Mojo - May 2012

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 25, 2012

Fri May 25, 2012 10:08 AM EDT

Service members pose for a photo with television host Kelly Ripa after the taping of Live with Kelly during Fleet Week New York 2012. This marks the 25th year the city has celebrated the nation's sea services. This year, the seven-day event coincides with he commemoration of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 and will host more than 6,000 service members from the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard team in addition to coalition ships from around the world. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist MC2 Drae Parker.

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Targeting America's "Stand Your Ground" Laws

| Fri May 25, 2012 6:45 AM EDT

Nearly three months after the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin put the spotlight on "stand your ground," a new national organization is pressing thousands of lawmakers across the country to "reform or repeal" laws that sanction the controversial self-defense doctrine.

Second Chance on Shoot First, a nonprofit started in April by New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and a collection of progressive and civil-rights organizations, is targeting 26 states that legalized "stand your ground"—or "shoot first," as the group calls it. "Prior to 'Shoot First,' people had a traditional duty to retreat from a situation outside their home when they could safely do so," the campaign's website states. "Now, afforded immunity and a presumption of lawfulness by the law, armed individuals can seek out opportunities to use deadly force outside their homes. And the hands of law enforcement and prosecutors are tied."

Mother Jones has reported about how the National Rifle Association and the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council lobbied nationwide for the laws, and how the laws have hampered law enforcement in numerous cases—including the investigation into Martin's fatal shooting.

This week, Ginny Simmons, the director of Second Chance, sent letters to more than 4,000 legislators in states with the lax defense standards, urging them to modify or discard the legal guidelines. "[E]xperience has now shown that these laws encourage vigilantism, sow confusion among police, and stymie prosecutors," she wrote in the letter. "People carrying guns now feel emboldened to resolve conflicts with firearms even if they could safely walk away, and police and prosecutors are uncertain about which shootings may be instances of legitimate self-defense and which are murders."

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri May 25, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

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

Citizens United fever: The debate over the controversial Supreme Court ruling continues. Curious how it could be undone? Check out our DIY guide to ditching the ruling. For more details, iWatch News reports on the argument over whether a constitutional amendment is the best way to overturn it. MoJo's Andy Kroll explores whether Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who just asked Supreme Court to reconsider its decision, is reclaiming his status as a campaign-finance reformer. Meanwhile, dark-money fans are lining up to tell the court not to touch Citizens United

Going soft on Obama (sort of): The New York Times' Jeremy Peters deconstructs the latest ad from Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, in which a mom complains that President Obama's policies have forced her grown children to move back home. The ad's partly the work of Larry McCarthy, the producer of the infamous 1988 Willie Horton ad:

McCarthy's new ad, though, strikes a far softer tone. It repeatedly uses the word "change" and breaks from the attack-ad norm by employing professional actors.


Oppo-research group targets Dems:
Andy Kroll reports on Media Tracker, a "nonpartisan" opposition-research group founded by  to dig up dirt on Democrats that can be used in attack ads. "I'm talking about creating long-lasting impact for the conservative movement," says its founder, a former Republican National Committee staffer. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has a sophisticated ad shop ready to fight back against the likes of Media Trackers, Slate's Sasha Issenberg reports.

Where are the liberal megadonors? Also at Slate, Dave Weigel takes a look at why the super-PAC-fueled ideological purging of unworthy GOP candidates isn't happening on the left. As Michael Vachon, spokesman for conservatives' favorite boogeyman George Soros, explains, "The reason there's not a Club for Growth-like organization on the left is that there is a greater diversity of views in the Democratic Party than there is in the Republican Party. There's less of a hierarchically enforced ideological structure." 

Super-PACs keep the money flowing to state races: The Sunlight Foundation's Anupama Narayanswamy reports that super-PACs spent nearly $1 million ahead of Tuesday's primaries in Arkansas and Kentucky. A 21-year-old millionaire's pro-Ron Paul super-PAC provided the majority of the $766,000 in outside spending that propelled Republican congressional candidate Thomas Massie to victory in the Bluegrass State. (MoJo's Tim Murphy has more his group here. Watch a campaign ad below.) Meanwhile, real-estate interests have spent a "mind boggling" $700,000 attempting to oust a 14-year incumbent in a Republican House primary in California.

A Wall Street slump for Romney: Barack Obama's difficult relationship with Wall Street donors is well known. Now Mitt Romney is having troubles too, reports the Center for Responsive Politics. Since April, the securities and investment industry has been donating significantly less to his campaign as well as the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future. But Romney is still outraising Obama, who took in just $166,000 from the financial industry last month (and less from Silicon Valley, too).

Obama Taps Nuclear "Agnostic" for Top Regulatory Post

| Thu May 24, 2012 4:13 PM EDT

Politico reports that President Obama will nominate Allison Macfarlane to serve as the new chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The current chairman, Greg Jaczko, resigned on Monday under pressure from panel members more sympathetic to the nuclear industry.

Mcfarlane is an associate professor of Environmental Policy and Social Sciences at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. She has a PhD in geology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and wrote a book about the challenges of nuclear waste disposal, Uncertainty Underground: Yucca Mountain and the Nation’s High-Level Nuclear Waste. She is currently a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on the future of nuclear that Energy Secretary Steven Chu created in 2010.

Given the pressure put on Jaczko, one has to wonder if Macfarlane will make it through Senate confirmation. She's been highly critical of using Yucca Mountain to dispose of nuclear waste, a favorite issue for the industry and supporters in Congress. And she says she's an "agnostic" on nuclear energy, as she described on the Atomic Show podcast in 2007:

In terms of nuclear energy, I would describe myself as an agnostic. I'm neither pro-nuclear or anti-nuclear. I think nuclear has been doing a good job in the United states and some other industrial countries at providing a good, reliable energy, and they've been improving on that. At the same time, I think I think in terms of an expansion in nuclear power over the next 50 years or something, nuclear has lot of liabilities and I don't know if it can get over them.

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader (and vocal Yucca critic) Harry Reid indicated that he would seek to move her confirmation forward alongside the reconfirmation of current commissioner Kristine Svinicki. Reid has expressed "grave concerns" about reappointing Svinicki, but seemed to indicate that perhaps there could be agreement on moving the two forward together. "The nuclear industry has a perfect opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to safety by supporting Dr. Macfarlane’s nomination," said Reid.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 24, 2012

Thu May 24, 2012 12:21 PM EDT

US Army Pvt. Richard Mitchell, Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, visits with children of a village in northern Qalat on May 16, 2012. The children of the village received humanitarian aid from the PRT during the US and Romanian's visit to assess security and irrigation in the village. US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Turner.

I Can Haz Cheezburger Can Haz Anti-Lamar Smith Billboard

| Thu May 24, 2012 9:48 AM EDT
The billboard.

Rep. Lamar Smith needs 50 percent of the vote in next Tuesday's Texas primary to avoid a runoff and all but guarantee a 14th term in the House. He'll probably get it—there's been no indication that far-right gadfly Richard Mack or Austin tech entrepreneur Richard Morgan pose much of a threat at this point.

On Monday, Test PAC, the project of a band of ticked-off Redditors upset at Smith for sponsoring the Stop Online Piracy Act, ran its first television ads in Austin and San Antonio, to go along with a billboard on Interstate 10. It was a small buy—just $10,200—but noteworthy in that it was the first time the online community had entered the campaign finance game. Now another group, Fight for the Future, founded in late 2011 to educate and mobilize Internet users about the perils of SOPA, is up with a billboard of its own. Or two billboards, rather—one of which is just down the street from Smith's San Antonio district office. The kicker: Funding for the project came in part from Ben Huh, CEO and godfather of the I Can Haz Cheezburger empire. It's surprisingly cat-free.

Fight for the Future co-founder Holmes Wilson says the group has no plans to get involved in the primary—but he's hoping sooner or later Smith will get the message. "I guess he's still in DC until the weekend, but hopefully he'll come into work," Wilson says. "Hopefully he'll come into the San Antonio office sometime this weekend and get to see our billboard."

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Corn on "Hardball": Romney's Campaign of Falsehoods Against President Obama

Wed May 23, 2012 8:56 PM EDT

David Corn and Salon's Joan Walsh joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss Mitt Romney's campaign of falsehoods against the President. Romney claims that President Obama has increased federal spending, raised taxes, and appeased Al Qaeda.

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

Dem Poll Shows Walker and Barrett Tied in Recall

| Wed May 23, 2012 5:55 PM EDT
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

Wisconsin Democrats and union officials have a message for the recall doomsayers: Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett are still locked in a dead heat.

After the last three public polls showed Walker with a 4 to 9 percentage point lead over Barrett, Democrats released an internal poll suggesting the race remains up for grabs. In a survey of 472 recall voters by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, Walker was ahead of Barrett by 3 points, 50-47. That's within the survey's 4-point margin of error. And in an encouraging sign for Democrats, Barrett leads Walker 50-44 among independent voters in Wisconsin.

Barrett backers say the new survey shows Walker hasn't locked up the June 5 recall election. "This race remains a dead heat, with Barrett solidifying and even building on his lead amongst independents, and Democrats' turnout operation in full gear as early voting and GOTV begin in earnest," Kelly Steele, the spokesman for the labor-backed outside political group We Are Wisconsin, wrote in a memo released to the press.

Steele also took aim at the recent flurry of polls, saying they were "flawed" because Republicans were overrepresented in their samples. The race will remain a "dead heat" until election day, Steele argued, and turnout will decide who triumphs on June 5. "On Election Day, it's that very turnout that will determine the outcome, and we remain confident in our trajectory and continue to execute our program as planned."

Read Steele's memo:

 

Dear SCOTUS: We ❤ Citizens United!

| Wed May 23, 2012 5:10 PM EDT

Since the US Supreme Court stayed a Citizens-United-defying ruling by Montana's Supreme Court in February, politicians and advocacy groups have lined up to take sides, filing amicus briefs urging the high court to let stand, reverse, or review the decision. The majority of the briefs, like the one submitted by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), come from petitioners upset by the unlimited outside spending triggered by Citizens United.

Yet those calling on the Supreme Court to let the Montana ruling stand (including one group with a rather unorthodox argument) or use it as an opportunity to roll back Citizens United face an uphill battle. The court's conservative majority is likely to be more sympathetic to those friends of the court calling upon it to summarily reverse (i.e., overturn without hearing) the Montana ruling. Their main arguments:

Why mess with a good thing?
In his amicus brief, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argues (PDF) that the Montana Supreme Court's decision to uphold the state's strict campaign finance laws should be summarily reversed since it contradicts Citizens United. "Nothing that has occurred since that ruling warrants its reconsideration," his brief reads. It goes further, noting that the majority of super-PAC contributions come from individuals, not corporations, and therefore concerns about the ruling are greatly exaggerated. The brief also approvingly cites a column in the New York Post by Reason's Jacob Sullum that claims that "independent groups, funded mainly by wealthy individuals, have increased competitiveness, which is usually considered good for democracy."

Corruption? Sorry, can't hear you.
The US Chamber of Commerce, which has spent upwards of $3 million against Democrats in this election cycle and has vowed not to disclose its donors, argues (PDF) that in light of Citizens United "it is settled law that independent expenditures do not create the appearance of corruption" because they aren't donated directly to candidates. As Lee Fang notes, it's pretty clear that evidence of actual corruption does exist, pointing to a multitude of evidence filed by a judge in McConnell v. FEC, the 2003 case that upheld the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance limits (which Citizens United partly reversed). Nevertheless, the Chamber says that even if such evidence of corruption should come to light, the Supreme Court should not use "empirical data" to reconsider its previous ruling.

Don't know much about history…
Citizens United, the group behind the case of the same name, has also weighed in. Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock argued that his state's unique history of political corruption, dating back to the political stranglehold held by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company in the late 1800s, was reason enough to disprove the Supreme Court's contention that independent expenditures "do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption." However, Citizens United says that the Montana ruling violates a 2009 Supreme Court decision, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder, in which "this Court confirmed that history alone is an insufficient ground for sustaining a constitutionally suspect statute."

CU's brief also argues that Citizens United is not a "factbound" ruling and that any claims otherwise are disingenuous efforts to create an unconstitutional state-level exemption to free-speech rights. Meanwhile, Montana AG Bullock may have inadvertently strengthened his argument against Citizens United: After leaving his seat open to run for governor, an unprecedented amount of money has been poured into the Republican primary for attorney general, much of it from out-of-state PACs.

Texas Democratic Primary Just Got Real

| Wed May 23, 2012 12:23 PM EDT

I've got a piece up today on a Democratic House primary in El Paso, where former councilman Beto O'Rourke is challenging 16-year incumbent Silvestre Reyes. The kicker is that O'Rourke is an outspoken critic of the War on Drugs who's clashed with Reyes over federal drug policy; in a border district, the election amounts to a sort of referendum on the Drug War. The current polling of the race, such as it is, has the two deadlocked.

Why is a longtime incumbent facing an early retirement? University of Texas–El Paso professor Gregory Rocha suspected it was partly because Reyes has been kind of lethargic when it comes to defining himself and his opponent.

So right on cue, with election day just six days away, the Reyes campaign has gone what I think you could charitably call "scorched earth":

The El Paso Times has a handy fact-check of the charges: The DUI came when O'Rourke was 25 (he's 40 now) and has not seemed to hurt him in his previous races; the "attempted burglary" came when he was in college and according to the candidate consisted of him jumping a fence. The drunken spanking incident happened last June at an El Paso bar. In the grainy footage, O'Rourke is seen dancing, falling on his back, and then being spanked by a female companion. Although O'Rourke was undoubtedly spanked, it's not clear whether he was intoxicated.

In any event, I'm fairly certain this is the first-ever attack ad to feature the phrase "he was recently videoed publicly intoxicated being spanked."