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 several years hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

Full Bio | Get my RSS |

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.

Live Tweets from Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Conference

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 8:00 AM EDT

The great thing about politics is that it seems there are few scandals large enough to permanently knock someone out of the business permanently. Exhibit A is this week's Faith and Freedom Conference, organized by none other than disgraced GOP foot soldier Ralph Reed, where virtually ever GOP presidential contender will be trying to court evangelical voters. It wasn't so long ago that Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, was getting shellacked in a 2006 race for lieutenant governor of Georgia in no small part because of his close ties to the felonious lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Reed, you will recall, raked in more than $4 million from Abramoff in 2004 to rally Christian voters to fight Native Americans who wanted to open some casinos. Abramoff was representing different tribes who already had casinos and wanted to cut out the competition, and he paid Reed to help in the fight by making gambling a religious issue. Abramoff was eventually convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to six years in prison (he served three, getting out early last year).

Emails released during the criminal investigation did not reflect well on someone who Time dubbed "The Right Hand of God" in 1995. In many of them he's pressing Abramoff to send him clients—and cash. "I need to start humping in corporate accounts!... I'm counting on you to help me with some contacts," he wrote in one. The emails also suggested he had lied about how much he knew about what Abramoff was up to. Reed was never prosecuted or accused of being more than a greedy political consultant, but his downfall among evangelicals and other politicians was pretty fast and furious.

All of that seems like ancient history today, though, as Reed has somehow managed to persuade virtually every Republican hoping to occupy the White House to star in his new show. His Abramoff ties notwithstanding, Reed was a formidable organizer in his heyday. He once described his special approach to mobilizing white, evangelical voters like this: "I want to be invisible. I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know until election night." The GOP candidates are apparently hoping that Reed, nearly 50, can still run the ground war.

Mother Jones will be live-tweeting the conference here, so follow along.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Republicans Court the Fat Vote

| Thu Jun. 2, 2011 11:54 AM EDT

There isn't much dispute in the public health world that Americans are too fat. A quarter of all Americans living in 39 states are clinically obese, numbers that have expanded dramatically over the past 20 years. So you'd think that when the Obama administration tries to actually do something to address the obesity epidemic, most everyone would be on board. With the current crop of Republicans in Congress, though, you'd be mistaken.

The Washington Post reports that House Republicans have decided to slash away at public health measures designed to combat obesity, especially those aimed at children. On Tuesday, a House appropriations committee decided to do away with the first new upgrade of federal nutritional standards for public school meals in 15 years. Making the meals lower in fat and sugar and adding in more fruits and veggies, they concluded, simply cost too much. And those regulations passed last year that would require fast-food outlets to post the calorie information of their fattening offerings? Well, House Republicans want to exempt 7-Elevens, grocery stores, and other businesses from those rules. Americans apparently don't need to know that the Double Gulp they're about the buy contains a whopping 600 calories. Children, who are assaulted daily with advertising for horrible, fatty, sugar-laden food will get no relief from Republicans, who have told the Department of Agriculture to back away from crafting even voluntary guidelines for companies that pitch food to kids.

Clearly, Republicans are pandering to their big-ag and corporate food processing donors here. But by doing so, it sure looks like they are giving new meaning to the party's "big tent." They aren't setting a particularly good example, at least, when it comes to taking obesity seriously. But perhaps they don't care that much. One of the party's leading lights, the heavyset New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, once told Don Imus, "I am setting an example Don. We have to spur our economy. Dunkin Donuts, International House of Pancakes, those people need to work too.”  Christie this week took a state helicopter to his kid's baseball game, got in a black sedan that drove him 100 yards to the baseball diamond and then back to the helicopter. Apparently walking was just out of the question. Republicans are trying desperately to get Christie to run for president.

Feds Block Indiana Funding Cut to Planned Parenthood

| Thu Jun. 2, 2011 10:01 AM EDT

Last month, after the GOP's push to defund Planned Parenthood fizzled in Congress, Indiana became the first state to go after the organization on its own. The Republican-run legislature in the Hoosier State passed a bill barring Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funds, and social conservatives cheered when GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels, who once spoke of the need for a social issues "truce," signed the bill into law.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration fired back, and said no dice. Donald Berwick, the controversial head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, sent a letter to Indiana officials informing them that their new law illegally discriminates among health care providers. That's bad news for Indiana. States that don't follow the federal government's rules for distributing Medicaid money—including those that apply to family planning dollars—can in theory be stripped of all federal Medicaid funding. If that happened, slashing a few million dollars of family planning money for Planned Parenthood would end up costing Indiana billions.

Planned Parenthood is already challenging the defunding law in court, but the Obama administration move ups the ante by getting the executive branch directly involved. The letter also serves as a warning to any states that are considering following Indiana's lead: killing off Planned Parenthood won't be quite as easy as Daniels and state GOP leaders may have hoped. Berwick, who was given his job via a recess appointment, won't become any more popular with conservatives, who have dubbed him "Dr. Death" thanks to fears that he will impose health care rationing and death panels. But at least Democrats and pro-choice activists should be happy to see the Obama administration making a strong move to protect abortion services.

Meanwhile, since Indiana passed the new Medicaid law, private donors have filled Planned Parenthood's coffers with more than $100,000 in a strong show of support for the group. The donations aren't nearly enough to make up for the $2 million in Medicaid funds that Planned Parenthood's Indiana operation will lose if the defunding law survives, but they will keep services in the state up and running at least for another two weeks.

Is Herman Cain Really Like Most Tea Partiers?

| Thu Jun. 2, 2011 5:07 AM EDT

This week, Mark Meckler, one of the national coordinators of the Tea Party Patriots, told the Washington Post that recently declared presidential candidate Herman Cain “is a lot more like us than anyone who has run for president in our lifetimes.”

His comment got me thinking: Is Herman Cain really more like the average tea partier than anyone who’s run for president in the past 60 years? More than Ron Paul? More than Ronald Reagan?? On the surface, Cain and the tea partiers have some pretty striking differences. The most obvious one is that Cain is black and 94 percent of tea partiers are white. Cain grew up in the segregated South drinking from the “colored” water fountains. Many tea partiers would have been on the white side. But putting those big glaring differences aside, are there other things that Cain and the tea partiers genuinely have in common? I came up with a few.

Goofy hats: Tea partiers are famous for wearing tricorne hats. Cain doesn’t wear one of those, but he does have a thing for black cowboy hats.

Fanatic (but often wrong) about the Constitution: Both Cain and the tea partiers share this particular trait. They revere the Constitution but don’t seem to know exactly what’s in it. (Remember when Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said she wouldn’t fill out her US Census forms fully because the Constitution said she didn’t have to?) When Cain announced last month that he would be officially running for president, he included in his speech a big lecture about how Americans need to reread the Constitution. He said:

We don’t need to rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America, we need to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution. … And I know that there are some people that are not going to do that, so for the benefit of those who are not going to read it because they don’t want us to go by the Constitution, there’s a little section in there that talks about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

You know, those ideals that we live by, we believe in, your parents believed in, they instilled in you. When you get to the part about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” don’t stop there, keep reading. Cause that’s when it says “when any form of government becomes destructive of those ideals, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.” We’ve got some altering and some abolishing to do!

The Constitution does not actually say this. That was the Declaration of Independence.

Will Clarence Thomas Recuse Himself on Health Care Reform?

| Tue May 31, 2011 10:11 AM EDT

Following a time-honored Washington tradition of dumping required but embarrassing information on a Friday night before a major holiday, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas finally released the details of his wife's income from her year or so working for the tea party group Liberty Central, which fought President Obama's health care reform law. His new financial disclosure form indicates that his wife, Virginia, who served as Liberty Central's president and CEO, received $150,000 in salary from the group and less than $15,000 in payments from an anti-health care lobbying firm she started.

The disclosure was apparently prompted in part by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who had been needling Thomas (including on Twitter) for months to disclose how much money his wife earned from Liberty Central. That's because challenges to Obama's health care reform law are likely to end up before the Supreme Court sooner rather than later, and if Thomas and his wife benefited from her income working against the bill, the justice has an enormous conflict of interest in hearing any legal challenge. Thomas had failed to disclose Virginia's income on his financial disclosure forms for 20 years; under pressure from Weiner and others, he had recently amended old disclosures to reflect hundreds of thousands of dollars she had earned working for the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank that also opposed Obama's health care plan.

But, up until now, Thomas had not revealed how much money his wife made from her controversial Liberty Central work. When Virginia Thomas decided to take a high-profile role in the organization, she was immediately criticized because of the potential that her job might compromise her husband's independence on the bench. Eventually, she was forced to step down (a move also apparently prompted by her bizarre October phone call to Anita Hill, the woman who'd accused her husband of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearing). When she left the organization, she created a new consulting firm, Liberty Consulting, which also did anti-health care reform lobbying. Justice Thomas finally released the details of her compensation Friday night, but the disclosure, and Weiner's triumphant press release announcing the move, were largely overshadowed by Weinergate.

Over the weekend, Weiner's Twitter account was allegedly hacked and Tweeted a photo of a near-naked man to a college student. Conservative media mogul Andrew Breitbart published the photo on his site, Big Government, and the feeding frenzy was furious enough to ensure that Thomas' news barely saw the light of day. Still, if and when health care reform makes its way to the Supreme Court, Thomas will have a much harder time making his conflict of interest go away. 

Wed Jul. 9, 2014 11:44 AM EDT
Wed Apr. 30, 2014 11:07 AM EDT
Tue Dec. 3, 2013 6:55 AM EST
Tue Sep. 17, 2013 12:32 PM EDT
Tue Sep. 9, 2014 6:30 AM EDT | Updated Tue Dec. 16, 2014 10:10 AM EDT