Mojo - May 2012

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri May. 11, 2012 12:01 AM PDT

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money...

Hoosier (super-PAC) daddy?: Tea party candidate Richard Mourdock unseated six-term Sen. Richard Lugar in this week's Republican primary in Indiana, thanks in no small part to super-PACs. As iWatch News' Michael Beckel reports, pro-Mourdock groups spent even more than his campaign. Overall, Sunlight Foundation notes, the contest saw "the biggest outside money dump of any congressional race thus far." At $2.2 million, the top outside spender was the antitax super-PAC Club for Growth Action, which ran anti-Lugar ads like this:

Also notable: A $25,000 donation to the pro-Lugar Hoosiers for Jobs from the Japanese-owned 7-Eleven convenience store chain may be the first disclosed gift to a super-PAC from a foreign-owned corporation.

Casting about for a candidate: Americans Elect, the dark-money 501(c)(4) group attempting to launch a third-party presidential bid through an online caucus, is still struggling to gain momentum. It has twice delayed its first caucus because no candidates have received enough support to qualify for it. Buddy Roemer, the leading contender for the AE nomination, told Mother Jones that he has major reservations about the group's lack of transparency but thinks it's "making a noble effort to improve the system."

Unaccountable accounting: Reuters turns an eye on the complex web of fly-by-night companies and double-dealing consultants that get much of outside spending groups' money but whose activities (and actual compensation) may be largely hidden in official disclosure reports. Rick Tyler, a political operative who advised the pro-Newt Gingrich super-PAC Winning Our Future, explains, "So you'll get a congressional campaign manager who on the surface you think is making $50,000-$60,000. The fact is he could be making hundreds of thousands of dollars—you have no idea because he's being paid separate from what you're seeing."

Obama super-PAC in trouble: MoJo's Andy Kroll runs down four reasons why the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action can't keep up with its Republican competitors. One reason: While billionaire financier George Soros* just made a pair of $1 million donations to Democratic super-PACs, he remains reluctant to fund negative ads like the one below, made by Priorities USA Action. Another reason: Obama still has some work left to win over wealthy gay donors (even as his announcement that he now supports gay marriage brought in at least $1 million to his campaign).

 

The anti-super-PAC super-PACs: Roll Call's Eliza Newlin Carney takes a look at some of the tongue-in-cheek super-PACs formed to protest the post-Citizens United influx of big money into politics. One recent example: America's Super PAC For The Permanent Elimination of America's Super PACs, whose mission statement declares its intention to "call for a constitutional convention where an amendment will be proposed to ensure that corporations are never considered to be people." (So far, though, it's raised less than $200.) Meanwhile, a new poll finds that 52 percent of voters of all persuasions claim they'll only vote for candidates who pledge to reduce the influence of big money in politics.

Now we're talking real money: The Center for Responsive Politics finds that super-PAC expenditures in the 2012 election cycle are about to exceed $100 million any day now. The pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future has spent more ($44.5 million) than all outside groups combined had spent at this point in 2008. Take a look at CRP's chartified breakdown of all the spending:

Full disclosure: The Soros-chaired Open Society Foundations have supported Mother Jones' reporting on dark money.

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GOP Rep. Introduces Totally Sane Abortion Bill

| Thu May. 10, 2012 12:51 PM PDT

Going against the broader trend among House Republicans, Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) rolled out a bill on Wednesday that would protect women's access to abortion. The freshman lawmaker introduced the "Protecting Women's Access to Health Care Act," which would strengthen laws prohibiting discrimination against health care providers that provide abortions. The bill is meant to counter Dold's GOP colleagues' efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.

GQ's Marin Cogan reported from Dold's tiny press conference to unveil the bill, noting that the Republican congressman didn't have any cosponsors with him—instead, supporters from Planned Parenthood and Republican Majority for Choice were at his side. "This is an opportunity that we've got to do the right thing," Dold told Cogan.

It's already illegal to discriminate against healthcare providers for also offering abortions. So when states pass laws barring federal family planning money—called Title X funds—from going to groups that also provide abortions, the federal government cuts off those states' access to all federal family planning money. So far, that hasn't stopped a number of states, including Indiana, Texas, and Kansas, from passing laws that discriminate against abortion providers anyway. Dold may be hoping that by strengthening the legal prohibition against such discrimination, he can tempt some states to reconsider—and, perhaps, that he will get some media attention to remind voters in his new, much more Democratic district that he identifies as pro-choice.

How Did Alleged 9/11 Mastermind KSM Dye His Beard Red?

| Thu May. 10, 2012 9:13 AM PDT
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, in a Red Cross photo taken at Guantanamo Bay (left) and a photo (right) taken by US forces shortly after they captured him in 2003.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's beard is top secret.

You're not supposed to be able to tell when someone has been using Just For Men, but the average graying man's bathroom isn't as well surveilled as a high-security cell at Guantanamo Bay. So when the alleged chief plotter behind the 9/11 attacks appeared at Guantanamo Bay's military commission last Saturday with his beard dyed red, it raised a question:

How did KSM get (probably henna-based) beard dye while locked up in one of the world's most secure facilities?

Reporters covering the 9/11 trials wondered about KSM's ability to obtain hair care products. But, it turns out, this is a classified matter. The Defense Department says that Guantanamo Bay officials are "aware" of how KSM obtained the dye, but they're not spilling the beans. And Mohammed's defense attorney, David Nevin, says he isn't allowed to talk about it.

"I have an idea about that, but unfortunately I can't talk about it because it bears on conditions of confinement, and that's one of the areas that's treated as top secret," Nevin says. "It's frustrating, there's so many of these things that do not implicate national security in the slightest."

Security at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is extremely tight, and high-value detainees like KSM are held in even more restrictive "SuperMax" conditions at the facility's secretive Camp 7. Reporters aren't allowed to tour that part of the facility, and the camp itself was a secret until 2007.

One US official told Mother Jones about three possible ways KSM might have gotten his hands on the henna. The detainee could have gotten the dye from a lawyer, but because Nevin can't talk about his client's grooming, that's hard to confirm. Family or friends could have sent KSM the dye and had it delivered by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which occasionally visits the camp. It's also possible, although less likely, that KSM could have made the dye from materials already available at the camp.

As for why KSM dyed his beard? Former State Department counterterrorism adviser Will McCants says that KSM is probably trying to emphasize his commitment to Islam. KSM grew his long, flowing beard only after he was imprisoned at Guantanamo—previous photographs show him with a trim beard or a thick mustache.

"KSM is following the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, who recommended dyeing a grey beard red," McCants says, calling it "a sign of devotion, particularly after looking like Ron Jeremy all those years."

But how did KSM go from the porn-star look to more of a Gimli? Apparently, it would damage national security if we knew.

Corn on MSNBC: Obama's Gay-Marriage Move

Thu May. 10, 2012 9:06 AM PDT

Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn joined host Ed Schultz on MSNBC's The Ed Show on Wednesday to discuss the backstory and election-year politics behind President Obama's personal support for marriage equality.

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

Mitt Romney's Non-Apology Apology

| Thu May. 10, 2012 8:06 AM PDT
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

On Thursday morning, the Washington Post's Jason Horowitz dropped a bomb: As an 18-year-old student at an elite Michigan prep school, Mitt Romney led a band of classmates in an assault on student they thought was gay, John Lauber, because he was offended by the student's hairstyle. Romney's crew pushed Lauber to the ground, and as "Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors," Horowitz reports. Romney avoided punishment; Lauber was later expelled for smoking a cigarette. Although five students involved in the incident corroborated the story and reflected on how much, even today, the incident pains them, the Romney campaign told Horowitz the candidate couldn't recall any such incident.

Now Romney has reversed course and issued an apology: "Back in high school I did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended by that I apologize," he told reporters. "I certainly don't believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s."

Did I say "apology"? I meant "total dodge that absolves him of any responsibility for what happened, and any genuine regret"—what CNN political analyst William Schneider once coined the "past exonerative." By inserting "if," Romney leaves open the possibility that, in fact, no one was hurt or offended by the assault. Maybe the tears were tears of joy? It's also curious that Romney, who purportedly didn't remember the incident, now remembers the incident so well he's able to refute the accounts of his classmates, who explicitly noted that the Lauber's perceived homosexuality had made him a target. As Conn Carroll of the conservative Washington Examiner puts it, "Romney bullying apology [is] unacceptable. It is non-responsive. Only guarantees more questioning. Does he remember incident or not?"

It's not an apology if you never really say you're sorry.

Where Does Obama Really Stand On Marriage Equality?

| Thu May. 10, 2012 8:05 AM PDT
Obama speaks to ABC reporter Robin Roberts.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to endorse marriage equality. But Obama's personal belief that gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry was couched in the rhetoric of states' rights—the president said the states should be allowed to decide the issue on their own. Obama's position, as articulated yesterday, is perfectly consistent with allowing states like North Carolina to ban same-sex marriage.

Metro Weekly's Chris Geidner writes that the legal arguments the administration has been making with regards to the Defense of Marriage Act would effectively prevent the states from discriminating:

If the administration were still defending DOMA and had taken no position on the level of scrutiny to be applied to sexual orientation classifications, then Obama's statement might mean that his view is that states have unfettered rights to legislate as they they wish on marriage. But, that is not the circumstances in which he makes these comments.

Instead, Obama's position now is three-fold: (1) he personally supports same-sex marriage; (2) he believes as a policy matter that state, and not federal, law should define marriages, as it always has been in this country; and (3) he believes that there are federal constitutional limitations on those state decisions.

Geidner makes a persuasive case that Obama's actual position on marriage equality is that states shouldn't be allowed to discriminate against same-sex couples. But that's not the position Obama articulated during Wednesday's interview. Here's the transcript from Obama's interview with ABC's Robin Roberts:

OBAMA: And what you're seeing is, I think, states working through this issue-- in fits and starts, all across the country. Different communities are arriving at different conclusions, at different times. And I think that's a healthy process and a healthy debate. And I continue to believe that this is an issue that is gonna be worked out at the local level, because historically, this has not been a federal issue, what's recognized as a marriage.

ROBERTS: Well, Mr. President, it's-- it's not being worked out on the state level. We saw that Tuesday in North Carolina, the 30th state to announce its ban on gay marriage.

OBAMA: Well-- well-- well, what I'm saying is is that different states are coming to different conclusions. But this debate is taking place-- at a local level. And I think the whole country is evolving and changing. And-- you know, one of the things that I'd like to see is-- that a conversation continue in a respectful way.

Saying that it's "healthy" for communities to come to "different conclusions, at different times," is an endorsement of marriage equality federalism, not the idea that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right for gays and lesbians. Offered the opportunity to comment on North Carolina's same-sex marriage referendum, Obama dodged the question.

Geidner makes a good case that Obama's real position on marriage equality is "I'm going to say it should be left up to the states while trying my best to make sure it isn't left up to the states." That should be comforting to anyone who supports marriage equality, but it's certainly not what Obama said yesterday. There are obvious political reasons why Obama articulated his views the way he did—it allows him to support marriage equality while shielding himself from accusations that he is imposing his social views on other people. To Republicans, however, leaving same-sex marriage up to the states means allowing the states to ban it. They will notice the difference between what Obama's saying and what he's doing.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 10, 2012

Thu May. 10, 2012 7:58 AM PDT

Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, conduct section training and qualification on the M777 cannon on May 4, 2012 at the Pohakuloa Training Area on the island of Hawaii. Training at PTA allows the field artillerymen to fire rounds that cannot be fired at Schofield Barracks on Oahu. Photo by the US Army.

Too Hot For Gitmo: "Big Boy Pants"

| Thu May. 10, 2012 7:16 AM PDT
A guard tower at the Joint Task Force Guantanamo detention facility.

The video and audio feed from the war court at Guantanamo Bay is on a time delay so as to prevent accidental or deliberate disclosure of classified information during proceedings. As Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the other alleged 9/11 plotters were being arraigned last Saturday, the feed abruptly cut out.

Reporters and observers heard only white noise for a few moments because a military security officer censored one of the defense attorneys, Air Force Capt. Michael Schwartz, after Schwartz alluded to the torture of his client. Just before the military cut the feed, Schwartz used the phrase "big boy pants" to refer to torture, mockingly adopting the euphemism employed by former CIA official Jose Rodriguez in an interview two weeks ago. The Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg reports:

In the course of his statement, Schwartz said that he had replaced the court-issued headphones [Walid] bin Attash had been issued to hear the translation of the hearing because "the torture that my client was subjected to by the men and women wearing the big boy pants down at the CIA makes it impossible . . ."

The rest of the statement could not be heard because of the security officer’s action, the Pentagon said. A transcript of the bleeped-out portion showed it consisted of a 21-word exchange during which the judge, Army Col. James Pohl, cautioned Schwartz.

To the Pentagon's credit, they released what they could in the court transcript afterwards, including the reference to Rodriguez.

Ind. Senate Candidate: We Should Stop Electing Senators

| Thu May. 10, 2012 6:54 AM PDT

American Bridge, the Democratic super-PAC dedicated to collecting incriminating video footage of GOP office-seekers, has had its cameras trained on Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock for months. But the group waited until Wednesday, the morning after Mourdock knocked off incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar in the GOP primary, to begin showing off its wares. First up? This clip from February, of Mourdock calling for the repeal of the 17th Amendment, which provides for...the direct election of Senators:

Key quote:

You know the issue of the 17th amendment is so troubling to me, our founding fathers, again those geniuses, made the point that the House of Representatives was there to represent the people. The Senate was there to represent the states. In other words the government of the states...

You know just think of this. In today's world we see millions and millions of dollars spent on Senate campaigns. Two years ago, in 2010, Sharron Angle out in Nevada spent $31 million dollars, just herself. How much money would be spent in federal senate races if the state legislators were electing those people. You just took the money out of politics. Is that a bad thing?

Mourdock's not the first conservative to make the case for repealing the 17th Amendment—George Will has made the case (he's also called for the abolition of jeans), as has Rick Perry. It is, however, jarring to see the case being made by someone who's currently campaigning to win a direct election to the Senate. It's also not clear what problem the repeal would actually fix—expenditures would be transferred to the local level. And, as we're reminded practically every day, America's state legislatures are hardly bastions of sound decision-making.

The GOP Plan To Protect New York From Iran's Nonexistent Transatlantic Missiles

| Thu May. 10, 2012 3:01 AM PDT
Pictured: Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), left, and Iranian aggression.

House Republicans want to protect America in the event Iran suddenly decides to start raining down rockets on Manhattan's Theatre District. Their ambitious solution? A missile shield for the East Coast—think of it as yet another big-budget sequel to "Star Wars."

Predictably, Democrats are eager to spoil their fun:

A new Republican plan to set up a missile defense site on the East Coast has attracted election-year fireworks, with Democrats accusing the GOP of pushing the idea to undercut President Obama's national-security credentials.

Democrats say Republicans are playing politics, but GOP members hit back saying the site is necessary to get ahead of the rising threat of Iran's missile development and to plug a gap in U.S. missile defenses..."This is a political move," said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who intends to introduce an amendment Wednesday to strip the provision from the defense authorization bill. "Every time the election comes around, the Republicans run out a national security agenda."

Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), the chairman of the House strategic forces subcommittee, counters thusly:

You cannot open a newspaper or turn on a TV…without seeing a story of the rising threat from Iran and North Korea to mainland United States. With these emerging threats it is inevitable that an East Coast site will be necessary in order to ensure we have the ability to lessen the threats from both Iran and North Korea.

House Republicans have been kicking around this idea for a few weeks now. It would require $100 million upfront to get the project off the ground, and would take about four years to build. 

There are lots of reasons why this plan is punishingly ill-advised.

Yes, Iranian military and government officials have indeed said things about attacking the East Coast of the United States with their missiles and naval fleets. They've also said things about launching simultaneous Red Dawn-like ground offensives on American, European, Israeli, and Palestinian soil, and that George W. Bush brought down the World Trade Center. Basically, Iran says a lot of things, often with the same attachment to reality you'd get from a Kardashian wedding.