Mojo - May 2012

Pot, Hookers, and LaRouchies: Another Night in Texas

| Wed May 30, 2012 8:58 AM EDT
US House Candidate Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas).

Mitt Romney won the Texas Republican primary on Tuesday, clinching the Republican presidzzz zzzzzzzz zzzzzz. Sorry. It just wasn't that suspenseful. But while Mitt's big win—and Ted Cruz forcing David Dewhurst into a runoff in the Republican Senate primary—will grab most of the headlines, it was the down-ballot races in Tuesday's election that actually made the most news.

Here are seven things you may have missed:

  • An Anti-Drug War progressive knocked off an eight-term incumbent: In El Paso, progressive Beto O'Rourke beat eight-term Democratic Rep. Silvestre Reyes, and he did it without running away from the issue that brought him to prominence—the War on Drugs, which he considers to be an utter failure. Washington might not be able to talk about weed without making dumb pot jokes, but in far West Texas, they may have turned a corner. The other lesson from this race is that it's possible to survive an attack ad featuring you falling on the floor and being spanked by a female colleague. I'd say that in no other nation is this story even possible, but that'd be an obvious affront to Italy.
  • The Internet couldn't stop Lamar Smith: The Republican author of SOPA pretty much guaranteed himself a 14th term in the House after dispatching web entrepreneur Richard Morgan and Oathkeeper Richard Mack. That was despite the best efforts of the folks at Test PAC, the first PAC organized and operated by the Reddit community. Test PAC ended up spending $11,000 on television ads and bought a billboard on I-10, but that's chump change against a powerful incumbent. Ultimately, the infusion of cash from outside groups Test PAC was clamoring for never came.
  • Jim DeMint giveth and he taketh away: Sen. DeMint (R-S.C.) is claiming victory after his candidate, Ted Cruz, garnered just enough vote to trigger a runoff primary in July. But his magic, such as it is, is fleeting. Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, a bow tie-wearing black Republican, was DeMint's pick to replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison two years ago and considered a rising star. But Hutchison never quit her job after losing to Rick Perry in the governor's race, and Williams decided to run for Congress in the open 25th district. Without DeMint's backing this time, he finished 6th in a 12-man field and didn't even crack double digits.
  • A LaRouchie won a House primary: Two years ago, Kesha Rogers won the Democratic nomination for Texas' 22nd congressional district and the state party vowed it would never happen again. Why? Because Rogers is an acolyte of Lyndon LaRouche, and has campaigned on the platform of impeaching President Obama (also, a bit more pragmatically, saving NASA). LaRouche is kind of a nut, as this 2004 Washington Post story makes clear. Texas Democrats, understandably embarrassed by Rogers' popularity, made an effort to educate voters this time around, to no avail—Rogers won by 91 votes. Here's a photo of Rogers holding up a poster of Obama with a Hitler mustache. I think the operative hashtag here is #DemsInDisarray.
  • Texas' top birther is done: State Rep. Leo Berman (R) is famous in these parts for introducing a bill demanding that President Obama produce his birth certificate and for attempting to ban Islamic Shariah law. (He also sponsored a secession rally.) But he's a lame duck after losing to challenger Matt Schaefer. Per the Texas Tribune: "Berman, who is battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma, had said that he was retiring after the last legislative session but decided to run again after meeting Schaefer, whom he described as arrogant."
  • Karma's a real you-know-what: Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley lost in his bid for re-election. Why should you care? Because Williamson was the D.A. at the center of two of the state's most egregious criminal justice scandals in the last decade. For six years he refused to allow DNA testing that would have exonerated Michael Morton (who was serving life with the possibility of parole for the murder of his wife). Bradley was also responsible for scuttling the 2009 investigation by the Texas Forensic Science Commission into the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, whom arson experts believe could not have set the fire that killed his two kids.
  • Craig James "Killed Five Hookers At SMU," his political career. The ESPN college football analyst and former Southern Methodist University star found himself on the wrong end of the most potent Google-bomb this side of Santorum during his failed GOP senate run. Search for his name on the web and you'll find some variation of the phrase "Craig James Killed Five Hookers at SMU." Like so:
  • This Google bomb is merely a product of the larger problem, though, which is that no one really likes Craig James—not football fans; not Texas Tech alumni, who blame him for getting their program's best-ever coach fired. (Texas Monthy's Bryan Curtis had a nice sketch of James last month.) For all those shortcomings, however, he did end up with a super-PAC, Real World Conservatives, willing to chip in $120,000—donor to date unknown—on his behalf.

 

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No Disclosure, Please, We're Contractors

| Wed May 30, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Earlier this month, the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee approved the Keeping Politics Out of Federal Contracting Act (KPOFCA), which would prohibit the government from forcing federal contractors to disclose campaign spending and lobbying expenditures as a condition for keeping their contracts. In response, 14 watchdog groups are urging senators to block the bill, condemning it as a "pay-to-play" political maneuver that would make it easier for corporations to peddle influence in the shadows.

The bill is the latest chapter in a debate over transparency for the companies that rake in more than $536 billion in federal contracts annually. In April 2011, the Obama administration drafted an executive order (PDF) that would have required corporations bidding on federal contracts to disclose any political spending greater than $5,000, including money given to dark-money groups such as the Chamber of Commerce that do not disclose their donors. Following staunch opposition from Republicans and the Chamber, President Obama hasn't acted on the order.

Meanwhile, a rider attached to the 2012 Omnibus Appropriations bill preempted the order by prohibiting the government from requiring corporations to reveal their political spending as a precondition to bid on federal contracts.

Progressive Group to Pump $100,000 Into Wisconsin Recall

| Tue May 29, 2012 10:04 AM EDT
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the man trying to oust Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin's June 5 recall.

With a week to go until election day in Wisconsin's cash-drenched recall battle, the Washington, DC-based Progressive Change Campaign Committee announced plans on Tuesday to pump $100,000 into get-out-the-vote efforts in Wisconsin to oust Gov. Scott Walker.

As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent reports, the PCCC's latest move comes in the wake of Wisconsin Democrats' complaints that the Democratic National Committee hasn't fully invested in the Walker recall effort. The DNC, for its part, says it has directed $800,000 to Wisconsin since November, with $250,000 of it going to the state Democratic Party. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz will also host a fundraiser this week for Walker's challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Adam Green, PCCC's director, said in a statement that the Walker recall is "a top national priority for progressives—and it should be for the national Democratic Party." Green went on, "When we heard that the Democratic National Committee wasn't giving Wisconsin Democrats the resources needed to get out the vote, the PCCC made a strategic decision to do less fundraising for our own Wisconsin TV ads and instead focus our attention on righting the DNC’s wrong. We're proud that in the last 9 days, thousands of PCCC members helped us raise $100,000 for Wisconsin Democrats to get out the vote in the final stretch."

Green said the PCCC's new get-out-the-vote cash infusion brings the group's total investment in Wisconsin to about $230,000. The group has already spent $100,000 on TV ads and contributed $30,000 to local Democratic committees.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 29, 2012

Tue May 29, 2012 9:32 AM EDT

US Navy honor guardsmen stand at attention May 27, 2012, as military and civilian leaders enter the USS Arizona Memorial for the USS Arizona Memorial 50th anniversary commemoration ceremony in Honolulu, Hawaii. The memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1962. Since its construction, the memorial has stood as a place to remember the tragedy, and honor the dead. US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Holzworth.

Americans for Prosperity: Our Pro-Walker Bus Tour Has Nothing to Do With Recall

| Mon May 28, 2012 2:55 PM EDT
American for Prosperity's "Stand with Walker" bus tour in 2011.

This week, the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative nonprofit with ties to Charles and David Koch, launches a four-day, 10-city bus tour to "highlight the successes we have had in Wisconsin and lay the ground work for the challenges to come." AFP's "A Better Wisconsin" tour hits the road just days before the state's hugely anticipated gubernatorial recall pitting Gov. Scott Walker against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, as well as four state Senate recall elections that will decide who controls the Senate. AFP has promoted its tour to state and national media, and no less than AFP national president Tim Phillips will be on hand to rally Wisconsinites.

Given the tour's timing and billing, any reasonable person would view it as a statewide drive to get out the vote for Walker and his GOP allies in the June 5 election. Not AFP.

AFP's Wisconsin director, Luke Hilgemann, says the bus tour has nothing to do the recall elections. "We're not dealing with any candidates, political parties, or ongoing races," Hilgemann told the Hudson, Wisconsin, Patch news site. "We're just educating folks on the importance of the reforms."

Hilgemann added that the tour's speakers will be discussing "the importance of the budget reforms and why Wisconsin taxpayers and citizens can't afford to move backward away from those reforms to the day of old where we had huge budget deficits and bloated government."

There's a reason AFP isn't mentioning specific candidates: As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, AFP can't make pure politics a majority of what it does—or else it could lose its tax-exempt status. But if the group's leaders claim to only be educating people about issues, that's in line with its mission as a "social welfare" organization.

Wisconsin Democrats aren't buying AFP's claim that its upcoming tour is solely about issues. "Scott Walker's out-of-state special interest patrons are rightfully nervous that Scott Walker, their corrupt investment, is about to go belly-up," says Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. "They will and have done everything in their power to prop up his anti-Wisconsin political machine."

AFP-Wisconsin isn't the only state chapter planning to rally around Walker for the recall. As Republic Report notes, AFP-Illinois says it will bus supporters to Wisconsin days before the election for a rally and canvassing, with food provided.

Nor is this the first time AFP has bussed in supporters to show support for Walker and his agenda. The group's "Stand Against Spending. Stand With Walker" bus tour in March 2011 cruised across the state for four days to "take a firm stand against wasteful government spending and support responsible economic policies like Governor Walker's," according to AFP's Tim Phillips.

Half of Scott Walker's Cash Comes From Out-of-State Dark-Money Donors

| Sat May 26, 2012 10:22 AM EDT

Wisconsin's June 5 gubernatorial recall, pitting Gov. Scott Walker against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, is no mere statewide race. It's a national fight. The Tea Party Express group calls Wisconsin "ground zero for the battle against Obama's liberal agenda."

It's not surprising, then, to learn that out-of-state money is pouring into the Walker recall at a record pace—and it's powering the efforts of Democrats, Republicans, interest groups, and unions alike.

In Wisconsin's 2006 gubernatorial election, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, out-of-state campaign donations made up 15 percent of all donations. In 2010 it was 9 percent. But in the Walker recall? It's a staggering 57 percent.

According to an analysis by the political-money-watching Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, $3 out of every $5 raised by Walker came from outside Wisconsin. Walker's largest donors include Texas homebuilding king and Swift Boat for Veterans backer Bob Perry, Las Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, and Richard DeVos, heir to Amway fortune. A little more than $1 of every $10 given to Barrett was out-of-state campaign cash.

Walker raised $13 million in the first three months of 2012, bringing his total fundraising haul since January 1, 2011, to $25 million. Walker benefitted from a quirk in state election law allowing him raising unlimited campaign cash for months to fend off the recall challenge. Barrett raised $750,000 in the first 25 days after entering the race in late March.

Interest groups bankrolled by out-of-state cash are also playing a pivotal role in the recall. The Republican and Democratic Governors Associations, both based in Washington, DC, have together ponied up nearly $7 million for the Walker recall. The RGA, as Mother Jones has reported, is the GOP's corporate-funded dark money machine, shuffling tens of millions in campaign cash to boost Republicans and bash Democrats nationwide. Labor unions have pumped millions more into the groups We Are Wisconsin, which supported Democrats in last summer's state Senate recall races and supports Barrett now, and Wisconsin for Falk, which supported Kathleen Falk in the recall Democratic primary and opened field offices around the state.

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Corn on "Hardball": Trump Revives the Birther Meme

Fri May 25, 2012 7:14 PM EDT

David Corn and Salon's Joan Walsh joined guest host Michael Smerconish on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss Donald Trump's role in the most recent iteration of the birther conspiracy. Why won't Mitt Romney repudiate The Donald?

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

Senate Panel Advances Measure To Broaden Military Access to Abortion

| Fri May 25, 2012 4:26 PM EDT

On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2013 that would allow greater access to abortions for women in the military and their families.

The measure, from New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D), would allow the military to pay for ending pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest. Current Department of Defense policy only provides abortion coverage if the life of the mother is at stake. Under the 1976 Hyde Amendment, federal money cannot be used to provide abortion services, except in the case of rape, incest, or if the woman's life is endangered. But since 1979, the DOD has had an even stricter limit on abortions, refusing to cover them in cases of rape despite the high rate of sexual assaults in the military. (Over 3,000 sexual assaults were reported in the armed services in 2010 alone.)

If Shaheen's measure passes, the 400,000 women in the armed services will have the same access to abortion that other federal employees get. If a Department of Health and Human Services employee working in Washington, D.C. is raped, her government health insurance plan will pay for an abortion if she wants one. But if an Army medic serving in Afghanistan is raped and wants an abortion, she can't use her government health insurance to cover it—she'll have to pay out of her own pocket. And even when she does pay for it, she won't be able to get the abortion at a military hospital, because that's illegal, too

Attempts to lift the military's abortion ban failed in 2010 and 2011, but advocates are launching an all-out push this year through the Stand With Servicewomen campaign launched by retired military officers and a coalition of reproductive rights groups. Given all the attention abortion has received over the past year, you can bet the military abortion debate will be contentious this time around, too.

11 Awful John Edwards Pickup Lines

| Fri May 25, 2012 1:48 PM EDT
Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC)

The way we live now: On Friday, ABC News reported that former Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards has been flirting with a female alternate juror at his trial for allegedly making illegal payments from his campaign fund to cover up an affair. Per the story:

Since the alternates were identified last Thursday, it has been impossible to ignore the dynamic between Edwards and one of the female alternates, an attractive young woman with jet-black hair, who seems to have been flirting with Edwards for days.

The juror clearly instigated the exchanges. She smiles at him. He smiles at her. She giggles. He blushes.

But what does he say? We took a stab at it:

  • "Want to see what a $400 haircut buys? [Winks.]"
  • "Improper use of federal matching funds? More like matching fun, amirite? [Winks.]"
  • "[Points at electronic tracking bracelet.] [Winks.]"
  • "Hello, voir dear [long pause] [winks]."
  • "Shall we adjourn to my place? [Winks.]"
  • "I'll bring the handcuffs [winks]."
  • "You've been acquitting yourself nicely [creepy laughter] [points fingers] [claps] [winks].."
  • "They say justice is blind. But I can't take my eyes off of you [winks]."
  • "We can build one America, baby [winks]."
  • "Did it hurt...when you fell from heaven? Because I know a good personal injury lawyer [winks]."

And for old times' sake...

  • "My daddy worked at a mill all his life."

Okay, now we need to take a shower.

SPLC Highlights New Extremist Leaders To Watch

| Fri May 25, 2012 1:12 PM EDT

Michael Boldin, founder of the Tenth Amendment Center Gage SkidmoreMichael Boldin, founder of the Tenth Amendment Center Gage SkidmoreThe Southern Poverty Law Center published a new report this week on 30 up-and-coming leaders of the radical right. There are some old familiars on the list, like David Duke, and many others who probably won't come as much of a surprise to regular Mother Jones readers. SPLC singles out some of the chorus of anti-Muslim activists like Pam Geller, Frank Gaffney and David Yerushalmi as people to keep an eye on. There are some gay-bashers in there, too. Birther-conspiracy theorist Joseph Farah, the founder of WorldNet Daily, also makes the list. But not everyone on the group seems to rise to the level of menace that SPLC suggests.

Among those might be Mike Vanderboegh, a former militia activist from Alabama. Vanderboegh is probably most famous these days for having encouraged readers of his blog to break the windows of Democratic Party headquarters after the passage of health care reform, which prompted some of his readers to toss bricks through the windows of a few Democratic congressional offices. 

Vanderboegh, though, is a bit more of a complicated character than the SPLC has made him out to be. His rhetoric is certainly inflammatory, but it's also mostly confined to his blog, which has a very small following. Vanderboegh has also helped bring to light some evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the government in the "Fast and Furious" gun scandal, in which the federal government allowed guns to be illegally exported to Mexico in the hopes of tracking them to major drug cartel leaders. (The ATF agents ended up losing track of thousands of the guns, which later turned up at crime scenes in Mexico and the US.) He's also got a sense of humor, a rare quality in an extremist. He responded to his inclusion on the list by writing a blog post about it that included a photoshopped picture of Mark Potok, the SPLC senior fellow who tracks right-wing extremism, wearing a tin-foil hat.

Another entry on SPLC's list that seems slightly off-base is Michael Boldin, the founder of the Tenth Amendment Center, which urges states to nullify federal laws they see as unconstitutional. SPLC links Boldin with the "Patriot movement" and far-right extremists. But it overlooks a lot of the issues that Boldin himself has championed. I met him two years ago at a Tenther conference in Atlanta, which definitely featured some fringey right-wingers, including the John Birch Society. But Boldin stuck out for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that he is a California hipster who travels with tins of sardines in his suitcase to ensure that he eats enough omega-3 fatty acids.

Boldin got into politics through his opposition to the Iraq war, not through the tea party or any other right-wing cause. He is a libertarian, and believes the Tenth Amendment applies to all sorts of things that right-wingers generally wouldn't agree with. For instance, he and his organization support pot legalization and the right of states to legalize gay marriage. Lately, though, he has been focused on state opposition to the new National Defense Authorization Act because he believes it could allow for the indefinite detention of American citizens—a position that puts him squarely on the side of the American Civil Liberties Union. That's why he was a little surprised to find himself on the SPLC list. He told me in an email:

I think these people are just lazy and aren't paying attention to the work we do, the columns I write, or the speeches I give. Or, maybe they're just exploiting fear of real radicals who use propaganda to advocate their wars, racism to justify their torture, and fear to promote their indefinite detention scheme - both in Guantanamo and here in the U.S. Then again, I just happen to think that most of those dangerous people are wearing suits in Washington D.C.

SPLC deserves credit for keeping tabs on the nation's potentially violent fringe elements, but it does seem like they are occasionally casting too wide a net in their efforts to identify the next Timothy McVeigh. But then again, it only takes one guy like him to create mass carnage. Maybe when it comes to monitoring extremism, you can't really have too much information.