Mojo - October 2010

The Democratic Case for Super-Rich Donors

| Tue Oct. 19, 2010 1:15 PM EDT

President Obama and the Democrats have spent the last leg of the election cycle slamming Republicans for pouring millions into outside groups to run campaign ads. The GOP-allied groups are now vastly outstripping Democratic spending in the election, but it's not only because GOPers have unleashed the floodgates. As Politico's Ben Smith reports, the Democrats' lag in outside spending is also because Obama himself has discouraged deep-pocketed donors from giving to outside groups, beginning with the 2008 campaign.

"The leadership of the Obama campaign warned their donors against giving to outside groups - including many of the key issue groups that motivate progressives. The leadership in the White House has done the same thing," said Erica Payne, one of the founders of the Democracy Alliance, a group of the largest liberal donors, who now heads the Agenda Project.



Obama's approach also stands in stark contrast to Bill Clinton's:

And Clinton's former aides are some of those watching incredulously as Obama helplessly denounces outside money instead of encouraging Democratic donors, or even cultivating the kind of mega-donors who might spend in his support…

"When you're in a fight—and we're in a real fight—you want as much help as you can get from any quarter," said the former Clinton aide Harold Ickes, who recruited mega-donors led by George Soros to give some $200 million to Democratic efforts in 2004. "It doesn't seem to me that there's been much encouragement from the White House for outside help."


As the story explains, Obama discouraged large donations to outside groups partly out of ideological reasons—wanting to change "business as usual" in Washington, relying instead on the unprecedented outpouring of support from small donors. But Smith also argues that disarming outside groups also allowed the Obama campaign to maintain tight, top-down control of their campaign message.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Blackwater 3, DOJ 0

| Tue Oct. 19, 2010 11:22 AM EDT

When it comes to prosecuting Blackwater contractors on murder charges, the Justice Department has a pretty weak track record. The government's case against 5 contractors charged in connection with 2007's mass shooting in Baghdad's Nisour Square imploded last January, thrown out by a judge who said prosecutors had relied on tainted interviews. A few weeks ago, the case against two contractors for a Blackwater shell company who were charged with killing Afghan civilians ended in a mistrial. And late Monday came word that federal prosecutors have decided against indicting Andrew Moonen after an investigation that lasted nearly 4 years.

Moonen is the Blackwater contractor who, on Christmas Eve 2006, fatally shot one of the Iraqi vice president's bodyguards following a drunken confrontation in Baghdad's Green Zone. Blackwater whisked Moonen out of the country immediately after the incident. The company—now known as Xe—was subsequently accused of destroying evidence. (Similar allegations have surrounded the Nisour Square shooting, including reports that Blackwater immediately repaired the vehicles its contractors were riding in when the incident occured.)

All three incidents have been highlighted as examples of contractor-related abuses that seriously undermined US war efforts, inflaming anti-American sentiments. It certainly doesn't help local notions of American accountability and justice in the theaters of Iraq or Afghanistan that the DOJ is now 0 for 3 against Blackwater. If concerns about prosecution had anything to do with Blackwater founder Erik Prince's recent relocation to Abu Dhabi, perhaps he needn't have worried.

Poll: Sestak, Toomey Tied

| Tue Oct. 19, 2010 10:23 AM EDT

A new poll by Public Policy Polling shows Pennsylvania Senate candidates Pat Toomey (a former Republican congressman and derivatives pioneer) and Joe Sestak (a former admiral and current Democratic congressman) in a statistical tie. Along with most observers, I thought this one was finished—polling guru Nate Silver gives Toomey a 94 percent chance of winning the seat.

The bad news for Democrats is that Silver's probably right. Almost all public polling of this race has shown Toomey ahead—which suggests the PPP poll is an outlier. But who knows. The media was fixated on Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle early in the election cycle. Maybe now that Pennsylvania Democrats are paying attention, they're becoming more familiar with Toomey's twice-as-conservative-as-Rick-Santorum record. In a state like Pennsylvania, where the Dems have a massive registration advantage, that could be enough to save Sestak. But if Sestak can pull off a comeback, it will mark a remarkable string of political success for him—first coming back in the polls to beat incumbent GOPer-turned-Dem Arlen Specter in the primary, and then coming back to beat Toomey. The White House backed Specter in the primary, but I'm sure they like the sound of that.

Don't Write Off Mitt

| Tue Oct. 19, 2010 9:49 AM EDT

In his latest PoliticsDaily.com column, David Corn notes that while the political commentariat tends to dismiss Mitt Romney as a 2012 GOP candidate, it ought not do so—even though Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, backed a health care program in the Bay State similar to President Obama's and is a flip-flopping Mormon. (Evangelical Christians, who make up a big bloc of Republican voters, often are skeptical of Mormons.) He writes:

What Romney has going for him is this: the economy. There's no telling what the political weather will be like in 2012. (On January 20, 2009, who foresaw such a dramatic change in the political mood as the one the nation has experienced in the past eighteen months?) But it sure seems that the economy is not improving quickly and that hard times are likely for the next few years. Of the current GOP 2012 wannabes, Romney talks the economy the best. His ideas are not much different from the usual Republican fare—cut taxes (including those on the rich like him), cut regulations, and you know the rest. But as a former CEO (who could play a former CEO on a soap opera), Romney sounds like a guy who understands business. And if voters sour on Obama's government-can-help approach, they may well turn toward a business-knows-best message (even if the nation is in a slump because of greedy corporatists who rigged the financial system in their favor and screwed the rest of us). Can Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, or Newt Gingrich come across as more knowledgeable on the nitty-gritty of the economy?

Until recently social conservative voters have dominated the GOP primaries. But if these voters are hurting because of the lousy economy, they may be less inclined to base their votes on a candidate's consistent commitment to their favored social causes. Romney's flip-flops may be sufficient—if these voters are seeking someone who can lead on economic matters.

He adds:

In 2008, Romney finished third place in the Republican delegate vote count, slightly behind Huckabee. But he was the second biggest vote gatherer in the field, bagging 22.1 percent of the GOP primary and caucus vote, while McCain attracted 46.5 percent. This time around, Romney starts with a bigger bloc than Huckabee, and with the economy in a shambles; his candidacy has more of a rationale than a Huckabee rerun. And then there's the 800-pound grizzly in the room: Palin. Should she run, she and Huckabee would be in a death-cage fight for the social cons (and any evangelicals who are anti-Mormon). If they split that group, Romney will have an opening.

Romney is no Tea Partier. But he has the chameleonesque talent to figure out how to tailor his sales pitch—downsize government, rev up the free market—to appeal to this libertarian-leaning slice. At the same time, he will be able to go after those non-Tea Party Republicans who yearn for a candidate who's not so yahoo-ish. (I'm assuming there are still Republicans of that stripe.) And he'll have enough money to run....

To bag the nomination, Romney will have to walk a fine line—so will any GOP candidate (except maybe Palin, who will rise or fall as a moose in a china shop). Are there too many pitfalls for Romney to straddle? Perhaps, but the same can be said for any in the GOP potential-POTUS pack. One of these very imperfect candidates is going to win—despite his or her much-detailed imperfections.

Corn emphasizes he's not predicting a Romney triumph. But he notes, "I do believe the punditerati is unwisely shorting Romney at the moment. But, please, don't invest in him on my advice."

DC Ticker on ABC News: Kaine, Sell; Steele, sell.

| Tue Oct. 19, 2010 8:18 AM EDT

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

Tim Kaine, sell. His DNC is pumping millions into Democratic campaigns, but it still looks as if the Dems are heading toward a historic shellacking.

* Michael Steele, sell. His party seems to be on the verge of seizing control of the House and picking up a significant number of Senate seats, but perhaps no thanks to the RNC, which has been a fundraising flop.

* Newt Gingrich, buy. His chances of becoming the next president are next to nil, but he's raised a lot of money recently, which will put him where he wants to be: in the discussion of 2012 wannabes.

* Patty Murray, sell. From Senator Mom in Sneakers to running for her life.

* Carl Forti, buy. Dubbed "Karl Rove's Karl Rove," the young political strategist who's guiding several of the outside group pouring secret funds into campaigns to help Republicans will be able to claim a big share of the credit should the GOP score big on Election Day.

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.

How the Tea Party's Like Herbalife

| Tue Oct. 19, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Tea party leaders love to talk about how their grassroots movement is a revolutionary new way of doing politics from the bottom up, organized more like a regenerating starfish than a top-down bureaucracy. But what if the tea party isn't a star fish but more of a pyramid? At least one of the biggest tea party organizations in the country, Tea Party Patriots, bears a striking resemblance to companies like Herbalife that operate what some critics consider nothing more than legalized pyramid schemes. And that's not just because, as I report today, one of the group's top leaders was a top earner at Herbalife. Consider some of the parallels:

CONSTANT RECRUITING

Herbalife: Ninety percent of Herbalife’s low-level distributors quit within a year, requiring constant recruitment to keep the company afloat.

Tea Party: Lorie Medina, a recruiter for the Dallas tea party, recently told the National Journal: "What I see is, every three, four, five months about 10 to 20 percent of your active people trail off. Those numbers have to be replaced every few months. It's a continual grind to keep the numbers up." Dawn Wildman, a California based national Tea Party Patriots coordinator, said: "The message is important, but people are expendable."

LOW OVERHEAD

Herbalife: By using "independent distributors," Herbalife keeps its costs low and shifts overhead to the little people.

Tea Party: National Journal touts cheapness as one benefit of the tea party's "leaderless" structure: "The network never outgrows the infrastructure, because each tea party is self-reliant. And the groups make it their business to seed more groups, producing sometimes dizzying growth."

FONDNESS FOR SIGNS

Herbalife: Responsible for ubiquitous telephone pole signs offering work from home deals.

Tea Party: Tea Party Patriots recently launched a “One Million Yard Signs” project as part of a “branding” and recruiting effort.

MEGA RALLIES

Herbalife: Motivational rallies, complete with testimonials, are a staple. Company founder Mark Hughes (who died of a drug overdose in 2000), once told rally crowds selling Herbalife products would make the world a better place.

Tea Party: Rallies often seem to be the movement’s raison d'etre. They often feature testimonials from an activist claiming that before the tea party, she had been "just a mom" who didn't care about politics, but now, her life has been transformed through work to make the country a better place for her children and grandchildren.

PEOPLE AT THE BOTTOM GO BROKE

Herbalife: Class action lawsuit settled in 2004 for $6 million alleged that thousands of people who signed on as Herbalife “supervisors” lost anywhere between $10,000 and $50,000.

Tea Party: Pam Silleman, a single mom who founded the Napa Tea Party in California, says she has depleted savings and run up $100,000 in credit card bills getting local tea party off the ground.

PEOPLE AT THE TOP MAKE $

Herbalife: The average "president's team" member, a group that makes up less than one percent of Herbalife’s distributors, reportedly grosses about $600,000 a year.

Tea Party: Jenny Beth Martin, a national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots has said she now earns $6,000 a month. Co-coordinator Mark Meckler, the former member of Herbalife's "president's team," draws a salary, too, though won’t disclose the amount. (Conspiracy minded and disgruntled patriots suspect it is at least six figures, paid with donations vacuumed up from local groups whose organizers are going broke.)

THRIVING IN BAD ECONOMIC TIMES

Herbalife: While the stock market was in a serious slump and the country in a dire recession, Herbalife’s stock price has more than doubled as the unemployed turn to desperate money-making schemes.

Tea Party: Didn’t exist before February 2009. Tea Party Patriots, for its part, now claims 15 million members.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 19, 2010

Tue Oct. 19, 2010 5:30 AM EDT

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Paul Worthington (left), a cavalry officer with 1st platoon, Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 172nd Cavalry Regiment, listens to an interpreter while speaking with an Afghan National Policeman about security issues during a visit to a National Police outpost in the Jabal Saraj district of the Parwan province of Afghanistan on Oct. 8, 2010. Soldiers with Worthingtonís unit visited the outpost to check on security forces and to conduct an area recon. DoD photo by Spc. Kristina Gupton, U.S. Army.

Sub Captain Proves Gays Aren't the Problem

| Tue Oct. 19, 2010 3:14 AM EDT

Capt. Ronald Murray Gero has had a hard month, and far be it from me to pile on him personally. But you'd think that the 35-year veteran of the service, a captain of two different nuclear subs who trains other sub skippers, would know better than to flirt on the phone while steering his Tomahawk missile-laden boat through hazardous Hawaiian waters.

You'd think.

The Navy yanked Gero from his job as commanding officer of the USS Ohio last month for what, at the time, it called a "loss of confidence" in his leadership, owing to "improper personal behavior that eroded good order and discipline." New details unearthed by Navy Times this week show that the married Gero was engaging in a strange relationship with a female officer, to the point that he'd sloughed off his work. As right-wingers continue to insist that gays will corrupt the military and women will sink subs, an embarrasingly straight Gero goes down as the 15th ship's captain to be fired this year for not-gay misconduct.

Corn on "Hardball": Joe Miller's Media Lockdown

Mon Oct. 18, 2010 7:17 PM EDT

David Corn and Matt Dowd joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss Joe Miller's literal handcuffing of the press and the disturbing trend of tea party candidates refusing to answer questions from the media.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

D'Souza Pwnd by Weekly Standard

| Mon Oct. 18, 2010 4:04 PM EDT

Conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza's latest lunatic theory—that Barack Obama's presidency is explainable as a continuation of the "Kenyan anti-colonialist" politics of his father—doesn't really deserve a rejoinder. Obama was deeply disillusioned with (some might say hated) his father, and the idea that he would model his entire presidency on the politics of a man he essentially disowned is patently ridiculous. But the worst ideas sometimes draw the best (and most useful) rebuttals, and D'Souza's almost non-stop crankery is clearly a magnet for epic takedowns. Four years ago, Andrew Sullivan did the honors on D'Souza's book blaming the Left for 9/11. This time around, the Weekly Standard's Andrew Ferguson is playing the Mike Rowe role. You should read the whole piece, but here's the most important part:

Trained as a young man by Jesuits, D’Souza must be familiar with the principle of Occam’s razor: The simplest explanation is always the best; if it fits the case at hand, there’s no need to go looking for more complicated theories. Yet there’s a cramp in the mind of the committed party hack, a terrible need to believe that one’s adversaries are more ominous or sinister than observable reality suggests. Thus Bill Clinton wasn’t merely an opportunist; he had to be a committed leftist and a criminal to boot. George W. Bush wasn’t merely a well-meaning, incompetent conservative; he had to be a Falangist. What Obama truly represents—unchecked liberalism, genus Americanus—is worrisome enough without dragging in the sad, gin-soaked carcass of his father or the hypnotic power of Roberto Mangabeira Unger.

Now, two years into the Obama administration, we're finally getting somewhere. Obama turns out to not be a Marxist, Nazi, Muslim, or Hippie. He's just a liberal (and far from an all-out liberal, at that). Conservatives and liberals disagree about lots of important, core issues. So for one group, being a part of the other should be bad enough. There's really no need to bring Nazism or fascism or the Taliban or Kenyan anti-colonialism into the discussion.