Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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

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Michele Bachmann's Ponzi-Scheming Donor

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:

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 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."

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) prays to his false horse god.

You would think that securing $43 million in tax credits for a to-scale replica of Noah's Ark would be enough to protect Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) from allegations that he's secretly some sort of America-hating pagan who takes his policy proposals straight from the malaria-infested mouth of the great swamp god, Mordu. You would be wrong. Beshear, who is heavily favored to win re-election this November, is taking heat from his Republican opponent for participating in a Hindu "ground blessing" ceremony last weekend at a groundbreaking for a new Indian-owned Elizabethtown factory. Here's how Republican Senate president and gubernatorial nominee David Williams put it:

He's there participating with Hindu priests, participating in a religious ceremony. They can say what they want to. He's sitting down there with his legs crossed, participating in Hindu prayers with a dot on his forehead with incense burning around him. I don't know what the man was thinking...

If I'm a Christian, I don't participate in Jewish prayers. I'm glad they do that. I don't participate in Hindu prayers. I don't participate in Muslim prayers. I don't do that. To get down and get involved and participate in prayers to these polytheistic situations, where you have these Hindu gods that they are praying to, doesn't appear to me to be in line with what a governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky ought to be doing...

Yet between his not being pro-life and his support for gambling and now getting down and doing Hindu prayers to these Hindu gods, I think his grandfathers wouldn't be very pleased with Steve Beshear.

Williams, per the Lexington Herald-Leader, went on to dismiss charges that he was demeaning Hinduism by referring to it as "idolatry," telling the paper that if anyone had offended Hindus, it was Beshear. Kentucky politicians have a proud—and bipartisan—history of making absurd allegations about their opponents' faith. Last fall, Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway accused Sen. Rand Paul of worshipping the false-God* Aqua Buddha (a nod to a prank Paul had played in college).

(h/t Eric Kleefeld)

*His assertion, not mine.

Wed Mar. 30, 2016 9:57 PM EDT
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