Sharron Angle's campaign is accusing Harry Reid and his supporters of using "ACORN-style tactics" to buy off people's votes in the Nevada Senate race. "Harry Reid intends to steal this election if he can't win it outright," Cleta Mitchell, Angle's campaign attorney, wrote in a fundraising email to supporters on Tuesday, saying that the campaign needed to raise $80,000 to send "dozens of election law attorneys and poll watchers" to the polls. Mitchell continues:

As Sharron Angle's campaign attorney, I am sorry to report that the Democrats and their cronies are up to their same old tricks, of trying to manipulate the election in hopes of skewing the results in their favor.

Two days ago, the Democratic Secretary of State announced that voters can be provided "free food" at "voter turnout events." Harry Reid has been offering free food and, according to other reports, some Democratic allies such as teachers' unions are offering gift cards in return for a vote for Reid….Now, this week in Las Vegas, at our election hotline, we received reports that some teachers' union representatives were offering Starbucks cards to people to get them to vote for Harry Reid. It is even more disturbing and may be possible that they are using their influence and authority as educators to entice students on behalf of Reid…

The Democrats' willingness to allow voters to be enticed with a promise of any thing of value is a debasement of the process- and it may just destroy everything we've worked for.

Nevada's Secretary of State dismissed the Angle campaign's vote-buying allegations yesterday, saying that Mitchell "fails fails to cite any evidence of ‘vote buying’ in the State of Nevada other than reports to their election hotline about representatives of unions." The Secretary of State urged anyone who had an election crime to report provide supporting evidence such as witness statements, contact information, and specific descriptions of violative conduct."

Angle may the first major candidate to accuse her opponent of stealing the election outright this year, but it's unlikely that she'll be the last. A growing number of Republicans in tight races have taken up the crusade against voter fraud, including Mark Kirk, who's planning a large-scale operation to send poll watchers and lawyers on Election Day. In the meantime, it's also a good way to stoke the conservative base, which is already primed to believe that union thugs and New Black Panther wannabes will steal the election anyway.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Crazytown) is debating her Dem opponent this afternoon in Minnesota. This should be fun. Watch it live:

Incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is not on the ballot in Alaska this November, but she's still favored to win, with the most recent polls showing her in a dead heat with Joe Miller, the tea party candidate that unexpectedly defeated her in the primary. She's also crushing Miller and her Democratic opponent Scott McAdams in fundraising—but as her campaign disclosures show, it's not Alaskans that are dumping money into her write-in campaign. The vast majority of her funds have come from out-of-state oil, gas, and coal interests.

Murkowki's raked in more than $2.3 million this year, to Miller's $1.4 million and McAdam's $687,000. As I noted last week, Murkowski has benefited from the support of a new Super PAC, Alaskans Standing Together, which has received contributions exclusively from corporations. But at least they are Native Alaskan corporations. Eighty-nine percent of her money is coming from out of state, according to data compiled by the Sunlight Foundation, and energy companies are by far her biggest industry supporters.

Galliano, Louisiana-based Edison Chouest Offshore, which provides vessels for offshore drillers, is her biggest donor at $36,250. Maryland-based Constellation Energy comes in second, at $34,646. ExxonMobil, which is based in Houston, has ponied up $20,500. In fourth place at $17,400 is Van Ness Feldman, a DC-based lobbying shop that works for a number of electric utilities, natural gas and oil services companies, and mining interests. The Texas-based pipeline company Energy Transfer Equity and Missouri-based coal company Peabody Energy come fifth and sixth among her top donors, respectively.

As ranking minority member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski holds quite a bit of sway in her post. In the past few years she has worked closely with chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) on a number of bills. She was also at the helm of multiple attempts to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of greenhouse gases and has been the leader in pushing to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas drilling. Even though some of her GOP colleagues have not hidden their unhappiness about her write-in bid to upset Miller, so far they've allowed her to keep her seat on the committee. If Republicans manage to take the majority in the Senate, she'd be in line to serve as the panel's chair.

In turn, Murkowski's been busy touting how much her leadership position means for the state. (Her website is topped with a big drop-down banner asking, "What has Lisa's seniority in the Senate delivered for Alaska?" and links to a page that lists things like securing funding for the first mobile geothermal turbine and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium among her accomplishments.) Yet Murkowski's campaign records show exactly whose priority it is to keep her in the Senate—and it's not Alaskans.

I have a story today explaining why it's so odd that Ken Buck, the tea party Republican Senate candidate in Colorado, didn't prosecute a controversial rape case while serving as Weld County district attorney. While reporting the story, I conducted a lengthy interview with the victim in the alleged rape. I wasn't able to get all of her comments into the article, but I wanted to share a few of them now. Perhaps the most interesting news in our interview was the victim's contention that Buck's office was totally unwilling to compromise on prosecuting the case. She says she suggested that they at least offer the suspect a plea deal, with no jail time and sex offender treatment, but that Buck's assistant district attorney rejected that idea outright. Here's a rough transcript of the rest of what she told me (you'll probably need to read the story itself to understand all the details):

Two billion dollars. That's more than the GDPs of 46 of the world's countries. More than the total value of exports of 96 countries. Forty thousand times greater than the US median household income.

It's also the total amount of money House and Senate candidates are on track to raise this election season, with House races expected to drum up around $1.5 billion and Senate races $550 million. Or as the Washington Post put it today, that's about $4 million for every seat in Congress up for grabs on November 2. And the $1.5 billion already raised by congressional candidates smashes the previous records in 2006 and 2008.

So where's that money coming from, and who's spending it? According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the top donors in 2010 include the usual big corporations and unions: AT&T ($3.3 million), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ($2.9 million), Boeing ($2.3 million), and the American Bankers Association ($2.3 million). Among the most expensive races are the Connecticut Senate showdown, pitting state attorney general Richard Blumenthal against former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon; the candidates have together raised more than $48 million, of which they've spent $44 million. 

But the big story of the 2010 midterms, as Sid Mahanta and I point out today in a new MoJo video, is the massive fundraising and spending clout of shadowy outside groups that, under federal tax rules, don't have to disclose their donors until well after Election Day—if ever. These secretive players, including group's like the Karl Rove-backed Crossroads GPS and the American Future Fund, could spend upwards of $400 million by the time this election is over, cutting attack ads targeting candidates across the country.

Here's more from the Post's Dan Eggen:

The surge is driven in part by the unusually broad battlefield in the House, where an estimated 90 seats are in play, almost all of them held by Democrats. Many Democratic incumbents are emptying their coffers in an attempt to win the message wars against GOP-allied interest groups.

"Both members of Congress and their challengers need to raise a huge amount of money to respond to these outside groups," said David Donnelly, national campaigns director for the Public Campaign Action Fund, which advocates for public financing of elections. "Candidates are losing control of their elections unless they get on the phone to raise money to get their own ads on the air."

Some of the most striking increases are evident on the House Republican side, where a deep bench of competitive candidates could wrest control of the chamber from Democrats. Republicans have also raised more and spent less, giving them an even larger advantage in the last week of the campaign. Through the third quarter of 2008, Democratic House candidates had outraised their opponents by $64 million. This year, the balance has been reversed, with Republicans outraising Democrats by $30 million, according to the action fund's analysis, which is based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

GOP political consultants say the reasons for the shift are simple: Republican voters are more enthusiastic and they are eager to give money to challengers seeking to oust Democrats.

I've previously explained the DC Ticker I compile most days, which is now being featured on ABC News' website show, Political Punch, hosted by Jake Tapper. Here are the picks featured on this week's PP:

Tom Donohue, buy. His Chamber of Commerce is not your father's Chamber of Commerce. No matter how many House and Senate seats the Republicans gain next week, Donohue's standing as a DC powerbroker goes up.

Joe Miller, sell. The Tea Party Republican Senate candidate in Alaska used to be a local government attorney, but he left that post under a cloud. Now a judge has ordered his personnel records made public. Will any skeletons come dancing out of the closet before Halloween—and the election?

Mike Huckabee, buy. He's blasting Karl Rove and other Republican elitists for being dismissive of Christine O'Donnell. This is not about defending an ex-witch. It's about making a play for social conservative voters in the 2012 Republican primaries.

Denis McDonough, buy. He was just named deputy national security adviser. Whether Obama is a one- or two-term president, there's still time for McDonough to reach the top national security job at the White House.

Tom Coburn, buy. Unless a Democratic miracle occurs, there will be more tea party Republicans in the Senate after the election, and that could earn Coburn, a conservative senator from Oklahoma, a spot in the Senate Republican leadership, as its ambassador to those extreme-as-we-want-to-be Senate newbies.

You can receive the almost-daily DC Ticker report by following my Twitter feed. (#DCticker is the Twitter hashtag.) Please feel free to argue with my selections—though all decisions of the judges are final. And please feel free to make suggestions for buy or sell orders in the comments below or on Twitter (by replying to @DavidCornDC). Don't forget: DC Ticker is merely an advisory service. It and its author cannot be held liable for any investments made in politicians, policy wonks, or government officials on the basis of the information presented. Invest in politics at your own risk.

A Rand Paul supporter stomped on the head of a MoveOn activist who was protesting outside of last night's Kentucky Senate debate between Paul and his Democratic opponent Jack Conway. The volunteer was trying to give Paul a satirical award from "RepublicCorp"—to highlight corporate contributions to his campaign—when she was assaulted. Here's Politico with the details:

Just minutes before the candidates were slated to face off in Lexington, representative Lauren Valle was walking through the crowd of Paul boosters with a sign when she was grabbed by several men, one of whom pulled a blonde wig off her head while another pushed her to the curb and stomped on her face.

"These supporters were not very nice to me and my message, which is the same as everyone else—I just wanted to get out here with a sign, but I got my head stepped on," Valle told a reporter from Louisville's Fox41, trying to regain her breath. "I have a bit of a headache.

A local TV news crew also caught footage of the attack, which you can watch here.

There haven't been any arrests yet, and it's unclear whether anyone will be charged. But apparently it wasn't the only scuffle at the event. TPM flags a Kentucky Post story citing a separate incident in which "a Conway supporter stepped on the foot of a female Rand supporter, who recently had foot surgery." It's unclear whether the second incident was intentional, but the victim says she plans to file charges. Neither incident speaks too well of the candidates' supporters, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say that head-stomping trumps foot-stomping in terms of eyebrow-raising violence, and Rand Paul's campaign can't be thrilled that this all went down just a week before the election.

In case you missed it, Bob Smietana at the Tennessean has a must-read investigation following the money behind the self-styled "Anti-Jihad" activists fueling the backlash against a planned mosque in Murfreesboro. Conclusion: It's kind of a racket:

Former Tennessee State University physics professor Bill French runs the Nashville-based, for-profit Center for the Study of Political Islam. He spoke recently to a group of opponents of the Murfreesboro mosque gathered at a house in Murfreesboro...

"This offends Allah," said French, pointing to the flag on the wall. "You offend Allah."

French, who has no formal education in religion, believes Islam is not a religion. Instead, he sees Islam and its doctrine and rules—known as Shariah law—as a totalitarian ideology.

"Center for the Study of Political Islam" sounds harmless, right? It gets worse, though. Last year, Steven Emerson, founder of the totally innocuous-sounding Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation, funneled $3.4 million from IPTF (a tax-exempt non-profit) to a for-profit company he also founded, SAE Productions. The two organizations share the same address in Washington, DC, and in both cases, he's the only executive.

A week out from the midterm elections, California Democrats are bummed out. Nancy Pelosi could lose her job. A Tea Party sympathizer could replace a liberal Senator. Someone could buy the governorship. Bad shit's pretty much guaranteed to happen. And that could be why so many of us on the Left Coast have turned our attention to such a seemingly trivial cause: Proposition 19, the ballot measure that would legalize recreational pot smoking. Because if you're going to be ruled by the Tea Party, you at least deserve tea that's strong enough to make you forget how screwed you are.

Close followers of Prop 19 can't decide how worried they should be about it losing. Polls on the measure have been clouded by all the marijuana (medical, of course) that everyone's already smoking. Just look at the schizophrenic numbers from last week: On Thursday, a major human-conducted poll showed Prop 19 trailing 49 to 44 percent; the next day, Yes on 19's internal robo poll had it winning 56 to 41 percent. The only logical explanation is that 7 percent of Californians are paranoid that the pollster on the line is a DEA agent or a friend of their mom but trust pollster robots (which aren't programmed to suss out potheads). This stoner Bradley Effect has also been noted by Nate Silver, who calls it the "Broadus Effect" after the given name of Prop 19 champion Snoop Dogg.

Perhaps all of this is why the Prop 19 campaign has been reduced to stating the obvious. "Moms say controlling and taxing marijuana is good for families," reads a Yes on 19 press release from last Tuesday. And here I thought that Nancy Botwin was just a character on Showtime. But on Thursday I learned that Dena Price, a 46-year-old mom in Ukiah, was busted for keeping her 15-year-old son home from school so that he could help harvest the 7-foot-tall cannabis plants in their backyard. Given the nature of the economy in Ukiah, I'm surprised that they don't teach bud trimming in high school.

Probably more influential in the Prop 19 debate are cops, who as a group tend to oppose legalization as a capitulation to the bad guys and maybe a threat to their job security. (A notable exception is San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara, who just cut a TV ad in which he proclaims that Prop 19 "will put drug cartels out of business.") On Saturday, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that a man had called the police to report that he'd been sold bad marijuana. "It was nasty," he said. (But probably not as nasty as the revelation that he was being charged with a crime). This dude's cluelessness could translate into brilliance in California. If the cops are worried about losing their jobs eradicating marijuana, why not just change the job description and have them eradicate criminally awful schwag? Now that would really put the Mexican cartels out of business.

You've heard about them in the news, watched their slick ads flash across the TV, maybe even given them some money. Each election season, a raft of outside groups crops up, bankrolling political ads across the country. But this year, the rules have changed—as has the amount of money pouring into independent expenditure campaigns, which is unprecedented. Thanks to Citizens United and other court rulings, we don't know who's funding many of these increasingly powerful players—groups like the Alliance for America's Future, Americans for Job Security, the American Future Fund, and Crossroads GPS—and in turn shaping the results of elections from Maine to California.

So we set out to track down some of these shadowy organizations and try to get some answers. Here are the three organizations we visited, as well as details on their leadership and their total spending in this election (via the Center for Responsive Politics):

  • 60-Plus Association: Often billed as the conservative alternative to the AARP, this group has so far spent $6.4 million on the 2010 midterms. The group's chairman is James L. Martin, a former chief of staff to the late Rep. Edward Gurney (R-Fla.) and an organizer behind the National Conservative Political Action Committee, among other conservative organizations. 60-Plus has funded ads opposing more than 40 Democrats in Congress, including Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.), and Nick Rahall (D-W.V.).
  • Americans for Job Security: Headed by Stephen DeMaura, a former executive director of the New Hampshire GOP, AJS stirred up plenty of controversy with a vicious attack on Arkansas Lt. Governor Bill Halter, Sen. Blanche Lincoln's opponent in the state's Democratic Senate primary. The ad accused Halter, a former tech executive, of shipping American jobs to India, and even featured an Indian actor "thanking" Halter for his supposed outsourcing. All told, AJS has spent $8 million attacking Democrats including Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) in the midterms.
  • Alliance for America's Future: GOP consultant Barry Bennett runs AAF, whose leadership includes Dick Cheney's daughter, Mary. So far the organization has spent $632,541 target Democrats. including Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.).

Here's what happened when we paid these groups a visit.

A version of this story appears in the January/February 2011 issue of Mother Jones.