Mojo - October 2010

K Street's Kingmakers

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Ever heard of Representative Dave Camp (R-Mich.)? No? K Street sure has. For months, lobbyists and outside spending groups have been preparing for a Republican takeover of Congress by pumping cash into GOP campaigns. But they're devoting special attention to the real centers of potential power: likely picks for key congressional chairmanships.

Count veteran lobbyists like former Senator Bob Dole and accounting giant Ernst & Young among the eager many lining up to wine and dine Rep. Camp. The New York Times reports that the congressman is poised to ascend to the chairmanship of the tax-writing House Ways & Means Committee if the GOP takes back the House, "transforming this low-key conservative Republican almost overnight into one of the most powerful men in town."

Of course, no one knows for sure that the Republicans are going to be calling the shots after November 2nd. But that hasn’t stopped military industry groups—upset over spending cuts proposed by the Obama administration—from backing Republicans like California's Howard McKeon, a possible pick for House Armed Services chair. Here's the Times on that relationship:

For his 2008 campaign, Mr. McKeon collected $86,000 from the military industry for his political action committee and re-election bid. This time, even before the two-year election cycle is over, he has pulled in nearly $400,000, and has emerged as the top recipient of money in both the House and the Senate from military contractors like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

Recognizing the enormous power Mr. McKeon could soon have in helping shape Defense Department policy and spending, military contractors are teaming up with his office to form a new association of military suppliers they are calling the Aerospace Defense Coalition of Santa Clarita Valley, to make sure he can deliver as much money as possible to his district in California, where several of the big contractors already have large operations.

Meanwhile, energy lobbyists are lining up to back Washington's Doc Hastings, a strong critic of Obama's moratorium on new drilling, for Natural Resources Committee Chair. This year, he's collected a tidy $70,000 from the energy industry.

Buying influence during a campaign is a big part of what lobbying and trade groups are built to do. Campaign donations are a great way to ensure access to candidates—and when there's a change in partisan control, the people who it's most important to have access to change, too. You can bet that if the Republicans were in power and the Dems were poised to take over, lots of lobbyist money would be flowing in the exact opposite direction that it is today.

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Dispatch from the Last Frontier

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

The culmination of the Alaska Senate wil be among the most interesting to watch next week, with its three-way battle between tea-party backed Republican candidate Joe Miller, Democrat Scott McAdams, and incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is making a write-in bid.

Miller and Murkowski are neck-and-neck in the polls, but McAdams has recently been gaining steam. When I wrote about the Democratic candidate back in August, I noted that while Americans might be tired of hearing about mayors from small towns in Alaska, McAdams and his hometown, Sitka, are a far cry from Wasila. The town is an island off the southeastern leg of Alaska, and at just 8,600 people qualifies as the fifth-largest municipality in the state.

One of those residents, Andrew Miller, writes in to Mother Jones to dish more about the town and McAdams:

As much as Sarah Palin is a product of Wasilla, the ultra-conservative bedroom community of Anchorage, Alaska Democratic Senate candidate Scott McAdams may embody his hometown of Sitka. Some say Sitka is the most liberal community in Alaska. In truth, Sitka is like McAdams, leaning only slightly to the left. It’s fueled by hydroelectric dams, keeps its library open later than anywhere in the state, has rejected corporate retailers, and recently elected a lesbian mayor. However, it’s also a place where voters have twice turned down initiatives to outlaw smoking in bars, where voters consistently elect Republicans to the state legislature, and where the new mayor is a fierce fiscal conservative. Sitka is not Berkeley, but it is a stark contrast to Sarah Palin’s Alaska. Not only is Sitka relatively moderate where Wasilla is a Mecca for Tea Party-types, but Sitka is also the type of small town Palin likes to portray Wasilla as being.

As much as Palin likes to talk about small-town values, a trip to Wasilla is a trip to suburbia. Mayor Palin and Wasilla voters put economic development ahead of everything else, and now the town feels like everywhere else with congested highways and a strip of fastfood chains. Meanwhile, Sitka shoppers buy their groceries at the locally-owned SeaMart and still walk downtown to buy new clothes or see a movie. There are no four-lane highways within 100 miles of Sitka.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 28, 2010

Thu Oct. 28, 2010 5:30 AM EDT

A group of Afghan Commandos, with 3rd Commando Kandak, and U.S. Special Forces Soldiers, with Special Operations Task Force - South, wait to board a CH-47 Chinook helicopter before an operation to rid insurgents from PanjwaÕi District, Oct. 15, 2010, in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Daniel P. Shook/Special Operations Task Force - South

Cool Tools for Tracking Campaign Cash

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 7:29 PM EDT

If you're trying to make sense of the $2 billion being spent in anticipation of next Tuesday's election, here's a few nifty tools. Maplight.org and Wired have teamed up to create the Influence Tracker, which compiles the latest data on members of Congress' haul during this election cycle as well as their biggest donors. Nice touch: logos of each member's top corporate sponsors.

The Sunlight Foundation's Influence Explorer app creates similar snapshots of canddiates' war chests, but includes challengers who aren't currently members of Congress. Nice 20th-century touch: For $2, you can mail a copy of the data directly to friends and family in postcard form.

 

Maddow, Miller, and MoJo's Scoop

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 1:28 PM EDT

Last night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow finally managed to track down Alaska's elusive Republican nominee for Senate, Joe Miller. On a brief but labyrinthine tour through an Anchorage  events center, Maddow sought clarification on Miller's stances on abortion and gay rights. Along the way, she brought up Terry Moffitt, a Miller campaign aide and strident anti-gay activist first profiled by Mother Jones.

While he supports the Defense of Marriage Act, Miller said that gay rights and gay marriage remain state issues—so as to better "accommodate the various differences that we have in the country."

Check out Maddow's walk and talk:


Terror Trial Update: Looking for the Bombers

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 11:49 AM EDT

Read Karen Greenberg's previous coverage of the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court.

Here we sit for the fourth week in a row, in the federal courthouse in downtown Manhattan. It's first trial of one of the High Value Detainees rounded up in the war on terror to take place in a federal courthouse. No, we don't have a bin Laden in custody. Or a Zawahiri. Or even a Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Instead, we have Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a young man charged in connection with the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzani. Despite the fanfare surrounding the discussion of the KSM case and the Americans' emotional fearfulness of terrorism, the case, as presented by the prosecution, is mundane, technical, and altogether without drama of any sort—a marked contrast to the pre-trial hearings which centered on the torture of the defendant while in CIA custody.

On Monday and Tuesday, the prosecution presented a series of FBI agents who had examined the crime scenes of both embassies, as well as the dwelling and businesses of the men they allege to have perpetrated the crime. The jury is getting an education in many things during this trial, including forensic studies. The team of experts who examined the residence of the alleged conspirators in Mombasa, Kenya, explained how they donned Tyvex suits so as not to "track anything in or out," took swabbings to test for chemical residue, bagged items such as a Fanta bottle (now on display in the courtroom), and packed up the evidence for transport to the FBI labs in Quantico, Virginia. One FBI explosives expert explained that he "actually conducted mini-seminars" at the bombing site as he and his colleagues raked through the debris, often with bare hands. He estimated that 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of TNT would explain the size of the explosion that damaged the US Embassy in Nairobi, demolishing a nearby structure and damaging a 22-story bank building across the courtyard.

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Did Aqua Buddha Backfire?

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 11:35 AM EDT

You probably saw the ad or at least heard about it: a bizarre 30-second spot sent onto the airwaves by Jack Conway, the Democratic candidate in Kentucky's bruising Senate race. Simply titled "Why?," the ad rips Rand Paul, the race's GOP candidate and tea party favorite, for his reported membership in a secret society that allegedly called the Bible "a hoax," and that tied up a college student and made her "bow down" before the "Aqua Buddha." (Read more about Paul's strange college daze, ahem, days here in GQ.) Playing into Paul's supposedly mysterious past, the ad ends by asking, with a Buddha and Paul sharing the frame, "Why are there so many questions about Rand Paul?"

Here's the ad:

Trailing by a healthy margin for months, Conway needed—pardon the tired phrase—a game-changing move to seriously challenge Paul. Presumably Aqua Buddha was just that. But according to new polls, the candidate hurt most by the antics of Aqua Buddha was Conway himself.

A new Public Policy Polling survey puts Paul ahead of Conway by 13, the tea party darling's widest lead since he won his party's primary in May. More telling is Kentuckians' response to the Aqua Buddha ad itself, which PPP also measured.

Of the 62 percent of voters who saw the ad, 56 percent said it was inappropriate. Split by party, 72 percent of Republican disliked the ad, as did 41 percent of Democrats. As PPP's Dean Debnam put it, "Down by single digits until now, Jack Conway threw a Hail Mary with the 'Aqua Buddha' TV spot, and Rand Paul looks set to intercept it and return it for a touchdown next week."

Politics Daily's Walter Shapiro, reporting from Kentucky, found voters giving voice to the Aqua Buddha revulsion. He spoke to 26-year-old Obama supporter Emily Daniel who said the ad "really crossed the line." And then there's local school secretary Karen Crouch, who Shapiro also interviewed:

"The ad's pushing me towards Rand Paul. It's such a personal attack and he did it because Rand Paul had a lead in this race. Conway's desperate." Crouch, who was having lunch with her husband Larry, is a registered Republican with an independent streak. When I asked her about her 2008 presidential vote, she said, "Well, it wasn't McCain."

What's Killing Voter Registration This Year?

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 11:30 AM EDT

Another bummer for Democrats this election cycle: new voter registration has been plummeting this year—down 43 percent in Wisconsin as compared to 2006 and 35 percent in Indiana, with similar drops in other states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. As I noted earlier, this is partly due to the demise of ACORN, which dissolved after a barrage of conservative-led attacks on the organization. But there are other ways the GOP has helped tamp down the number of new registrations.

As the New York Times points out, the housing crisis has foreclosed three million this year, forcing people out of their homes and making it harder for them to establish residency to vote. There are signs that Republicans have tried to seize upon this as a political opportunity: back in 2008, a local Republican group was accused of using foreclosure lists to challenge people's eligibility to vote. The Obama campaign filed suit against the tactic, ultimately leading both the Democratic and Republican national committees to agree not to use lists of foreclosed homes to challenge voter eligibility. But given the massive uptick in foreclosures—which have increased 30 percent since 2008—Americans who've recently been foreclosed upon may still be confused about their voting rights, particularly given the increased suspicion and scrutiny surrounding the voter registration process as part of the Republican-led anti-fraud campaign.

Moreover—partly in response to the conservative panic about fraudulent registrations—"many states have also enacted laws in recent years that make registration drives more difficult, with stricter reporting and filing deadlines for voter registration groups," the Times adds. In Georgia, for example, a new state law requires voters to prove citizenship, which has made the registration process more onerous.

But not everyone agrees that such laws are necessary: A similar law in Arizona was struck down just yesterday by a federal appeals court, which ruled that requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration ran afoul of the National Voter Registration Act. Voting rights advocates cheered the ruling: "This will enable the many poor people in Arizona who lack driver's licenses and birth certificates to register to vote," Jon Greenbaum, legal director for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told the AP. But it's unlikely to do much to stop the bleeding in voter registrations this year, at least.

Joe Miller's Employment Record: Lying, and then Lying about Lying

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 11:29 AM EDT

Joe Miller may be in trouble up in Alaska. On Sunday, after spending weeks trying to keep his personal history out of the campaign spotlight, the tea-party backed Republican candidate for senator finally admitted that he'd been suspended from his part-time job as an attorney with the Fairbanks North Star Borough for three days in 2008 for violating the borough's ethics policy. But the story didn't end there. Earlier this month, several Alaska media outlets sued for access to Miller's employment records. They won on Tuesday, after a judge ordered the release of Miller's employment files. What those documents reveal about Miller isn't pretty.

According to those records, Miller used multiple government computers to vote against state Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich (a position he wanted for himself) in an online poll. He then cleared out the caches on the computers to cover his tracks and lied about the whole episode, multiple times. It was the lying that earned Miller a three-day suspension and a six month probationary period.

Included in the documents released Tuesday is a letter Miller wrote to his supervisor in which he describes what happened:

Over the lunch hour this past Wednesday, I got on three computers (not belonging to me) in the office. All of them were on and none of them were locked. I accessed my personal website, for political purposes (participated in a poll), and then cleared the cache on each computer. I did the same thing on my computer. Jill asked the office what happened. I lied about accessing all of the computers. I then admitted about accessing the computers, but lied about what I was doing. Finally, I admitted what I did.

"I acknowledge that my access to others' computers was wrong, participating in the poll was wrong, lying was wrong, and there is absolutely no excuse for any of it," Miller continued.

So now we know that Miller lied. But do Alaskans care? Or, at least, do they care enough swing the race, which currently shows Miller and Murkowski tied, with Democrat Scott McAdams gaining on them? The Alaska Dispatch ponders this question, but the answer is far from clear at this point.

Rep. Lungren: Let the Campaign Money Flow Free

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

As Mother Jones has been reporting, outside spending on this year's midterm elections has reached record highs. And if the GOP succeeds in taking back the House, we might be able to expect more of the same in 2012. Especially if California's Dan Lungren prevails in his re-election bid and ascends to the chairmanship of the House committee that shapes disclosure rules and campaign finance laws.

Lungren's campaign against first-time candidate Ami Bera has been backed by Karl Rove's American Crossroads, a 527 group set up to elect Republicans. The group has spent $682,000 on the race—more than it has on any other race in the country—and produced a slew of vicious attack ads. Check out this recent #truthfail-peppered attack ad against Bera:

Despite the commercial's claims to the contrary, Bera, a physician, couldn’t actually have voted for the president's health care plan. He's not a member of Congress. After watching that ad, though, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking the opposite. That sort of fact-flexibility is typical in this year's outside spending spree.