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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It Begins: Pro-Perry Group Runs First Super-PAC Ads of 2012

| Tue Nov. 1, 2011 1:26 PM EDT
Mike Toomey (left) and Texas Governor Rick Perry go way back.

Things could be going better for Rick Perry's presidential campaign. He probably wishes he hadn't gone into a total free-fall in the national polls (and in Iowa), for instance. Maybe he regrets giving a speech in New Hampshire on Friday in which he sounded like he'd just shotgunned a bottle of Robitussin. But there's a reason Republicans still believe he has a shot to beat Mitt Romney: The Texas governor has a lot of money in the bank, and just as importantly, he's got a lot of friends with a lot of money in the bank.

Perry has not one but two super-PACs working on his behalf—dark money groups that can accept unlimited donations (including from corporate sources)—the most notable of which is Make Us Great Again, founded by Perry's former chief of staff and long-time friend, Austin mega-lobbyist Mike Toomey. Make Us Great Again has a goal of raising and spending $55 million on Perry's behalf during the primaries alone, which is a lot. And now it's on the air with its first set of television ads—making it the first super PAC to hit airwaves during the Republican primary:

We're betting they won't be the last.

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The Elizabeth Warren–Scott Brown Proxy War

| Tue Nov. 1, 2011 10:29 AM EDT
Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren is expected to win the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)

Next year's Massachusetts Senate race, between Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, is shaping up to be one of the most-expensive, most-watched races of the cycle. As we've noted previously, at least one recent poll gave Warren, the architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a slight lead over Brown, who helped to gut some of the key provisions of last year's financial reform bill. Brown has $10 million in the bank; Warren raised $3 million in just her first six weeks as a candidate.

But for now, the race is something of a proxy war. Warren doesn't mention Scott Brown by name during her stump speech, choosing instead to cast her candidacy as a campaign against Washington inaction in the face of income inequality and crumbling infrastructure. Brown, for his part, has said he won't start campaigning until after New Year's. But in their absence, their surrogates are gearing up for a fight.

Cain on Student Loans: "I Don't Have a Position"

| Mon Oct. 31, 2011 3:14 PM EDT
GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain discussed student loan reform at the National Press Club on Monday. Well, not really.

GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain just finished up a 30-minute press conference at the National Press Club in DC by singing, at the request of the moderator, "Amazing Grace." That came just a few hours after Cain was aked at the American Enterprise Institute what fellow presidential candidate he'd dress up as for Halloween (answer: Ron Paul). But, on a day he's been accused of possibly breaking federal campaign finance laws, and forced to respond to reports of sexual harassment, Cain was asked some nuts-and-bolts policy questions, too.

Specifically, the former talk radio host and Godfather's pizza CEO was asked what he would do to control the rising cost of attending college—and what actions he might take to make student loans more manageable. Cain's answers were revealing:

Herman Cain's Other Big Scandal: A Possible IRS Violation

| Mon Oct. 31, 2011 10:31 AM EDT
Herman Cain chief-of-staff Mark Block, in a clip from a recent campaign ad.

Washington was in full feeding frenzy mode on Monday over reports that Herman Cain, as president of the National Restaurant Association, had been accused of "unwanted sexual advances" by former female employees. That is, needless to say, bad news for Cain's presidential campaign. But the Milwaukee Journal–Sentinel has its own big investigation this morning that's just as damning, if not more so: Cain's chief of staff, Mark Block, flouted federal elections laws and disclosure requirements by using his own non-profit to essentially fund the campaign for its first few months. The expenditures are documented in the filings of Blocks group, Prosperity USA, but are never mentioned as debts in Cain's own campaign finance filings. Among other things, Prosperity USA paid for iPads, chartered flights, and trips to Vegas for the Cain campaign:

The national election expert who works with GOP candidates said it would be a violation of the tax code for Prosperity USA to advance money to the Cain campaign for these items. She said there also are strict federal election regulations on reporting debts and incurring travel obligations.

"I just don't see how they can justify this," she said. "It's a total mess."

The records suggest that Prosperity USA had been underwriting travel for Cain even before he announced his plans to run for president.

For instance, one document says the group was to be paid $5,000 for the costs associated with Cain's speech in September 2010 to the conservative Right Nation rally in Chicago, an event that the records say Cain attended at the request of Americans for Prosperity. The Cain campaign later used a segment from that speech in a campaign ad.

As a tax-exempt non-profit, Prosperity USA would not have been legally permitted to make donations, either directly or in-kind, to a presidential campaign. As one elections expert told the paper, "If the records accurately reflect what occurred, this is way out of bounds."

The charges are especially noteworthy given Block's own history. He was suspended from participating in any elections in the state of Wisconsin (other than voting, of course) for three years and forced to pay a $15,000 fine after a similar scandal in 1997. In that race, where he worked for a candidate for the state supreme court, he set up a supposedly independent non-profit designed to register voters, but in effect turned it into a campaign organ. It's not quite as salacious as sexual harassment charges, but it's a lot more recent, and suggests a certain carelessness (to be generous) with campaign finance law.

Long-time Bachmann Ally Jumps Ship: "Lady, You Stink"

| Mon Oct. 31, 2011 9:04 AM EDT

The good news for Michele Bachmann is that she's probably not having as bad of a day as Herman Cain. But that's about it, really. On Saturday, the Minnesota congresswoman sent out an urgent plea to supporters saying that "in order to run a winning campaign we need to raise an additional $50,000 before the end of the month." (That's today.) The latest polls show her at 8 percent in Iowa, a state she needs to win, and just one week earlier, her entire New Hampshire campaign staff quit en masse. Even tea party activists are calling on her to drop out of the race.

And now she has lost the support of one of her longtime allies in her Minnesota district—Bradlee Dean, an anti-gay hair-metal evangelist who Bachmann has raised money for and publicly prayed for. The folks at Dump Bachmann listened to Dean's radio show last week and flagged this nugget, in which Dean rips into Bachmann as just another spineless politician:

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