hook for $6,000 in unpaid bills owed to the city of Boca Raton for costs associated with the rally. The Sun Sentinel reports:

The Tea Party agreed to pay Bob's Barricades for barricades to block off Sanborn Square, but failed to do so before the rally, Assistant City Manager Mike Woika said.

“The police still needed those barricades for the demonstration, so we had them put up,” he said.

The city last month sent the Tea Party invoices for $3,052 for the barricades and $3,093 for police services, but the group has not paid those bills, Woika said.

“We’ve received the invoices and we’re working on paying them,” South Florida Tea Party Chairman Everett Wilkinson said.

Boca Raton will pay the $6,145 out of the city budget if the Tea Party doesn't come through, and the city probably won’t pursue legal action to recoup a loss, Woika said. However,” he said, “should they want to have another rally here, that would certainly be something we would look negatively upon, if they don’t pay the invoice.”

The debt problem is not likely to endear Wilkinson to tea partiers in Florida, many of whom already distrust him because of some of his earlier publicity stunts. In February, Wilkinson was circulating emails to tea party activists suggesting that Sarah Palin would be speaking at a Tea Party Patriots policy summit in Phoenix and announcing her presidential candidacy there. Palin was never going to attend the summit, and some tea partiers believed Wilkinson was simply sending out the Palin-rumor emails to drive traffic to his own website, Tea Party Wire.

Still, it's hard not to chuckle a little about a tea party group going in to debt to provide a platform for billionaire Trump. After all, they've been screaming loudly for two years that the federal government should behave like, well, tea partiers, who of course never, ever mismanage their household finances and go into debt they can't pay back. 

Killing the Fairness Doctrine. Again

| Fri Jun. 10, 2011 6:19 AM EDT

How many times does it take to kill a federal rule before it's really dead? Apparently at least two if you are a conspiracy-minded Republican.

For the past three years, conservatives have been clinging to a notion launched by Rush Limbaugh back in 2008, which suggested that President Obama had nefarious plans to shut down talk radio by invoking something known as the Fairness Doctrine. The Fairness Doctrine is a long-dead but once controversial policy that was enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure broadcasters presented balanced views in their coverage of controversial subjects.

While well intended, the Truman-era rule ultimately encouraged broadcasters to avoid touchy topics altogether, rather than seek out contrasting viewpoints. After criticism from broadcast journalists who saw the rule as a major violation of their free-speech rights, the FCC abolished it in 1987. Democrats attempted to revive the rule, but President George H.W. Bush threatened to veto the legislation (as Ronald Reagan had in 1987), and those efforts failed. Since then, the Fairness Doctrine has largely been relegated to textbooks on media law—that is, until it was resurrected as the latest conservative bugaboo.

Since 2008, conservative legal organizations around the country have dedicated whole panel discussions at their conventions to the nonexistent Fairness Doctrine, helping to keep alive the preposterous notion that Obama might somehow resurrect the old rule to "hush Rush." (You can watch one of the most absurd talks here.) There was never even the tiniest bit of evidence that Obama intended to revive the old rule, but Republicans have refused to let the issue go. Now that they control the House in Congress, Republicans intend to use their new power to make sure that the Fairness Doctrine is really, really, extra dead, just in case it should be revived like some sort of federal zombie by liberal Democrats.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), have asked the FCC to officially take the Fairness Doctrine off the books. And what do you know? The commission's Obama-appointed chairman, Julius Genachowski, has agreed. NewsMax doesn't say whether the FCC chair is a Rush fan, but Genachowski responded to Upton in a a letter noting that he had long opposed the Fairness Doctrine because it “holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas.”

The FCC chairman wrote:

“I fully support deleting the Fairness Doctrine and related provisions from the Code of Federal Regulations, so that there can be no mistake that what has been a dead letter is truly dead,” he wrote. “I look forward to effectuating this change when acting on the staff’s recommendations and anticipate that the process can be completed in the near future.”

Will erasing the Fairness Doctrine from the federal rule books finally put an end to the conspiracy theory? Well, if the president couldn't put an end to rumors that he was born in Kenya by releasing his birth certificate, it seems unlikely that just pretending like the Fairness Doctrine never existed will be enough to silence paranoid conservatives. But you never know.

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