Mojo - June 2012

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 22, 2012

Fri Jun. 22, 2012 7:22 AM PDT

 

US Army Sgt. 1st Class Edward Willis, left, and Sgt. 1st Class Derek Walters, both with the 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, keep watch from the back of a CH-47F Chinook helicopter as it prepares to take off on June 3 at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Photo by the US Army.

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Big Waffle Goes All in for American Crossroads

| Fri Jun. 22, 2012 7:16 AM PDT
Waffle House.

Karl Rove's super-PAC, American Crossroads, raised $4,540,700 in May, according to Federal Election Commission reports filed on Wednesday. For an outfit that has pledged to spend at least $300 million attempting to defeat President Obama and take back the Senate, this may not sound like very much. But keep in mind that 1) big-money donors like Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess have already signaled their intent to donate to 501(c)4s (like Crossroads' sister outfit, Crossroads GPS), which don't have to file monthly disclosure reports or disclose their donors and 2) the biggest gifts to outside groups usually come in the last month before the election.

So who's giving to Crossroads? For the most part, it's individuals. Any company looking to hide its money would go through Crossroads GPS, which doesn't disclose its donors (at least not yet). But one name did catch my eye—the Rutherford River Group, which gave Crossroads $250,000. Rutherford River Group lists an address at 2352 Pine Street in San Francisco—this building. There's no record of the Rutherford River Group on Google, but it's the same address used by Diane "Dede" Wilsey, a major philanthropist who's given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican causes (and a few Democrats; it's California) and maxed out to the Romney campaign. She also owns a vineyard called Rutherford River Ranch Vineyards, and the address provided to the FEC is the same address used by her foundation and the vineyard, so, voila. I'm not sure why she used a company that has virtually no footprint to donate to Crossroads but I've reached out for an explanation. Wilsey isn't the only affluent Bay Area resident giving to Crossroads; Charles B. Johnson, the principal owner of the San Francisco Giants, gave $200,000.

Also of note:

Joe Craft, CEO of Alliance Resources Partners, a Kentucky coal company, personally gave $1.25 million, and donated $425,000 through his company. Why is that significant? Craft is also Mitt Romney's Kentucky finance co-chair. This is legal, so long as Craft's check came with no strings attached. But it goes to show just how much of an overlap there is between outside groups and the campaigns themselves. (It was Craft, you'll recall, whose $7 million naming gift for a University of Kentucky dorm caused writer and activist Wendell Berry to pull his papers from his alma mater.)

Crow Holdings, the company helmed by Swift Boater Harlan Crow, gave $1 million. Oh, and Waffle House, the 24-hour southern breakfast chain that's so ubiquitous FEMA uses it to assess hurricane damage, gave Crossroads $100,000 from its corporate coffers. This is surprising because one doesn't normally associate Big Waffle with big scary super-PACs, but also not that surprising: CEO Jim Rogers Jr. is a longtime supporter of Republican causes, and the company's political action committee has given exclusively to Republicans (in considerably more modest quantities). His ties to Romney date back to 2006, when he joined the finance team of Romney's political action committee, Commonwealth PAC.

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Jun. 22, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

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

the money shot

 

 

 

quote of the week

"Your defense of Crossroads' legal position last night on Fox News was both mystifying and revealing."
—Robert Bauer, the Obama campaign's chief legal counsel, in his second snarky letter to Karl Rove this week. He's demanding that Rove disclose the donors to his dark-money nonprofit Crossroads GPS, which claims to be a "social welfare" group. (Read about the first letter here.)
 

attack ad of the week

Earlier this month, President Obama told reporters at a White House press conference that "the private sector is doing fine." By that, he meant that the private sector has fared better as of late than the flailing public sector. But the comment makes for a great attack-ad sound bite and could become a headache for Obama. The Romney campaign was the first to pounce on the gaffe with an ad last week. Earlier this week, the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future came out with with its own ad; it was followed by this ad by the Koch brothers-affiliated Americans for Prosperity:

 

Fake attack ad of the week

Courtesy of the Mother Jones DC news team, a cautionary look at what could happen if dark money invaded the land of Westeros. Watch the Crossbows GPS spot below. (Warning: the videos contain mild spoilers from season two of Game of Thrones.)

   

STAT of the week

$94.8 million: The amount of money spent by dark-money "social welfare" groups like Crossroads GPS in the 2010 election, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Center for Public Integrity. That's 45 percent more than super-PACs spent during the same cycle.
 

more mojo dark-money coverage

Follow the Dark Money: The down and dirty history of secret spending, PACs gone wild, and the epic four-decade fight over the only kind of political capital that matters.
3 Companies, 1 PO Box, and a $1 Million Super-PAC Gift: If Houston computer magnate Robert T. Brockman wants to cover his tracks, he's not trying hard enough.
How to Sweep Dark Money Out of Politics: Undoing Citizens United, the DIY guide.
Citizens United vs. Sideboob: The court is more worried about a little skin on TV than unlimited corporate money in elections.
Connecticut's Governor—A Democrat!—Sides With Dark Money: Gov. Dannel Malloy vetoed the disclosure bill over policy and constitutional worries, but reformers say he's way off mark.
 

more must-reads

• Thanks to outside spending groups, Barack Obama "may be the first incumbent president to be out-raised by his opponent." AP
• Mitt Romney plans to mingle with deep-pocketed donors at "Republicanpalooza" this weekend. New York Times
• Will Karl Rove's donor disclosure dodges lead to Crossroad GPS' downfall? Huffington Post
• The US Chamber of Commerce works with Republicans to block a donor disclosure bill. iWatch News
• Stephen Colbert's super-PAC barely raised any money last month, but it's inspired copycats like My Cat Xavier for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. Politico

Corn on MSNBC: Romney's Super PAC Ski Trip

Thu Jun. 21, 2012 7:22 PM PDT

David Corn sat down with Politico's Joe Williams and X-L Alliance's Liliana Gil on MSNBC's "Martin Bashir" to hash out Mitt Romney's speech to Latino leaders today. Is there anything Mitt can say—or any amount he can spend—that can limit the President's advantage on immigration?

 

Later, they discussed the legalities of a GOP retreat to the uber-elite ski country of Deer Valley, Utah—a trip that will feature Mitt Romney, GOP leaders, and Super PAC all-stars. Apparently skiing and shmoozing do not qualify as "coordination."

 

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

Does George Zimmerman's Story Add Up?

| Thu Jun. 21, 2012 3:59 PM PDT

Does George Zimmerman's account of what happened on the night he shot and killed Trayvon Martin add up? That question, and whether or not he acted legally in self-defense, will be adjudicated in a Florida court. Aside from Zimmerman landing back in jail for allegedly lying during his bond hearing, the story on the Martin killing has been relatively quiet in recent weeks. But now, on the court's orders, Zimmerman's legal team has been forced to release additional documentary evidence, including a written statement from Zimmerman and a police video (above) in which he reenacts the deadly altercation for investigators the day after it went down.

It isn't hard to see why Zimmerman's attorneys were reluctant to make the material public. It raises more questions and reveals apparent discrepancies in his story.

In a four-page written statement to police on February 26, the night of the shooting (see the document below), Zimmerman says Martin "circled his vehicle" and then disappeared into the darkness as Zimmerman spoke to a police dispatcher on his cell phone. When the dispatcher asked him for his location, Zimmerman wrote in the statement, "I could not remember the name of the street so I got out of my car to look for a street sign."

His stated reason for exiting his vehicle may not be implausible, but it's certainly odd: After all, Zimmerman had lived in the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a small gated community, for years. And he was a leader of its Neighborhood Watch program; prior to the night he killed Martin, he'd called the police no less than 46 times since 2004 to report alleged incidents in the neigborhood. This is a guy who now doesn't recognize which street he's on in his neighborhood?

Also eyebrow-raising is Zimmerman's recollection of the violence that took place after he exited his vehicle. In the written statement, Zimmerman describes reaching for his cell phone to dial 911 as Martin accosts him, comes at him, and punches him in the face. "I fell backwards onto my back," Zimmerman wrote. "The suspect got on top of me."

But in his reenactment at the scene, filmed the day after the shooting by police investigators, Zimmerman describes moving forward after Martin punches him in the face, not falling onto his back. "I think I stumbled," he tells investigators, gesturing forward with his right hand from the spot where he says Martin punched him. "I fell down, he pushed me down, somehow he got on top of me."

An investigator then asks, "On the grass or on the cement?" 

Zimmerman points and walks forward about six paces, the camera following him, as he responds: "It was more over towards here. I think I was trying to push him away from me, and then he got on top of me somewhere around here, and that's when I started screaming for help."

Zimmerman has a right to his day in court. It's important to keep that in mind. But as more information from the investigation emerges, it doesn't seem to be doing much for his case in the court of public opinion.

 

Romney to Latinos: Pay No Attention to That Man From the GOP Primary

| Thu Jun. 21, 2012 11:42 AM PDT

During the Republican Primary, Mitt Romney had a very clear position on immigration: All unauthorized immigrants need to leave. 

Heading into the general election, Romney's position on immigration now sounds more like a relationship status on Facebook: It's complicated.

In his speech before the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Thursday, Romney dodged most of the direct questions about what he'd do on immigration policy while attempting to strike a moderate tone at odds with his primary rhetoric about making undocumented immigrants lives so miserable that they "self-deport." Having spent months appealing to the anti-immigrant base of the GOP to out-conservative Rick Perry and New Gingrich on the issue, Romney has now shifted to a strategy of strategic obfuscation. In a speech touted by his campaign as a "long-term strategy" on immigration reform, Romney completely avoided the two big questions: How will Romney deal with the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the US, and what will he do about the DREAM Act-eligible immigrants Obama spared from deportation last week? Romney offered nothing resembling a straight answer to either of these questions.

For example, Mitt Romney's web page states that "Illegal immigrants who apply for legal status should not be given any advantage over those who are following the law and waiting their turn. Mitt absolutely opposes any policy that would allow illegal immigrants to 'cut in line.'" In his speech however, Romney said "As president, I will reallocate green cards to those seeking to keep their families under one roof. We will exempt from caps the spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents. And we will eliminate other forms of bureaucratic red tape that keep families from being together."

Like much of Romney's speech, this is just vague enough to give the impression that Romney has moderated on immigration policy without making an actual commitment to any policy changes.  But does his statement about green cards mean that he'd allow the undocumented relatives of legal permanent residents to stay, which would be a dramatic shift from his prior position? It's unclear. 

During the primary, Romney promised to veto the DREAM Act, yet he chose not to reiterate that commitment today. Instead, he said, "Some people have asked if I will let stand the president's executive action. The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president's temporary measure." Calling that an "answer" doesn't make it an answer. Romney's statement completely avoids the question it supposedly addresses. Is Romney committing to some kind of comprehensive immigration reform? What is this "long-term solution"? Will it allow some undocumented immigrants to stay? He doesn't say.

There are some elements of the speech immigration reform activists should like—Romney spoke about making legal immigration easier so as to discourage illegal immigration. That's likely the only permanent solution.

Overall, Romney's speech was a parade of sidesteps and distortions. Romney said Obama "failed to address immigration reform" despite having "huge majorities" that made him "free to pursue any policy he pleased." In fact the Democrats filibuster-proof majority lasted about 14 weeks, and Obama's attempts to address immigration reform meet with unanimous opposition and obstruction from Senate Republicans. Republicans blocked immigration reform and are now blaming Obama for not addressing it. 

Will Romney's immigration speech neutralize Obama's advantage with Latinos concerned about immigration? Anyone's guess, but it probably shouldn't. Romney continues to dodge the most basic, direct questions about his positions on immigration, while asking Latino voters to pay no attention to the candidate he was during the primary. 

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Citizens United vs. Sideboob

| Thu Jun. 21, 2012 10:11 AM PDT
The Cast of NYPD Blue Season Six.

In a narrowly tailored but near-unanimous decision on Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission's regulations regarding "indecency" are unconstitutionally vague. Most of the Justices didn't question whether the FCC had the authority to regulate television content for indecency—instead, they argued the FCC had failed to give the networks "fair notice" that certain content could be considered indecent.

The content in question seems somewhat quaint in the age of the Internet—ABC aired "seven seconds of nude buttocks" accompanied by a few more seconds of sideboob on NYPD Blue in 2003, while Fox aired "isolated utterances of obscene words" by "the singer Cher" and "a person named Nicole Richie" during the Billboard Music Awards in 2002.

Of the eight Justices who ruled on the issue (Sonia Sotomayor recused herself because she was a judge on the Second Circuit when it took the case), only Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a brief concurrence, questioned whether the FCC's authority was too broad. Ginsburg wrote that the 1978 case upholding the FCC's authority to regulate "indecency" over the airwaves was "untenable" and "bears reconsideration." (The 1978 case involved a hilarious radio monologue from the late comedian George Carlin.)

The court's narrow ruling reflects a very different attitude towards the First Amendment than the one on display in the court's decision in Citizens' United, which opened the spigot for unlimited, unregulated corporate money in elections. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his Citizens United opinion, "it is our law and tradition that more speech, not less, is the governing rule." That rule appears to apply only to unlimited corporate cash, not sideboob. Which do you think is more threatening to the democratic process?

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 21, 2012

Thu Jun. 21, 2012 7:10 AM PDT

US Army paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team fortify a guard tower with sandbags at Joint Security Station Hasan in southern Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. The paratroopers are assigned to Company D, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod, RC-East PAO.

Arizona Secretary of State Thinks Obama Told Colleges He Was Born in Kenya

| Thu Jun. 21, 2012 5:20 AM PDT
Ken Bennett (R)

Arizona secretary of state Ken Bennett stepped in it back in May when he threatened to keep President Barack Obama off the November ballot unless the state of Hawaii produced a copy of his birth certificate. This was an odd demand, because Obama and the state of Hawaii have already produced two copies of Obama's birth certificate. Bennett eventually backed down and apologized to the citizens of Arizona (but not before Democrats demanded that he investigate rumors that Mitt Romney is secretly a unicorn).

Now, Bennett is at it again. Speaking to local Republicans last week, Bennett alleged that the president may have told college admissions officers that he had been born in Kenya in order to receive special perks. Per the Arizona Republic:

"Now, I know there are a lot of people who are very skeptical about whether the president was born in Hawaii," he said. "Personally, I believe he was.

"I actually think he was fibbing about being born in Kenya when he was trying to get into college and doing things like writing a book and on and on and on.

"So, if there was weird stuff going on, I actually think it was happening back in his college days because I think he has spent $1.5 (million) or $2 million through attorneys to have all the college records and all that stuff sealed.

"So, if you're spending money to seal something, that's probably where the hanky panky was going on."

Bennett on Wednesday said that his comments are being misconstrued and that he was hinging his statement on the word "if."

It just depends on what your definition of if is!

Should Not Disclosing Your HIV Status Be a Crime?

| Thu Jun. 21, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

In 2007, Donald Bogardus contracted HIV from his long-term partner. When he later had unprotected sex with a man who didn't know Bogardus was HIV positive, he was charged under an Iowa law that criminalizes the transmission of HIV.

"I wanted to tell him," Bogardus told the Daily Iowan, "but when I went to say it, I clammed up…I was afraid he was going to blab it out to everybody."

Now Bogardus—a church-going, nursing-home worker with cerebral palsy and a pet goldfish named Survivor—faces 25 years in prison and lifelong sex offender status. For many opponents of criminal HIV transmission statutes, who argue that they are ineffective at preventing transmission and stigmatize the HIV-positive, he's become the poster boy for the laws' severity.