Mojo - June 2012

Obama Campaign to Rove: Reveal Your Secret Donors

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Just over a week ago, the 4th Circuit of Appeals ruled that the government must determine the "major purpose" of groups like Karl Rove's dark-money outfit Crossroads GPS, which operates as a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" nonprofit*. By law, 501(c)(4)s can't make political activity their primary activity. They can, however, make attack ads and funnel money to super-PACs, which is why some super-PACs, like GPS' sister organization American Crossroads, use them as a way to avoid disclosing their donors.

Besides giving a boost to campaign-finance reformers, the ruling in Real Truth About Obama v. FEC has given the Obama campaign an opportunity to mess with Rove. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that the campaign's chief counsel, Robert Bauer, filed a complaint with the FEC arguing that Crossroads GPS now has an obligation to disclose its anonymous donors without delay. GPS "seems to believe that it can run out the clock and spend massive sums of money in this election without accounting for a trace of its funding," he wrote. The circuit court ruling "makes clear that Crossroads is out of time." 

Bauer also sent a snarky courtesy letter to Rove and Crossroads GPS president Steven Law, explaining that his FEC complaint was "laying out the case—obvious to all—that Crossroads is a political committee subject to federal reporting requirements."

The letter also mentioned Van Hollen v. FEC, a case that may soon require political 501(c)(4)s to disclose their donors if they run ads in the run-up to an election. Bauer explained that Crossroads GPS disclosing its donors now

need not involve any admission of liability for violating the law in the past. You may continue to hold to your position which is, no doubt, that until recent legal developments, Crossroads believed that it could take in anonymous donations for its electioneering activities. Now your position can be that because the law has become ever clearer, you must proceed to report. While this is thin cover for your failure to report to date, it is better than nothing.

Of course, Crossroads GPS isn't the only dark-money outfit out there. "The big question is whether Bauer sent a similar letter to Priorities USA—a group modeled after Crossroads GPS to support President Obama's policies," GPS spokesman Jonathan Collegio told the Huffington Post in response to the complaint. Priorities USA is the dark-money arm of Priorities USA Action, the primary pro-Obama super-PAC. It is unclear just how much money Priorities USA has raised so far. Crossroads reported raising $28 million in 2011.

Have a look at the letter to Rove and the complaint:

 

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that the court, not Bauer, said Crossroads GPS fit the FEC's definition of a political committee.

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Corn on MSNBC: Rubio as Running Mate?

Wed Jun. 20, 2012 3:00 AM EDT

Mother Jones' DC bureau chief David Corn joined Martin Bashir on MSNBC on Tuesday to discuss the latest news from the Romney campaign.

With all the speculation over whether Senator Marco Rubio is actually being vetted as Romney's running mate, Corn talks about what this means for Romney's immigration policy and attempts to woo Latino voters.

Corn also discussed Romney's six-state bus tour, where he was trying his darndest to act like a normal person. Despite all the pancake flipping and sandwich buying, nobody is fooled.

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

Just Like in "The Wire," Real FBI Crime Stats Are "Juked"

| Tue Jun. 19, 2012 5:49 PM EDT

In the particularly dramatic scene of HBO's The Wire above, a group of Baltimore police brass is instructed to artificially deflate felony and murder statistics or be ousted from their jobs. "I don't care how you do it, just fuckin' do it," snarls Baltimore Police Deputy Commissioner of Operations William A. Rawls.

Inside a lecture room at John Jay College in New York City two summers ago, Molloy College criminologist and retired New York City Police Department Captain John Eterno lectured a group of FBI agents about nearly identical scenarios unfolding within the NYPD's walls. He and his John Jay colleague Eli Silverman had recently published a detailed survey (that later became a book) of 400 retired NYPD commanders who served under the CompStat system, a computer program used to compare crime rates and performance across precincts. 

Most of the commanders claimed they were "under enormous pressure" to routinely underreport or misclassify serious crimes, which were then excluded from city's crime reports to the state and FBI. "Once you have one 'CompStat' meeting where they're screaming and yelling at you about your crime numbers," Eterno explains, "you get the hint and then you do what you can to make sure those numbers are looking the way they want them to."

After the presentation, some of the more junior FBI agents approached Eterno. "This is falling on deaf ears," they whispered, referring to their superiors.

Senators Finally Ponder the Question: Is Solitary Confinement Wrong?

| Tue Jun. 19, 2012 3:58 PM EDT

The ACLU set up this realistic mock solitary cell in the hearing room.

The cell placed at the back of the hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building was a pretty accurate replica of a real isolation cell—the kind that exists in supermax prisons and solitary confinement units all over the country. It measured about 7 feet by 10 feet, with a tiny covered window too high to see out of and nothing inside but a bunk and a toilet. The door contained a slot through which a guard slides a food tray; for many prisoners, this represents their only human contact for the day. These are the conditions in which some 80,000 inmates live on any given day in American prisons and jails. They spend at least 23 hours a day in their cells, and some remain in solitary for years or even decades.

Solitary confinement in our prisons and jails may be the most pressing domestic human rights problem to which most Americans remain largely oblivious. But today, supporters and foes of the practice descended on Capitol Hill for a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, convened by subcommittee chairman Dick Durbin. An overflow crowd of some 200 spectators came there to witness—somewhat amazingly—the first-ever congressional hearing on solitary confinement.

Durbin opened the proceedings with a surprisingly strong indictment of solitary confinement as it is practiced in US prisons. The senator, who had visited the notorious Tamms supermax in his home state of Illinois and was apparently much-affected by the experience, called on his colleagues to visit prisons in their states and witness the conditions for themselves. "America has led the way with human rights around the world," Durbin said. But "what do our prisons say about our American values?"

From Sherwood Forest to Wall Street: The Robin Hood Tax Campaign Comes to America

| Tue Jun. 19, 2012 10:53 AM EDT

Robin Hood Tax activists, who are pushing for a financial transactions tax to generate revenue to invest in jobs, health care, housing and education, officially launched their United States campaign on Tuesday.

According to a press release from the campaign, a 50-cent tax on every $100 of stock trades could generate hundreds of billions of dollars annually. (The rate could be even lower on other financial transactions.) Over 1,000 leading economists have endorsed the idea of a financial transactions tax, including Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs and Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute.

The notion of a tax on stock trades and other financial transactions is not new—in the United States, the federal government taxed every sale or transfer of stock between 1914 and 1966. But in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the idea has gained new support—especially overseas. German chancellor Angela Merkel recently said a financial transactions tax would be "the right signal to show that we have understood that financial markets have to contribute their share to the recovery of economies."

Actor Mark Ruffalo, Coldplay's Chris Martin, and Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello worked with students, climate and AIDS activists, faith registered nurses from the nation's largest nurses union to produce a video promoting the Robin Hood campaign. You can watch it here:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 19, 2012

Tue Jun. 19, 2012 10:01 AM EDT

Maj. Pete Reddan writes a song while leaning on the front tires of a C-17 Globemaster III at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. on June 13. Reddan's military inspired tune, "Off to War", was recently recorded by Nashville recording artist Brad Anderson. The song was inspired by his experiences during deployments as well as the experiences of the men and women Reddan serves with. Reddan is a 437th Airlift Wing pilot. US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ashlee Galloway.

UPDATE: You can learn more about Reddan's song and this photo here.

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Meet the "Bald-Headed Bastard" Who Battles Dark Money

| Tue Jun. 19, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Watchdog Fred Wertheimer.

From his office just off Washington, DC's posh Dupont Circle, Fred Wertheimer goes to battle each day against the rising deluge of shadowy campaign spending in American politics. The walls of his office tell the tale of a career spent in the political money trenches: A photo of Wertheimer in the White House signed by President Obama is inscribed "Keep fighting the good fight." Says one framed news clip: "Ethics Watchdog Fred Wertheimer: When He Barks, Congress Listens." A 1995 Wall Street Journal editorial dubs him "The Man Who Ruined Politics." (Wertheimer is especially proud of that one.)

What few know is that Wertheimer's long war on dark money began with a phone call—and a napping Wertheimer almost slept through it.

As I report in "Follow the Dark Money," the cover story of Mother Jones' July/August issue, Wertheimer was snoozing away one afternoon in May 1971 when the ethics group Common Cause called and offered him a junior lobbyist job. His portfolio would include urging lawmakers to write new restrictions on campaign fundraising and spending. This was the Nixon era, when secret donations flooded the system and millionaires could launch a candidate's campaign with a single check. "Reform is not for the short-winded," John Gardner, Common Cause's founder, told him. Today, Wertheimer jokes, "He never told me it was 41 years and counting."

The story traces four decades' worth of scandals and secret cash drops, back-room deals and legislative battles, beginning with Watergate and arriving in the age of the super-PAC. Today, Wertheimer and his allies are on the ropes. Casino king Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers' donor network are set to pump tens of millions of dollars into outside groups to elect their favorite candidates, shadowy nonprofits spend tens of millions more on attack ads, and Republican forces prepare to spend as much as $1 billion to topple President Obama and claim control of Congress.

What prompted an enraged congressman to call Werthheimer a "bald-headed bastard" for his efforts to reform campaign finance? And how did we get to a place where billionaires are now injecting massive amounts of untraceable funds into our elections? Go ahead and click here to follow the long and winding dark money trail.

National Review: Still Publishing Bigoted Contributors

| Tue Jun. 19, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Months after dismissing contributors John Derbyshire and Robert Weissberg for expressing flagrantly racist views, National Review is publishing a writer who suggested blacks are "the most murderous of peoples" and declared that "there's a reason the founding fathers did not give women or black slaves the right to vote."

David Yerushalmi is perhaps best known as the author of model anti-Shariah legislation that has been pushed by Republican state lawmakers across the country. Yerushalmi once proposed blocking "Shariah-adherent" immigration into the US and making it a "felony punishable by 20 years in prison to knowingly act in furtherance of, or to support the, adherence to Shariah." Since any observant Muslim could be considered "Shariah adherent," this language could apply to any religious Muslim.

As my colleague Tim Murphy reported last year, Yerushalmi has expressed an array of controversial views on race. "Some races perform better in sports, some better in mathematical problem solving, some better in language, some better in Western societies and some better in tribal ones," Yerushalmi explained in a 2006 essay. The Anti-Defamation League describes Yerushalmi as having a "record of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black bigotry." Though he is Jewish, he's no fan of liberal Jews either, having compared them to "a fatal parasite," according to the ADL. As Think Progress' Matt Duss noted, Yerushalmi also once wrote that "Jews of the modern age are the most radical, aggressive and effective of the liberal Elite." (Thanks?) 

At National Review, Yerushalmi is currently debating conservative writer Matthew Schmitz, who has made the perfectly reasonable argument that anti-Shariah laws at best "solve" an issue that doesn't exist (the implementation of Taliban-style Islamic law in the United States) and at worst could be used to restrict the religious freedoms of Americans who are not Muslim as well. Worst of all, Schmitz worries that "the anti-sharia movement’s implication that all Muslims are radicals amplifies resentments and fuels hate by encouraging Americans to view their neighbors with suspicion and distrust." He is hopelessly outnumbered at National Review, where many of the writers and commenters weighing in are confused at Schmitz' inability to perceive Muslim Americans as the collective Fifth Column everyone understands them to be. 

No one, however, is more outraged at Schmitz' suggestion that anti-Muslim prejudice might be at work in the Shariah-panic industry than Yerushalmi, who writes, "To even suggest, as Mr. Schmitz does, that those of us confronting the reality of transnationalism and Islamism are harboring some darker motives is, to put it mildly, patently offensive."

National Review editor Rich Lowry didn't respond to a request for comment. But when he fired Derbyshire, Lowry wrote that Derbyshire's essay (which appeared in another publication) about teaching his children to, among other things, "[a]void concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally" was "nasty and indefensible." Yerushalmi, to be sure, has a history of making statements that rise to the same category. So why, after two recent high profile episodes involving the race-tinged views of its contributors, is the National Review publishing someone whose incendiary record on race seemingly violates its standards?

 

Corn on "Hardball": Romney's Rough Record on Immigration

Mon Jun. 18, 2012 10:18 PM EDT

David Corn and New York Magazine's John Heilemann joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball" to discuss Obama's immigration order and Mitt Romney's struggle to defend his own stance on immigration.

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

Scalia Changes His Mind on Key Obamacare Precedent

| Mon Jun. 18, 2012 3:10 PM EDT

Justice Antonin Scalia has changed his mind about a key Supreme Court precedent that supporters of the Affordable Care Act have been using to argue that the law is constitutional. Scalia's new position leaves little doubt that he'll vote to overturn the law. 

As TPM's Sahil Kapur notes, a New York Times review of Scalia's new book describes the Justice arguing that the 1942 Supreme Case Wickard v. Filburn, which featured a broad interpretation of the Commerce Clause that has been key to pro-Obamacare legal arguments, was wrongly decided.

In that 1942 decision, Justice Scalia writes, the Supreme Court "expanded the Commerce Clause beyond all reason" by ruling that "a farmer’s cultivation of wheat for his own consumption affected interstate commerce and thus could be regulated under the Commerce Clause."

[...]

Justice Scalia’s treatment of the Wickard case had been far more respectful in his judicial writings. In the book’s preface, he explains (referring to himself in the third person) that he "knows that there are some, and fears that there may be many, opinions that he has joined or written over the past 30 years that contradict what is written here." Some inconsistencies can be explained by respect for precedent, he writes, others "because wisdom has come late."

Yet Scalia cited Wickard in his 2005 concurrence in Gonzales v. Raich, holding that the Commerce Clause gave Congress the authority to prohibit individuals from growing their own marijuana for medical use. In the opinion, Scalia made an argument often cited by Obamacare supporters in defense of the law, stating that "where Congress has authority to enact a regulation of interstate commerce, it possesses every power needed to make that regulation effective." In other words, since Congress has the authority to regulate interstate commerce, and health insurance falls into this category, it has the power to implement the individual mandate. 

Conservatives were so fearful that the precedent set by Raich would prove insurmountable to their effort to kill Obamacare that Republican-appointed judges developed an argument that would allow the court to avoid overturning Raich, and allow Scalia to avoid contradicting his concurrence. That argument was the much touted "activity/inactivity" distinction, the idea that by taxing Americans who avoid purchasing health insurance Congress was trying to regulate commercial "inactivity" rather than activity. The argument makes little sense, both because the plaintiffs in Raich were not engaging in commercial activity and because health care is something all humans eventually require. But the reasoning nontheless seemed carefully tailored to allow the court to rule against Obamacare without engaging in a potentially embarrassing reversal of their prior rulings. Georgetown University law rofessor Randy Barnett, one of the most influential legal minds among Affordable Care Act opponents, predicted Scalia would adopt this rationale back in December 2010

Scalia's explanation of his current views on Wickard shows that the lower court judges needn't have bothered providing Scalia with an escape hatchInstead of wisdom "coming late" to Scalia, it may have arrived just in time to justify a vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act.