Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy@motherjones.com.

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Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)

There were two big stories out of Montana this weekend. First things first: They finally caught Bigfoot.

The second story, of perhaps more national significance, comes from Mike Dennison of the Helena Independent-Record, who reports that, thanks in part to a handful of recent Supreme Court rulings, the state has been buried by a deluge of attack ads ahead of Novemeber's US Senate race. As of early March, outside groups like Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS and the 60 Plus Association have spent more than $3 million on advertisements targeting either incumbent Democrat Tester, or his GOP challenger, Rep. Denny Rehberg (rhymes with "Freebird"). There's a lot at stake: The race could determine which party controls the upper chamber come 2013.

That $3 million is for television advertisements alone—to say nothing of radio, newspaper, and smoke signals. And in Montana, your $3 million goes a long, long way: A Montana gubernatorial candidate recently explained to the Missoulian that "It costs $150,000 to $175,000...to get one message across (the state), so 80 to 90 percent of (TV viewers) will see it six to eight times." So with that as our blueprint, it's not all that unreasonble to suggest that your average Montanan has been exposed to at least 137 iterations of ads like this:

And it's still only March. This is your campaign finance system on drugs.

Faced with empty coffers, desperate governors and state lawmakers will try just about anything to improve their cash flow.

Puppy power: California Gov. Jerry Brown is selling t-shirts featuring his corgi, Sutter, and promises to donate $3 from each purchase to the Golden State's general fund.

Pole tax: In 2007, Texas Gov. Rick Perry instituted a $5 tax on strip club patrons to fund sexual-assault prevention and state health insurance. It has since brought in $15 million.

Frack party! After he proposed slashing the state education budget by $2 billion, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett suggested the state university system open up six of its campuses to natural-gas extraction.

Pass the hat: Faced with a costly court challenge to its draconian abortion consent law, South Dakota is accepting donations to cover $750,000 in legal fees. Less than $65,000 has come in.

Plane dealing: In 2006, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin pledged to sell off the state's private jet on eBay. That didn't pan out; the jet, first bought for $2.7 million, was eventually sold for $2.1 million.

School's out...forever: Utah state Sen. Chris Buttars estimated that eliminating the 12th grade would knock $60 million out of the state's $700 million deficit. His fellow legislators flunked the idea.

The honesty tax: Arizona state Rep. Judy Burges proposed adding an "I Didn't Pay Enough" option to state income tax filings. Burges estimated it could net an extra $12 million a year; in its first year, it brought in just $13,204.

Venture capitol: In 2010, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer approved the sale of three capitol buildings for $81 million. In January, Brewer said she'd buy them back from the investors the state had been leasing them from—at a cost of $106 million.

Image: Cafe Press; Terraxplorer/iStockPhoto; State of Alaska; State of Arizona; Graffizone/iStockphoto.

GOP front-runner Mitt Romney

On Thursday, Mitt Romney's presidential campaign released a new list of Louisiana endorsers, ahead of the state's Saturday primary. Among the supporters? State Rep. Tim Burns of Mandeville, who, in 2008, justified his support for a slate of immigration bills by suggesting that undocumented immigrants had made Walmart unsafe for women:

They're frustrated by the inability to go to Walmart at night, they're scared to go to Walmart at night...You weren't sure you were in this country. Not trying to profile people, but it just seemed like people were concerned, that they were...ah...I'm not trying to say any people there were being rude, or disrespectful or anything, but I could see how somebody, a housewife, could be intimidated to go there.

Walmart actually has pretty tight security, but Burns' point was that a certain group of people were by definition both suspicious and intimidating. It's positions and statements like these that help explain why Latinos are fleeing the Republican primary; just 14 percent of Latino voters say they would support Romney against President Obama in November.

Burns is also an avid opponent of abortion, to the extent that, in 2006, he sponsored a bill that would make the procedure punishable by one year in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. He made exceptions for rape and incest—sort of. Rape victims would need to prove within five days of the rape that they had not been pregnant prior to the crime; the rape must be reported to the police within seven days; and the abortion must be reported within 13 days. In cases of incest, victims would be required to file a police report prior to receiving an abortion (a move that would be severely complicated by the fact that the state also requires parental consent). State Rep. Joe Harrison, whose endorsement was also trumpeted by the Romney campaign on Thursday, introduced a 2011 bill that "would make it a crime to transport or shelter an illegal immigrant, or to help them stay here in the US"—similar to the law that was eventually passed in Alabama.

These aren't Mitt Romney's views in full and he doesn't have to agree with everything an endorser says. But campaigns, especially those as image-conscious as Team Romney, take the endorsement process very seriously, and they generally vet the politicians and leaders whose support they wish to cite. And Lousiana's not an isolated example: Romney has brought Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach—who helped lawmakers in Alabama and Arizona craft their harsh immigration laws—into the fold as an unpaid adviser, and tepidly embraced fetal personhood when speaking to Christian groups.

Ultimately, all of this underscores a larger issue facing his campaign. Romney has gone out of his way to convince conservative activists that he's just like them. The problem is when everyone else starts believing him.

Term-Limit Vigilantes Strike Again in Illinois

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.)

It was sort of buried under the news of Mitt Romney's—surprise!—blowout victory in the Illinois primary, but there was another election on Tuesday with national implications: In Illinois' newly configured 16th congressional district, freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger knocked off 10-term incumbent Don Manzullo by double digits to the win the GOP nomination. Manzullo was expected to retire after redistricting but ran anyway, and was opposed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, whose Young Guns super-PAC chipped in $50,000 in radio ads. So Kinzinger's win shouldn't come as a total surprise.

But what's interesting in this case is the involvement of the the Campaign for Primary Accountability, the anti-incument super-PAC I profiled earlier this month. Chaired by Texas construction magnate Leo Linbeck III, the goal of CFPA is to fund primary challenges to longtime incumbents, regardless of party. The group spent $200,000 on ads attacking Manzullo for, among other things, voting to fund the National Endowment for the Arts. CFPA has now been a factor in six House races—seven, if you count the preemptive retirement of Indiana pumpkinshooter Dan Burton (R)—and been on the winning side of three of them, knocking off Ohio GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt in addition to Manzullo and Burton. (In the other Illinois primary of note on Tuesday, CFPA-backed challenger Debbie Halvorson lost handily to Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.)

Kinzinger would have challenged Manzullo anyway, super-PAC backing or not; his alternative was to run against Jackson in a heavily Democratic district which includes Chicago's South Side. But midway through the primary campaign, the CFPA is happy to take credit.

"We fell in all six races we've accomplished our purpose—we've increased turnout, we've increased participation in the primary process, and we've made these races more competitive," says Curtis Ellis, the super-PAC's spokesman. "If you look even at last Tuesday's results [in Alabama], [GOP incumbent] Spencer Bacchus spent $1.6 million contacting voters. That's something he hasn't done in this century! His vote totals were 59 percent. That's the lowest he has ever received. His challengers got 41 percent of the vote. That's a more competitive election than that district has ever seen since Spencer Bacchus took office in 1992. Our success has never been measured in candidates being defeated. Our success is measured in how competitive these elections are. And in all cases, they're more competitive than they've ever been."

The group plans to release a new list of incumbent targets on Thursday; long-tenured congressmen from safe seats are officially on notice.

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