Mojo - October 2010

Jim DeMint's PAC Flip

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 3:55 AM PDT

Back when Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) first ran for the House in 1998, he decried political action committees and the money they slosh into elections as the root of congressional evils. In his platform, he pledged to eschew all PAC money (via The Hill):

"Special interest PAC money corrupts our political system because it allows special interest groups to control elections and our representatives," read the 1998 platform. "Jim DeMint will not take any PAC money and will fight for reforms that allow only individual contributions to campaigns."

DeMint clearly had a change of heart. Now, not only does he have his own PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund ("dedicated to electing true conservatives to the United States Senate") but it's easily one of the most influential on the right these days. According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, SFC has outraised all other leadership PACs this election cycle. It's poured $5.2 million into races this year, with most of that money going to support 11 tea party-backed Senate candidates, according to an update on "investments" the fund posted on Tuesday.

The biggest beneficiaries of the Senate Conservatives Fund's largesse:

That's in addition to the $1.8 million that DeMint has transferred from his own re-election committee to state parties, mainly in the locales where his favored tea party candidates are running. DeMint is up for reelection himself this year, but isn't too worried about his Democratic opponent, the enigmatic Alvin Greene, which has left him with plenty of extra money on hand.

The big spending on these tea party-backed candidates in 2010 certainly boosts DeMint's profile in the Senate. He has bucked his party in support of a slate of farther-right challengers, most of whom beat out more mainstream Republicans in their primaries. And the "investments" his PAC made in the campaigns of upstart candidates may soon pay dividends. Of those he's supported, only O'Donnell is a long-shot; the others are leading or at least strongly competitive in their races. There have even been murmurs that DeMint may try to oust Mitch McConnell from his leadership role in the next Congress. Helping elect a number of more conservative candidates this year would give him considerably more clout in the caucus next year, all but ensuring the loyalty of the candidates he helped elect.

But DeMint's spending spree has not come without controversy. The Democratic Party in Colorado filed a complaint this week with the Federal Election Commission arguing that the SFC and Buck's campaign have been coordinating their efforts too closely—a potential violation of campaign finance laws. However, it's unlikely that the FEC will look into the matter before next Tuesday's election.

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I Can Predict the Future

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 3:51 AM PDT

Flickr/Kraetzsche Photo (Creative Commons) Flickr/Kraetzsche Photo (Creative Commons)

Whatever happens in next Tuesday's midterm elections, one thing seems certain: there will be a lot more Republicans in Congress. President Barack Obama has a plan for that: an "appropriate sense of humility about what we can accomplish," and spending "more time building consensus." The thing that continues to blow my mind about the Obama administration is that they understand why they've failed to build bipartisanship, but they keep trying anyway. It's like Lucy and the football. They're doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. You know, the definition of crazy. Here's Dan Pfeiffer, Obama's communications director, diagnosing the problem to the New York Times:

Dan Pfeiffer, Mr. Obama’s communications director, said the president had "repeatedly extended his hand" to Republicans, who "made a political decision" to oppose him at every turn. "That was their choice," Mr. Pfeiffer said.

And here he is, in the very next sentence, kicking at the football again:

"Hopefully, they will make a different one after the election."

See what I mean? You may not know this, but I can predict the future. Here goes: after November, the Republicans will continue to oppose Obama at every turn and focus their efforts on making him a one-term president. How do I know? I'm listening to them. Here's Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a member of the House GOP leadership:

Look, there will be no compromise on stopping runaway spending, deficits and debt. There will be no compromise on repealing Obamacare. There will be no compromise on stopping Democrats from growing government and raising taxes. And if I haven’t been clear enough yet, let me say again: No compromise.

Here's Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.):

The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.

As Andrew Sullivan writes, this is what the congressional GOP stands for: defeating Obama and putting more Republicans in power (and, of course, tax cuts for the rich). Democrats, of course, wanted to beat George W. Bush. But many of them—including even the late Ted Kennedy—were willing to make common cause with him occasionally. I don't see any of that from the current GOP caucus. The only mystery, as Kevin Drum argues, is what Obama will do. Will he push for Republican policy goals (as Bill Clinton did with welfare reform) so that he can at least sign some legislation before 2012? Or will he veto them?

Of course, there's a chance the whole country will become consumed with another impeachment drama and we won't have to worry about either of those things.

Counting to 218

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 3:11 AM PDT

Democrats appear poised to suffer major losses in next Tuesday's midterm elections. Polling guru Nate Silver puts the over-under for the number of seats the Dems will lose in the House at 51—12 more than they need to lose control of the lower chamber. But some liberals are still hopeful that the Dems will hold on to a small majority—and that a smaller, more ideologically coherent Dem caucus will be more successful. The Nation's Ari Berman summarized this argument in a New York Times op-ed on Sunday (Digby agrees with him):

Democrats would be in better shape, and would accomplish more, with a smaller and more ideologically cohesive caucus. It’s a sentiment that even Mr. Dean now echoes. “Having a big, open-tent Democratic Party is great, but not at the cost of getting nothing done,” he said. Since the passage of health care reform, few major bills have passed the Senate. Although the Democrats have a 59-vote majority, party leaders can barely find the votes for something as benign as extending unemployment benefits.

A smaller majority, minus the intraparty feuding, could benefit Democrats in two ways: first, it could enable them to devise cleaner pieces of legislation, without blatantly trading pork for votes as they did with the deals that helped sour the public on the health care bill. (As a corollary, the narrative of "Democratic infighting" would also diminish.)

I beg to differ. In the House, you need 218 votes to pass legislation. A smaller caucus may be more ideologically coherent. But the person who is the 218th vote on any given piece of legislation still holds the most power. With fewer conservative Dems to choose from as potential 216th, 217th, and 218th votes, the conservative Dems that remain will have even more power than they have now. If you're talking about things like messaging and narrative, having a smaller majority might be better (and being in the minority might be best). But if you're talking about passing legislation, each additional Democratic vote beyond 218 reduces the leverage of any potential holdouts.*

Of course, none of this is likely to matter, since the Dems will almost certainly lose the House. When you're not in the majority, you don't have to worry about catering to the whims of moderates at all!

*Liberals should still try to mount primary challenges against members of Congress who are too conservative for their districts/states. Conservatives do the opposite all the time. Those sorts of primary challenges are conservatives' most effective method of making the GOP more conservative—far more effective than just hoping for moderate Republicans to lose to Democrats.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 27, 2010

Wed Oct. 27, 2010 2:30 AM PDT

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Richard Thomas, left, congratulates an Iraqi soldier graduating from an equipment training course on Joint Security Station Al Rashid in Baghdad, Oct. 7, 2010. Thomas, who helped instruct the Iraqi soldiers, is an armor crewman assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mary S. Katzenberger

Can the GOP Tweet its Way to Victory?

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 3:36 PM PDT

If next week's midterm elections were held on Facebook and Twitter, the GOP would probably sweep both houses of Congress. Republican Senate candidates, for example, now marshal a total 1.4 million Facebook fans and 500,000 Twitter followers—roughly five times more than their Democratic opponents. It would appear that even after Howard Dean's tech-savvy 2004 campaign and Barack Obama's impressive 2008 online organization, the Democrats have gone from being the party of geeks to being the geeks who missed the party.

Anthony Calabrese of PBS' Media Shift has pulled together data and charts suggesting that 2010 "is shaping up to be the election year that's defined by social media." He points out that members of online social networks are about twice as likely as nonmembers to donate to candidates; they're also twice as likely to say they're "occasionally or very active in politics." Does that mean progressives should get on Facebook and try to close the digital enthusiasm gap by immediately friending Nancy Pelosi?

O'Donnell and Coons social media stats from Media ShiftNot necessarily. Delaware's tea party senatorial candidate, Christine O'Donnell, has five times as many Facebook and Twitter fans as her Democratic opponent (left), but seems to be headed for defeat. Champion tweeter Carly Fiorinia counts more Twitter followers (300,000) than all Senate candidates from both parties combined, yet is trailing Sen. Barbara Boxer in the polls. Both of them could learn a lesson from the presidential campaign of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), which in late 2007 counted more Facebook and MySpace supporters than any Republican; more Google searches, YouTube subscribers, and website hits than any presidential candidate; and more Meetup members than the front-runners of both parties combined. In 2008, Paul shattered single-day fundraising records with his online "money bombs." Yet he still failed to win a single state primary.

Social media success may have more to do with a candidate's personality than his or her electability. O'Donnel, Fiorina, and Paul are all interesting, polarizing figures whose tweets and status updates are more unpredictable (and fun to read) than, say, Harry Reid's. Many of their followers don't live in the same state. And there's no guarantee that all their followers will even vote for them any more than all of @SarahPalinUSA's hundreds of thousands of Twitter pals would vote for her. All of which points to the fundamental problem facing this season's Republican challengers: They've generated a lot of online buzz, but "likes" and tweet memes don't necessarily translate into warm bodies in voting booths. Even for winning candidates, the economic climate, the prevailing mood towards incumbents, and the ability to get supporters to the polls may prove more important than how many friends they have. 

Inside One of the GOP's Newest Money Machines

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 3:02 PM PDT

The Center for Public Integrity's Peter Stone has a profile of David Carney—George H.W. Bush adviser, Rick Perry consultant, and GOP operative. Carney is the founder and puppetmaster of Americans for Job Security, a shadowy Republican-leaning 501(c)(6) group that's spent $9 million on negative ads this season. (Reporter Andy Kroll and I visited AJS's address recently, which turned out to be a mailbox at a UPS store.)

As a non-profit business league, AJS doesn't have to disclose its donors, making it an ideal partner for wealthy Republican donors who want to unload their cash quietly. Stone reports that the group has offered help to donors looking to cover their tracks, and dabbled in legally dubious campaign activities in Colorado, Texas, and Alaska:

"If you have a candidate, a campaign or an election that needs some help, we can be of some assistance," was Carney’s message, according to the GOP source, who said he has known Carney for two decades and spoke on condition of anonymity because of his broad political ties. "What he was suggesting is, if you give us some money, we'll spend it for you."

Check out the full story.

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Take the "How Elitist Are You?" Quiz!

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 2:07 PM PDT

My always-on-point colleague, Kevin Drum, posted this quiz today that's based on the anti-"New Elite" Washington Post ramblings of quasi-eugenicist Charles Murray. (This poll's originator, Claire Berlinski, called it the "How Plebe are You?" quiz, but I happen to think that "plebe" is a fairly elitist term.) So, do establishment conservatives and tea partiers have us lefties pegged right, or are we actually plebeian as all hell? Take a gander at my results:

HOW PLEBE ARE YOU?

1. Can you talk about "Mad Men?" Yep. (-10)
2. Can you talk about the "The Sopranos?" Sure. (-5)
3. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on "The Price Is Right?" Yep, he's a former jarhead. (+20)
4. Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end? Sadly...yep. (+1)
5. Can you hold forth animatedly about yoga? Animatedly? Um, no. (+0)
6. How about pilates? Only to bitch about its most religious adherents. (+10)
7. How about skiing? Nope. (+5)
8. Mountain biking? Nope. (+5)
9. Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is? Yes, and I even know he's not actually a Southerner. (+20)
10. Does the acronym MMA mean anything to you? Does it! Did you see Brock Lesnar get schooled by Cain Velasquez the other night? (+50)
11. Can you talk about books endlessly? Indeed. (-50)
12. Have you ever read a "Left Behind" novel? Yes, and I can tell my Tim LaHaye from my Hal Lindsey. (+30)
13. How about a Harlequin romance? Yes...and it was NASCAR-themed. (+100.)
14. Do you take interesting vacations? While stationed in Iraq (+5000), I once took leave in Paris (-5000).
15. Do you know a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada? No, but my dog peed on the Continental Divide once. (+1)
16. What about an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor? Huh? (+5)
17. Would you be caught dead in an RV? I've ridden in one, but would prefer not to die in one. (+0)
18. Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship? Do USS Constitution, Rhode Island, or Boone count? (+25)
19. Have you ever heard of of Branson, Mo? Yep. Like Memphis and Graceland better, though. (+25)
20. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club? Nope. (-20)
21. How about the Rotary Club? (-20)
22. Have you lived for at least a year in a small town? Raised in Saugerties, NY. You tell me. (+25)
23. Have you lived for a year in an urban neighborhood in which most of your neighbors did not have college degrees? It's called Hamilton Heights, but you probably just know it as Harlem. (+25)
24. Have you spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line? I live on the poverty line now. Growing up, my family lived in a trailer in the woods and subsisted for a winter on frozen sausage and saved-up garden herbs. (+500)
25. Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian? Or half my family? Here's where they worshiped. (+50)
26. Have you ever visited a factory floor? Yep. (+10)
27. Have you worked on one? No (-10), but I applied and was rejected for a job on a Motorola line (+10), and went back to waiting tables and teaching for another three years (+50).

Question my weighting if you like, but I appear to stand firmly in plebeian territory at 853 points. Also, I feel it fair to point out that I actually was a plebe once—in fact, my plebe-year class at the Naval Academy was documented in a photo exhibition (+1000), but the photographer is now President Obama's official White House photog (-1500). Which brings me a little closer to normal.

By the by, Murray, the architect of this kulturkampf litmus test, is a truly plebeian fellow of the Washington-based right-wing think thank the American Enterprise Institute. He's a 1965 graduate of Harvard, with a Ph.D. from MIT (-20000), but I won't knock him on it, since after Annapolis I too went to an Ivy (as well as a state school), and like me, he sounds like he got there on his own hard work and financed an education himself. And Lord knows there's nothing more elitist than drawing unfair, generalizing conclusions about people you haven't bothered to meet!

Do you disagree with my self-assessment? Or perhaps with Murray's asinine standards of "real" petit bourgeois Americanness? I'd run them past my parents, but their AOL dial-up connection takes forever to load a page, and since they still have to run a small business with little savings and no health insurance, they tend not to have that sort of free time (+1000000).

Check Out My Daughter's Sexist Homework

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 12:03 PM PDT

One day last week, our five-year-old brought home the evening's first-grade homework—"decodables" books 29 and 30 from the Open Court Reading series—and my wife and I were like, huh?

Had the textbook publishers failed to make progress on gender roles since the Dick and Jane books of our childhood? Open Court is a phonics program published by SRA/McGraw-Hill and used to teach reading in elementary schools across America, including California, where we send our kids to the Oakland public schools.

To be fair, it's possible we may encounter instances of women in the workplace and men doing housework elsewhere in the series. But having these two books come home simultaneously brought me back to the days of feathered hair, puka shells, and John Travolta in a white disco suit.

Just look at these pages from "Best Mom" and "Jeff's Job."

The GOP's $1,000 Cup of Coffee

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 12:00 PM PDT

On my way to work each morning, I walk past the Capitol Hill Club, an exclusive Republican Party club in southeastern Washington. With its "Fire Pelosi" sign hanging above the entrance, the CHC looks exactly like where you'd expect Boehner and Co. to hang out: stately and posh—with quite delicious food, too. (Or so I'm told.) But is it swanky enough to charge $1,000 for a cup of coffee?

That's what a fundraising invitation from Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) seems to suggest. An invitation obtained by the Sunlight Foundation reveals that Stearns, a shoo-in for re-election in his Ocala, Florida, district, is offering donors 30 minutes of his time for "Coffee Talk" this Friday at the Capitol Hill Club Grill. A member of the energy and commerce and veterans' affairs committees, Stearns' handlers want $1,000 from political action committees in exchange for chatting with the Florida congressman over a cup of joe. (Individuals, I should add, only need to fork over $500 to clink mugs with Stearns.)

It's not like Stearns needs the cash for his reelection bid. As of mid-October, he'd raised $621,000, spent $587,000 of that, and had $2.4 million in cash on hand. By comparison, his challenger, Steve Schonberg, a political novice running without a party affiliation, had raised nothing, spent $7,748, and had $3,001 inthe bank. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight projects there's a 99.9 percent chance of Stearns winning. 

More likely, Stearns' coffee talk ties into his designs on the chairmanship of the energy and commerce committee should Republicans regain control of the House, which looks increasingly likely. Lately, Stearns has been buddying up with the GOP leadership—including presenting House minority (and likely House speaker) leader John Boehner with a $300,000 check last month—to make up for what Politico described as Stearns' "past decisions to sit on a thick campaign war chest as his party was losing seats." A GOP lobbyist in the same article quipped that Stearns had "a history of not always being in the team player category." Beefing up his war chest with $1,000-a-pop coffee talk could help the Florida congressman make nice with GOP leadership just in time for the Republican Party's imminent shellacking of the Democrats.

A press secretary in Stearns' Washington, DC, office wouldn't comment on the fundraiser.

Here's the invitation:

Alaska Senate Race Just Keeps Getting Weirder

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 12:00 PM PDT

Speaking of Alaska, if you're not paying attention to the three-way-race up in the Last Frontier, you're really missing out.

In just the past two weeks, we've had former Sen. Ted Stevens come back from the dead to endorse Lisa Murkowski. And in an appearance in Fairbanks last week, Murkowski burst into song to promote her write-in campaign. And hers is the relatively normal campaign when compared to Joe Miller's.

Over the weekend, the tea-party backed Republican candidate admitted that he was suspended from his job with the Fairbanks North Star Borough for three days in 2008 for violating its ethics policy. "It is true, during a lunch hour I did get on borough computers and I participated in a private poll for about five minutes," said Miller. "It was a mistake I made."

But other reports state that, as a part-time employee, he didn't get lunch breaks—and he was making a not-so-innocent attempt to oust state Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich (a position he wanted for himself) by voting on four different office computers. And this comes after Miller's security guards last week man-handled a reporter who was trying to ask about this very ethics issue. More information may be revealed later today, as a judge has ruled that Miller's personnel files should be made public.

We're eagerly awaiting those files, as I'm sure many folks are, given there's only one week until the election.