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 several years 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.

A Tea Party Debt Ceiling Ad

| Fri Jul. 15, 2011 11:34 AM EDT

Amy Kremer, the chairwoman of the Tea Party Express and co-founder of the American Grassroots Coalition, wants to take the fight over raising the debt ceiling directly to the people. Her coalition has been secretly cooking up a new TV ad designed to simplify the debate into tea party terms any school kid could understand. In an email Thursday promoting the "big reveal," Kremer says that the ad is the first the fledgling group has done. Of course, the ad hasn't actually made it on to TV. Kremer's group needs a lot more money to move the ad from YouTube to your tube, and she's asking for donations to make that happen.

The ad plays on the tea party movement's favorite theme, which is that, by failing to rein in the national debt and radically cut spending, we are pushing the burden onto future generations. It's a pretty slick production for a group with no money, but so far, it doesn't seem to have hit the viral sweet spot. (Kremer got a lot more attention—and criticism—after she declared on Fox News that the tea party would back whichever candidate the GOP nominated, including Mitt Romney.) The video had only been viewed 364 times by Friday shortly before noon. Check it out here:

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Investigate Murdoch's News Corp.? Nah.

| Thu Jul. 14, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

On Wednesday, the nonprofit watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) upped the ante in the ongoing furor over Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and the widening British phone-hacking scandal. Democratic members of Congress, including West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, have called on various federal agencies to investigate allegations that reporters working for News Corp.'s News of the World may have hacked the voicemail of 9/11 victims and also attempted to bribe a New York City police officer for their phone records. But CREW has suggested that Congress itself should take up the cause and launch hearings on the brewing scandal. CREW’s executive director Melanie Sloan said in a statement:

While it is encouraging that Sen. Rockefeller shares CREW’s concern about whether American 9/11 victims had their voicemails hacked, there is no need to cede all investigative authority to the executive branch. Just as the British Parliament has held hearings and heard the testimony of witnesses, Congress has the ability to subpoena News Corp. employees and require them to explain themselves. The idea that News Corp. may have sought to exploit the victims of one of the darkest days in US history for financial gain is grotesque. Even in these hyper-partisan days, Congress should be able to put the privacy of terrorist victims and their families above politics. Mr. Murdoch and his acolytes must be held accountable here as well as in Great Britain.

Rep. Ted Poe's Bogus Jamie Leigh Jones Rescue Story

| Wed Jul. 13, 2011 6:30 AM EDT

Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) has been one of Congress' biggest supporters of Jamie Leigh Jones, the former KBR contractor who in 2007 alleged she'd been drugged and gang-raped by her co-workers, then imprisoned in a shipping container in retaliation for reporting the episode. Poe played a dramatic role in the harrowing story. Jones claimed that once she was able to call her father in Texas, he in turn called Poe, who then summoned the State Department to rescue her from KBR.

In December 2007, Poe's office issued a press release trumpeting the congressman's role. "Congressman Poe was instrumental in facilitating the return of Jamie after receiving a call from her father in July 2005. Congressman Poe contacted the State Department's Department of Overseas Citizen Services, which then dispatched agents from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to rescue Jamie."

Poe’s high-profile role helped turn Jones' story into a national scandal. But on Friday, the Houston jury hearing her civil case against KBR ruled that Jones was not, in fact, raped. Evidence and testimony presented during the trial highlighted many inconsistencies in Jones' story—but it has also inadvertently revealed a big hole in Poe's account. State Department records and phone logs show that Poe had nothing to do with rescuing Jones.

As it turns out, Poe couldn't have sent in the State Department to save Jones when he said he did. That’s because State Department staff were already there. After reporting her alleged rape and being taken to an Army hospital, Jones called her father in the middle of the night, somewhere around 2 a.m. Houston time, which means that it would have been impossible for him to contact Poe's office for at least several hours. According to trial records (PDF), Poe didn't call the State Department until July 29, 2005, a day after Jones had reported her alleged rape and long after the State Department had gotten involved. State Department staff informed Poe when he called that embassy and investigative staff were already on the scene assisting Jones.

But Poe, a conservative former prosecutor who is more often in the news for quoting the Klan on the House floor, referring to immigrants as grasshoppers, or questioning the president’s citizenship, got lots of kudos for his role in the Jones drama. And he has continued to take credit for calling in the cavalry to help Jones. As recently as April 2010, Poe was on the Hill talking about his part in her rescue, saying:

After being in Iraq just a few days, she said she was drugged and gang raped by fellow employees. She was held hostage in a cargo container for 24 hours without food or water. She was assaulted so badly that later she had to have reconstructive surgery.

She convinced one of the people guarding her to let her borrow a cell phone. She called her dad. Her dad called my office in Texas. With the help of the State Department, we helped immediately to rescue her, and she was quickly brought back to America.

The Congressional Victims Rights Caucus, which Poe co-chairs, gave Jones an award in 2008 for "her efforts in raising national awareness of the plight of Americans victimized abroad." And Poe often introduced Jones at her Hill appearances. Jones even gave her daughter the middle name Poetry in honor of the congressman. He appeared in ABC's original 20/20 expose in 2007 that put Jones' story on the map, and Poe makes a cameo with Jones in Hot Coffee, a new documentary on the civil justice system airing on HBO. (Full disclosure: I am also in the film.)

Since the verdict, however, Poe has been noticeably silent about the case. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Tea Parties Aren't Cheap

| Mon Jul. 11, 2011 6:24 PM EDT

For about nine months now, Mother Jones has been trying to get a sense of just how much money might be behind parts of the tea party movement. Specifically, I asked one of the largest umbrella groups, the Tea Party Patriots, for a copy of its federal 990 forms. As a 501 (c)(4), the group is required by law to file the form each year with the IRS and make it public. TPP did not respond to some initial requests. Finally, in January, a spokesman for the group explained that the reason we hadn't been able to get the form is because the organization hadn't filed a return, despite being in existence for almost two years.

The group, which made a name for itself by calling for more government transparency, had tinkered with its filing date in order to avoid public disclosure as long as possible. As a result, it wasn't required to file a return until April 2011—for tax year 2009. So when April rolled around, I asked again. Again, no response. I even asked Mark Meckler, the group's chief financial officer and national coordinator, in person for a copy when he was speaking at Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Conference in DC in June. He promised that the return had been filed and that I could get a copy. So I emailed to follow up, and I waited. Still nothing.

Eventually, I filed a complaint with the IRS, noting that the group wasn't complying with the law. That seems to have done the trick. Late last week, I got a copy of the return. Given that it contains information that is more than a year old, it wasn't especially interesting. It didn't cover, for instance, the period leading up to the midterm elections last fall, when TPP got an anonymous $1 million grant. It did, however, shed some light on how much money the group raised in its early days, and what it did with it.

The highlights:

  • Between June 2009 and May 31, 2010, TPP raised more than $700,000, not a bad haul for a scrappy upstart.
  • TPP paid out about $150,000 for employees' salaries and benefits.
  • $459,000 went to pay for tea party rallies, including the big 9/12 march on the National Mall in September 2009, proving that marching around isn't necessarily "free" speech.
  • The group ended the fiscal year with only $40,000 in the bank, indicating that it was spending as fast or faster than it was raising money.

Some disgruntled tea partiers who've had issues with the way TPP has spent money might be interested to know that the group shelled out $183,000 on travel that year, as well as more than $60,000 on advertising. Also notable: the only board member who reported receiving a salary was Jenny Beth Martin, who apparently got $36,800. Many tea party activists have suspected Meckler of getting a six-figure salary. According to the tax return, Meckler didn't get paid anything in FY 2009. However, the return also doesn't say who got the rest of the $100K+ in salaries, instead reporting to the IRS that because the group was in its "development" stage, officers and directors were paid via contract for their services, which apparently the group believes they don't have to spell out in the return. Translation: Meckler and other board members were paid for their services, they're just not going to tell the public or even their own members how much. 

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Tue Sep. 9, 2014 6:30 AM EDT | Updated Tue Dec. 16, 2014 10:10 AM EDT