Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


Tim Murphy is a senior reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Mississippi Personhood: Too Extreme for Haley Barbour?

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 8:03 AM EDT
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R)

Next Tuesday, Mississippi voters will vote on a constitutional amendment, ballot question 26, to define life as beginning at the point of fertilization—a move that would make all abortion illegal, even in cases of rape. It would also ban many kinds of birth control (a spokesman for the Yes on 26 campaign calls the morning-after-pill a "human pesticide") and make in-vitro fertilization exceedingly difficult. Despite all of that, both the Democratic and Republican nominees for governor and attorney general have endorsed the measure, as has Mike Huckabee and Deanna Favre (wife of Brett).

But via Tanya Somanader, at least one Mississippi Republican is voicing concerns with the measure: outgoing Governor Haley Barbour. In an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd on Wednesday morning Barbour suggested that, although he hadn't made up his mind, he might vote against it:

"I believe life begins at conception," he explained. "Unfortunately, this personhood amendment doesn't say that. It says life begins at fertilization, or cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof. That ambiguity is striking a lot of pro-life people here as concerning. And I’m talking about people that are very, outspokenly pro-life." When Todd asked Barbour if he would vote for it, the Governor said, "Really I haven't decided. If you would have asked me when this was first proposed, I would've said, a.) the legislature would've passed it 100 to 1. And b.) I believe life begins at conception and therefore I would be for it. I am concerned about some of the ramifications on in vitro fertilization and ectopic pregnancies where pregnancies [occur] outside the uterus and [in] the fallopian tubes. That concerns me, I have to just say it."

Barbour's in good company, at least nationally. James Bopp, the counsel for National Right to Life, opposes Personhood amendments as a rule, on the grounds that they'll result in counterproductive court rulings.

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Michele Bachmann's Ponzi-Scheming Donor

| Wed Nov. 2, 2011 3:40 PM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is still running for president.

Michele Bachmann (remember her?) is flailing desperately in her bid to become the first sitting member of the House to win a presidential election since James A. Garfield. There's a pretty big incentive for her to stay in the race at least through the holidays: She has a book coming out in November. But there's also a pretty strong disincentive for her to stay in the race much longer than that—in February May her biggest career donor goes on trial in federal court for fraud, and there's the potential for some pretty incriminating details to trickle out.

Over at The New Republic, Mariah Blake has an excellent piece on a Bachmann story that hasn't gotten quite the attention it deserves. Partly that's because it's tougher to explain in one snappy phrase (i.e. "pray away the gay!"), and partly because it speaks to systematic problems that aren't unique to the congresswoman. Following up on reporting by Karl Bremer at Ripple in Stillwater, Blake explains how Frank Vennes and his partner, convicted Ponzi schemer Tom Petters, made millions on phony investments and then poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into political campaigns in the 2000s. Vennes' donations seemed to have a clear motive: receiving a presidential pardon for a prior felony conviction.

Many Minnesota politicians, Democrats and Republicans, received a lot of money from Ponzi schemers Tom Petters and Frank Vennes. But Bachmann was one of the few to take tangible actions in response. During her first Congressional campaign in 2006, Vennes and his associates donated $50,000 to Bachmann's campaign and PAC. Bachmann, in turn, lobbied the White House to reconsider Vennes' pardon application. Vennes and his wife then donated another $11,200. Blake writes:

Confederate Flag Activist Behind Georgia Terror Plot

| Wed Nov. 2, 2011 9:43 AM EDT
Waffle House: Where bad decisions are made.

My colleague Adam Serwer reported this morning on one of the more bizarre domestic terror plots in recent memory—the alleged plot by four senior citizens in north Georgia to produce and spread ricin and botulinium toxin in Atlanta and Washington, DC, in order to kill millions of people and "save the Constitution." (Because that's not strange enough, the plot was hatched at a Waffle House.)

The whole plot is pretty ridiculous, but what's also interesting is the men behind it. The affidavit names four individuals, Samuel Crump, Frederick Roberts, Ray Adams, and Dan Roberts. According to his Facebook page, Crump is a big fan of a number of conservative grassroots and astroturf organizations, including Americans for Prosperity. He's also interested in "anything about guns," and he's really offended by the concept of paying a 5 cent tax on plastic grocery bags:

Courtesy of FacebookCourtesy of Facebook

Glenn Beck's Favorite Gold Company Charged With Fraud

| Tue Nov. 1, 2011 6:02 PM EDT
Glenn Beck shills for Goldline in 2010.

Goldline International, the California precious metals retailer promoted by Glenn Beck and other right-wing radio hosts, was formally charged with 19 criminal counts—including grand theft by false pretenses, false advertising, and conspiracy—on Tuesday by the Santa Monica City Attorney's Office. The criminal complaint also implicates Goldline CEO Mark Albarian, along with two other company executives and two salespeople.

The charges detailed in the complaint support what MoJo's Stephanie Mencimer first reported in 2010: Using aggressive telemarketing tactics, Goldline employees routinely pressured customers to purchase expensive coins with mark-ups so steep that it was very unlikely the consumer would ever make his money back. The company racked up a long list of complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, and at one point was sanctioned by the state of Missouri. But Beck and other endorsers (including liberal talker Ed Schultz) lent an air of legitimacy to the whole operation, sowing fears of a total economic collapse to help make the pitch for Swiss Francs. Beck's pitch went a step further, arguing that in the event of a total financial meltdown, the government would confiscate gold bullion—meaning you should invest your money in coins instead. 

You can check out the full complaint here:



The charges today are the culmination of a yearlong investigation from the city attorney's office. Each of the counts carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison or a $10,000 fine.

Update: Brian Ross gets the company's response:

"The company will vigorously contest the allegations," Brian Crumbaker, Goldline's Executive Vice President, said in a statement emailed to ABC News early Wednesday. "We believe Goldline has industry best-practices in customer disclosures enabling the most informed decisions."

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