Mojo - August 2011

Union Group: Tea Partiers and Wis. GOP Broke the Law with Phone-Bank Operation

| Tue Aug. 9, 2011 11:55 AM EDT

We Are Wisconsin, an influential coalition of labor unions backing the six Democratic challengers in Tuesday's recall elections, says the California-based Tea Party Express (TPE) group and the Republican Party of Wisconsin broke state law by coordinating on a phone banking operation to boost Republican state senators facing recall votes.

In a complaint filed with Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board Tuesday morning, We Are Wisconsin alleges the two groups violated Wisconsin campaign law that prohibits coordination between independent expenditure groups and candidates or groups working on behalf of candidates. The complaint points to an August 8th email from the Tea Party Express to its supporters urging supporters to volunteer in its "Phone From Home program with the Wisconsin Republican Party" to make calls in support of GOP candidates. The link in the email leads to an online volunteering site that lists Tom Dickens, the WI GOP's political director, as the contact person. The Phone From Home page also presents volunteers with a call script praising GOP Sen. Randy Hopper's record creating jobs and "working to fix the state budget shortfall without raising taxes."

We Are Wisconsin's complaint depicts all this as a joint effort between TPE and the WI GOP. "Scott Walker and his national right-wing backers have proven time and again that no tactic—however despicable or illegal—is off limits in their quest to maintain absolute power and push their corporate-backed attacks on Wisconsin's working families," says Kelly Steele, a spokesman for We Are Wisconsin. A spokeswoman for the WI GOP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The complaint also alleges that the Tea Party Express violated a different part of Wisconsin law by engaging in electioneering without registering with the Government Accountability Board, which oversees campaign finance in Wisconsin.

This is hardly the first time a left- or right-leaning group accused the other side of breaking election law. On August 1st, the WI GOP filed its own complaint with the GAB alleging illegal coordination between Rep. Sandy Pasch (D), a Democratic challenger in Tuesday's recalls, and Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a progressive advocacy group. Pasch said she had "cut off contact" with Citizen Action, and previously had only worked with the non-profit side of the group. A few days later, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin alleged that Pasch's challenger, GOP Sen. Alberta Darling, had committed "multiple felonies" by coordinating with right-wing outside groups and refusing to hand over communications with those groups. A WI GOP spokesman said the complaint was purely political and "full of frivolous claims with no merit."

Read We Are Wisconsin's full complaint:

We Are Wisconsin 9 Aug 2011 GAB Complaint

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Six Stats You Need to Know on Election Day in Wisconsin

| Tue Aug. 9, 2011 8:50 AM EDT

Today is Recall Day in Wisconsin. Voters in six state Senate districts across the Badger State will go to the polls in one of the most anticipated, contentious, and cash-drenched elections in decades. But before a single vote was cast, Wisconsin had already etched its name into electoral history by playing host to an unprecedented slate of recall elections in a single summer.

Joshua Spivak, who writes the "Recall Elections Blog," recently looked back on recall history in America to show how singular Wisconsin's recall summer is. Here are six key statistics from Spivak's analysis; consider them food for thought on the big day here in Wisconsin.

  • 20: The number of state legislative recalls since 1908
  • 3: Maximum recall elections in one legislative session, in California in 1995.
  • 3: Number of recall elections that flipped party control of a legislative chamber (Michigan in 1983, California in 1995, Wisconsin in 1996).
  • 62 percent: Success rate in state legislative recalls since 1908.
  • 60 percent: The typical vote-getting by recall election winners, as recalls tend to be blowouts.
  • 2: Number of governors to be recalled (North Dakota's Lynn Frazier in 1921, California's Gray Davis in 2003).

Spivak also reads the tea leaves for what happens after the summer recalls, and lays out the hurdles in recalling Gov. Scott Walker:

The recall has historically been a below the radar weapon (I’ll have a post on its “Bermuda Triangle” nature tomorrow), so it is possible that the recall will once again disappear from view. But there is every reason to believe the recall is ready for its close-up.

There is already another recall race this year—Arizona’s Senate Majority Leader Russell Pearce in November. Michigan is facing multiple recall petitioning challenges, both against state legislators and the Governor. Petitions have already been handed in against one state Rep, with the verification process yet to be completed.

In Wisconsin, the threats are out there. You have to serve one year before a recall, so the Senators elected in 2010 will all be coming due for a recall battle starting in January, as will Governor Walker. The Assembly members will also have the same problem, but perhaps tactical considerations may make them less likely to be a focus (they only serve two years terms, which are half over. The money and effort may be better spent on those serving another three years).

The Walker recall poses its own challenges. There have been only two Govenors to ever face a recall (North Dakota's Lynn Frazier in 1921, California's Gray Davis in 2003, plus Arizona's Evan Meacham would have faced one if he wasn't impeached). Wisconsin has a relatively strict signature requirement. It requires a high number of signatures in a very compressed time frame—only 60 days (only four states limit the gathering period to 60 days). This could make a recall of Walker quite difficult.

Hedge Fund Billionaire Doubles Down on Romney Support

| Tue Aug. 9, 2011 8:15 AM EDT

Hedge fund guru John Paulson shot to fame (and fortune) with his superbly timed bet against the housing market just before its implosion in 2007, a move christened the "greatest trade ever." Now, Paulson is spending some his fortune on politics, and in particular on GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

As iWatch News' Peter Stone reports today, Paulson is doing double duty for Romney, donating to a pro-Romney Super PAC and hosting a fundraiser for the candidate. Stone says Paulson's dual roles illustrate a new reality in our post-Citizens United campaign finance playing field, where the roles of outside PACs and candidates often overlap:

A big bundler for Romney’s campaign, Paulson—who made billions betting on the decline of the housing bubble—is emblematic of how wealthy individuals often wear two fundraising hats in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling last year. That decision gave the green light for donors (including corporations and unions) to give unlimited sums to independent groups that advocate expressly for candidates.

Paulson's fundraising is one of a few instances where the fundraising operations of the campaign and the Super PAC appear to overlap and may benefit each other.

* Romney has shown his appreciation for the Super PAC by attending several of its fundraising events including a dinner in New York on July 19 that drew about two dozen potential and current donors, including Paulson, according to fundraisers familiar with the PAC.

* Lisa Spies, who runs PAC fundraising and Jewish outreach for the Romney campaign, is married to Charles Spies, a founder of the PAC who serves as its treasurer and was general counsel to Romney’s 2008 campaign.

[…]

Campaign finance lawyers and watchdog groups say that Federal Election Commission rules define coordination to allow some fundraising overlap between campaigns and independent groups, thereby creating sizable loopholes. "FEC regulations allow an enormous amount of actual coordination that's not considered under the law to be illegal coordination," Trevor Potter, a former chairman of the FEC and president of the independent Campaign Legal Center told iWatch News. "The regulations allow a significant amount of overlap in fundraising."

But Potter added, "These loopholes are clearly not what the Supreme Court had in mind when it spoke about independent spending campaigns" in its Citizens United decision.

Stone's full story is well worth a read.

Tracking Prison Deaths Is Tougher Than You'd Think

| Tue Aug. 9, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

On July 19, 2007, a 33-year-old Chinese immigrant named Hiu Lui Ng arrived at his final green-card interview. Instead of a green card, he got arrested—on a faulty, six-year-old deportation order that he had no idea existed. A year later, Ng died in custody at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island. He had a fractured spine, bruises, a blood clot, and cancer that had gone untreated for so long that it had "spread throughout his entire body," according to court records. Ng received medical care only five days before his death on the order of a judge, after begging—and ultimately, legally petitioning—to get it for seven months.

The grim details of Ng's death would likely never have surfaced if his wife hadn't teamed up with the ACLU to file suit against Wyatt. (The case, if you're wondering, is still ongoing.) Why? Because currently, there isn't a single federal law requiring state-run jails and prisons to report detainee deaths, or what caused them. Not one.

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee moved to change that, approving the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2011. If passed, the law would mandate that each time someone dies in law enforcement custody, the incident's details must be reported to the attorney general. The bill applies to people in the process of being arrested, inmates, and immigrants held in detention centers.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 9, 2011

Tue Aug. 9, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

A combat observation lasing team calls in illumination rounds from nearby mortars during training at Fort Bragg, N.C., July 27, 2011. The soldiers are assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team. The forward observers are working between two armed security vehicles. US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

King Abdullah Slams Syria, Misses the Deafening Irony

| Mon Aug. 8, 2011 4:55 PM EDT
King Abdullah with President Barack Obama.

On Monday, after calling his ambassador to Syria back to Riyadh for "consultations," King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia issued a televised statement denouncing the Syrian regime's crackdown on dissidents and protesters. The Saudi monarch placed an emphasis on lasting political reform:

Every sane Muslim and Arab or others are aware that [the crackdown] is not of religion, values, or ethics…What is happening in Syria is unacceptable to the Kingdom… Saudi Arabia…[demands] the stoppage of the killing machine and bloodshed…[and the] introduction and activation of reforms that are not entwined with promises, but actually achieved so that our brothers…in Syria can feel them in their lives as dignity, glory and pride.

So, somewhere between the chaos in the streets, the torture of political prisoners, the media blackouts, and all that conspicuous mass-murdering was the last straw for Saudi Arabia's ruler. It's just that this particular straw has absolutely nothing to do with the repression, bloodshed, or torture, but rather regional and sectarian power plays. Brian Whitaker of The Guardian breaks it down lucidly:

Saudi Arabia has nothing to teach Syria about democracy, and protest demonstrations in the kingdom are totally banned... Saudi Arabia has no interest in promoting democracy or human rights in Syria; it does have an interest in promoting Sunni Muslim influence and combating Shia influence (as embodied at the international level by Iran). Considering the Assad regime's ties with Iran, this suggests a motive for Saudi Arabia to become involved now—in the hope of driving a wedge between Iran and a post-Assad Syria.

Needless to say, the irony of Abdullah's statement is excruciating enough to constitute unintentional satire. The Kingdom has gladly flexed its military muscle to quell Arab Spring protests in Bahrain, and no one would ever mistake Saudi Arabia, of all places, as a hotbed of political reform.

In other words, Saudi Arabia condemning Syria for human rights abuses is like Silvio Berlusconi telling David Duchovny that he needs to cool it with the womanizing and focus on his marriage.

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Report: Rick Perry Kicking Off Campaign on Saturday

| Mon Aug. 8, 2011 2:48 PM EDT
Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas)

Back in February of 2010, as he was cruising to a primary victory over Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Governor Rick Perry was asked point-blank whether he would serve out his term if re-elected—or whether he consider throwing his 40-gallon hat in the presidential race. He was unequivocal: Nothing short of an untimely death could drive him out of Austin. "I have a lot of faith in the Lord I hope he's gonna let me live for four years and if he does I'm gonna serve out my governorship," Perry explained.

Fast forward to today:

Rick Perry intends to use a speech in South Carolina on Saturday to make clear that he's running for president, POLITICO has learned.

According to two sources familiar with the plan, the Texas governor will remove any doubt about his White House intentions during his appearance at a RedState conference in Charleston.

It's uncertain whether Saturday will mark a formal declaration, but Perry's decision to disclose his intentions the same day as the Ames straw poll — and then hours later make his first trip to New Hampshire — will send shock waves through the race and upend whatever results come out of the straw poll.

The lesson, as always, is you should never trust anyone who "goes jogging in the morning packing a Ruger .380 with laser sights and loaded with hollow point bullets and shoots a coyote that is threatening his daughter’s dog."

More seriously, this announcement, which we've been speculating about for months, does stand to dramatically shake up the GOP race. Perry is the decade-long governor of the largest red state in the country and he's coming off a headline-grabbing revival meeting at a football stadium in Houston. His state's economy is less terrible than that of the rest of the country's and he should have access to the deep, deep pockets of folks like Swift Boat funder Bob Perry (no relation). There are many good reasons for why he might fall flat. But don't mistake the smirking, slow-talking governor for a—what's the word?—flake. Just ask Hutchison.

Final Wis. Recall Poll: GOPers Have the Edge

| Mon Aug. 8, 2011 11:25 AM EDT

The day before Wisconsin's six GOP recall elections, a new poll shows Republicans with the narrowest of advantages in two key districts that could determine whether Democrats wrest control of the state Senate or fall just short.

The poll, which was conducted by Public Policy Polling and commissioned by the liberal website Daily Kos, shows GOP Sen. Randy Hopper leading by one percentage point and GOP. Sen. Luther Olsen ahead by three. And while the margin of error in both of these races is about three percentage points, potentially wiping out both senators' leads, the latest data ratchets up the suspense in anticipation of tomorrow's recalls.

As I reported today, Hopper, Olsen, and GOP Sen. Alberta Darling are seen as three lawmakers whose recalls are too close to call, but whose defeat would give Democrats the three-seat change they need to retake the state Senate (presuming of course they protect the two Democratic senators facing recall on August 16). One GOP senator, Dan Kapanke, is all but guaranteed to lose; the new PPP poll put him 11 percentage points behind Democratic Rep. Jen Schilling. Left-leaning officials here in Wisconsin had, until recently, seen the Hopper recall as another likely victory, though hardly a lock. But PPP's findings suggest that race is closer than many observers suspected.

Democrats could, in the end, win only one seat. Or they could win four. Everything depends on voter turnout, a message both Democrats and Republicans are hammering home just hours before the big day.

The Documentary That Inspired Michele Bachmann

| Mon Aug. 8, 2011 10:30 AM EDT

Ryan Lizza's excellent profile of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), which I mentioned earlier, frames the GOP presidential candidate as the product of a very particular brand of Christian conservative thought—one that extends far beyond the basic abortion–gay marriage axis. To wit: Lizza catches Bachmann touting the work of an historian who argued that the Confederacy was actually an Evangelical state that was raising blacks up from the depths of heathenism to a more even moral foundation. But the most interesting character in the profile is Dr. Francis Schaeffer, a theologian whose film, How Should We Then Live, Bachmann cites as life-changing.

As it happens, I've watched Schaeffer's movie (or at least much of it), and it's easy to see how various aspects of it rubbed off on Bachmann, then a student at Minnesota's Winona State University. The timing was fortuitous—America's heartland was emptying out and its urban cores seemed to be falling into disrepair. Schaeffer stepped in to make sense of the situation and prescribe a miracle cure: We could turn things around by learning from the mistakes of the past and getting back to our Christian roots. Take a look at the introductory segment, for instance:

That opening scene is scary, right? Those police sirens you hear are the sound of secular humanism in action. Schaeffer's arguing, essentially, that a relativistic society, built on a lesser belief system like that of the Roman gods, can do quite well when times are good and everyone's happy. But when things begin to head south, such societies lack the necessary fortitude to fight vice, and give in to their basest impulses—sex (Schaeffer goes on to discuss the "cult of the phallis" in Pompeii) and dependency (relying on government handouts).

As Lizza notes, things get downright conspiratorial: "In the sixth episode, a mysterious man in a fake mustache drives around in a white van and furtively pours chemicals into a city's water supply, while Schaeffer speculates about the possibility that the U.S. government is controlling its citizens by means of psychotropic drugs." That reflects an extreme level of distruct of government—but then, so does suggesting that we are locked in a United Nations plot to end resource extraction entirely, and warning that a moderate Democratic president will launch "re-education camps" for our children.

See also: Michelle Goldberg.

Chart of the Day: Public Sector Jobs

| Mon Aug. 8, 2011 10:00 AM EDT

Whether the US is about to plunge into a double-dip recession or just on an incredibly long road to recovery, one thing’s for sure: the public sector is getting eaten alive.

Since August 2008, state and local governments have cut some 611,000 employees, according to estimates by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The cuts have only gotten worse over time, with 340,000 of the job losses coming in the past twelve months:

The fact that state-level belt-tightening increased as the Great Recession was allegedly coming to a close suggests that, for many states, recovery was never as close as optimists had claimed. It gets worse: The debt ceiling deal President Barack Obama signed on August 2 made sharp cuts to discretionary spending, the main source of aid for states. The public sector's woes are far from over.