Mojo - July 2012

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 27, 2012

Fri Jul. 27, 2012 10:25 AM EDT

A Paratrooper from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, searches for improvised explosive devices along Highway 1 in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. Dismounted troops are often better at finding wires leading to IEDs. US Army photo by Capt. Thomas Cieslak.

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This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

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

the money shot

quote of the week

"We've put the IRS in charge [without the tools it needs]."
—Campaign finance expert Donald Tobin, a witness at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Wednesday. At issue was how the IRS will investigate whether so-called "social welfare" groups are violating their tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status by making political activity their primary purpose. A recent Treasury Department audit criticized the IRS for its poor response to complaints about the groups, but the IRS has said it will consider rule changes to crack down on abuses—just don't expect anything new in time for the 2012 election.

 

attack ad of the week

On Wednesday, the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action unleashed an Olympics-themed ad attacking Mitt Romney for outsourcing jobs and stowing away money in offshore tax havens. But the ad contained a copyrighted image of Romney during his time as chief executive of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and quickly drew a protest from the International Olympics Committee. YouTube pulled the ad, and Priorities USA Action will not be able to air it on TV. Meanwhile, pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future plans to spend $7.2 million on ads during the 2012 Olympics; the Obama campaign (which is formally unaffiliated with Priorities USA Action) plans to spend up to $6.5 million.YouTube via Yahoo! NewsYouTube via Yahoo! News

 

stat of the week

$2 million: Total donations to pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future from the other Koch brother, Bill, who has steered clear of his siblings' shadowy fundraising network. It remains to be seen if Bill, whose net worth is a reported $4 billion, will consider this investment better than the $68 million he spent to win the America's Cup yacht race in 1992. (He later told ESPN about that victory, "Financially, I would say win or lose, it's not worth it.")

 

super-pacs of the week

Over at Politico, Kenneth Vogel reports on the "dawn of the mommy and daddy PACs"—that is, super-PACs funded heavily by the parents of candidates who are often also involved in their children's campaigns. Their relationships, both familial and political, test the limits of campaign rules that ban coordination between candidates and super-PACs. An early example of the phenomenon was the $2.1 million that Jon Huntsman Sr., poured into Our Destiny PAC, which supported his son's ill-fated presidential bid. In Seattle, Democrat Laura Ruderman's congressional campaign aired an ad last week vowing to protect Obamacare that starred Ruderman's mother, Margaret Rothschild, who is a cancer survivor. The following day, Rothschild donated $115,000 to a super-PAC supporting her daughter, who claimed that she "had no idea" what her mom was up to. Here's the campaign ad Rothschild appeared in:

 

more mojo dark money coverage

Super-PACs Can't Give $1 Million to a Congressman. But This One Did: The Republican Governors Association exploits a loophole to drop a giant campaign gift on Indiana Rep. Mike Pence.
Romney's Rainmakers Dump Millions Into His Super-PAC: Together, all super-PACs raised $55 million in June—a record month.
Meet the Front Group Leading the Fight Against Taxing the Rich: Does the National Federation of Independent Businesses really represent small business owners—or billionaires?
CHART: One GOP Super-PAC Has Raised More Money Than Every Democratic Super-PAC Combined

 

more must-reads

• Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer testifies against super-PACs and lobbyists in front of a congressional committee. UPI
• Conservative dark-money group/super-PAC the American Future Fund has sent the Federal Election Commission a request to allow it to "engage in joint fundraising efforts" with candidates. Election Law Blog
• Big business sides with conservative super-PACs. iWatch News
• Ezra Klein calls the DISCLOSE Act "a minor piece of legislation" against dark-money groups; Lisa Rosenberg objects. Sunlight Foundation

South Dakota Doctors Ordered To Say Abortions Lead to Suicide

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

A federal appeals court this week upheld South Dakota's law requiring doctors to tell women seeking abortions that they will face "increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide."

The "informed consent" law, which required doctors to read a formal script to all women seeking an abortion, has been in litigation since it passed in 2005. (The state drew much of their ideas from the legal writings of Harold Cassidy, who was profiled in Mother Jones last year.) A court had previously upheld other portions of the script, but the part about increased risk of suicide—a claim based on dubious medical research—was the last portion stuck in legal wrangling. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals voted 7 to 4 to uphold that part of the script. From the Star Tribune:

"On its face, the suicide advisory presents neither an undue burden on abortion rights nor a violation of physicians' free speech rights," the court wrote in its majority opinion.
In September, a three-judge panel upheld U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier's decision to overturn the requirement following a lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood. The decision Tuesday by the full 11-member court grants judgment to the state and vacates the permanent injunction against enforcing the provision.

The Star Tribune notes that the argument came down to questions over the validity of the medical claims. Most of the research out there has not found a causal relationship between abortion and increased risk of suicide. But the state presented articles claiming that there is, in fact, a "statistically significant correlation between abortion and suicide." But as Jodi Jacobson at RH Reality Check points out, there are major problems with the paper that is most often used to support that claim. We wrote earlier this year about a new study totally debunking its flawed research methods that didn't distinguish whether the women had had mental health problems before seeking an abortion. And yet abortion foes still regularlly flog the paper.

Planned Parenthood, the only abortion provider in South Dakota and the plaintiff in the lawsuit, released a statement noting that it is "extremely disappointed" in the court's decision. A spokesperson told Mother Jones the organization is exploring any further legal options it might have.

South Dakota has passed a number of anti-abortion laws in recent years—so many that the state created a separate "Life Protection Fund" to defend them in court. That includes a 2011 law requiring women to visit an anti-abortion counseling center and wait 72 hours before getting an abortion, another law that's been tied up in litigation as well.

Release the Romney Jokes!

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Forget—for the moment—Mitt Romney's tax records, his calendars, his list of bundlers, and his gubernatorial emails. What the public really needs to see are the Romney jokes.

In his 2004 book about his stewardship of the 2002 Winter Olympics, Turnaround, Romney, describing his management style, wrote the following:

We instituted a rule at Bain Capital that every meeting had to begin with a joke. I love jokes and I love laughing. The humor spread through the entire meeting: people were always on the lookout for a laugh. When Ed [Eynon] began the process of having task forces [at the Salt Lake Organizing Committee] determine which should be our guiding principles, I directed that "fun" needed to be one of them. It was. And I always tried to begin meetings with a joke, just to keep things in their proper perspective.

This is information voters must have: Romney's jokes. Did the gags make it into the minutes of the Olympics meetings? Did Romney keep a list? A set of index cards? Yes, many of the Olympics records were destroyed after the games, despite Romney's public declarations of transparency. But is it possible that some of the gags survived?

In search of the missing Romney jokes, I did contact a former Bain Capital partner, and asked if he would reveal what riddles, gags, or jests Romney shared in the boardroom to lighten things up during his days as a chieftain of high finance. Did Romney favor the knock-knock variety? Chickens crossing roads? Saucy limericks? Clergy-walking-into-bars scenarios? His official response: no comment. So you know they must be good.

Ann Romney has hailed her husband as a prankster. But a funny guy? That has yet to be seen. Reporters covering the GOP presidential candidate should demand immediate access to the Romney gags. And if Romney refuses to release his jokes, the obvious question will linger until Election Day: what's he hiding?

PHOTOS: 111 Dogs That Can't Vote in Virginia

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Voter-fraud paranoia has been known to drive Republicans to believe nonsensical, sketchy stuff.

Just take the latest installment in the epic, dystopian Dogs Are Voting saga: To hear Matt Drudge and Mitt Romney's campaign tell it, dogs—leftist dogs—are registering to vote in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

And it's the Democratic Party's wily foot soldiers who are aiding and abetting.

GOP Candidate Comes Clean on Gay Bookstore Sting

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Minnesota congressional candidate Allen Quist (R).

Allen Quist has a LexisNexis problem. In May, I reported on the Minnesota GOP congressional candidate's history of out-there statements (comparing a gay counseling clinic at a state university to the Ku Klux Klan) and actions (like going undercover at bath houses and adult bookstores in order to prove that they had become a "haven for anal intercourse"). Quist, who is seeking the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Rep. Tim Walz in a district that leans ever-so-slightly Republican, is hoping support from the Christian Right and an endorsement from Rep. Michele Bachmann can carry him to victory in the mid-August primary.

These days, Quist would prefer to focus on issues like the national debt instead of, ahem, congress. But the questions about Quist's past statements came anyway, and the candidate initially took an odd approach: he pretended none of it ever happened.

At a town hall meeting in Rochester in mid-July, Quist was asked directly about my piece, specifically an anecdote about him comparing a gay counseling center at Mankato State University to the KKK. "I just want you to know, that's a total invention from some lefty that doesn't like me," Quist said. "I mean that is absolute total bull."

But there was a paper trail. An April, 1994 story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that as a state Senator in the 1980s, Quist "alleged that Mankato State University was encouraging the spread of AIDS by sponsoring a counseling center for gays, comparing it to a center for the Ku Klux Klan." That was in 1994; there's no indication Quist sought a correction then, or at any time in the ensuing 18 years.

Quist also denied another story detailed in my piece, in which he went undercover at bath houses in Mankato in an effort to turn up incidents of gay sex. Quist told a Twin Cities talk show earlier this month that the gay bath house story was "a total fabrication." As he explained it, "the thing of it is I was extraordinarily effective in the legislature. Consequently the lefties invented all kinds of stuff that they've said about me, and it's mostly not true or totally taken out of context. And that happened to be one of those."

That was apparently his first attempt to correct the record on his undercover escapades. And once again, Quist might have trouble convincing voters that they never happened, given that there are contemporary news stories recounting his bath house visit and other related inspections. For example, 19 years ago the St. Paul Pioneer Press conducted an interview with Quist where he "revealed that he personally had done some undercover research in an X-rated bookstore and graphically reported to his House colleagues the details of his findings, including booths for 'anonymous multiple-partner sodomy' and 'body fluids' on the floor."

Likewise, Quist was asked at the same Rochester town hall meeting about a famous comment he'd made in an interview with David Brauer of the Twin Cities Reader arguing that women have a "genetic predisposition" to be subservient to men—a claim he later doubled down on. But Quist dismissed that, too, as a "magician's-type trick" designed to distract voters. The problem: Brauer still has the audio. On Thursday, he posted a transcript of the interview and a soundbite at MinnPost. That's some kind of trick.

Now Quist has finally decided to come clean. On Thursday, the farmer and retired college professor wrote a letter to supporters, apologizing for the Ku Klux Klan comparison ("I would not say anything like that today") and attempting to explain the undercover gay sex sting:

The first is the allegation that, twenty four years ago, as a state legislator, I entered the Mankato adult bookstore in disguise to check out whether it included a serious public health risk. Parry’s distortion of my response to an important constituent complaint—that the bookstore posed a serious public health risk—is shameful. All I did was fulfill my responsibility as a Minnesota legislator.

Having first asked the Department of Health to investigate the matter (they did not) and being unwilling to allow an alleged public health risk to continue, I checked it out myself. Not in disguise, as my attackers would suggest, and not in sunglasses that suggests something to hide. (The reporter involved later went to work for the DFL caucus in St. Paul.)

I entered the adult bookstore dressed normally in shirt and blue jeans. The real story that won’t be printed is that I did the right thing. There was in fact a huge public health risk involved—a problem that was immediately remedied because someone had the courage to bring the issue to the light of day.

In fact people may well be alive today because I did my job. Distorting the facts and then attacking someone for having the courage to do what is right is destructive to our nation.

The campaign of Mike Parry, Quist's rival in an August 14 GOP primary, has been attacking Quist's oddball history. (It was their most recent salvo, on Tuesday, that prompted Quist's apology.)

While Parry may be hoping to distinguish himself from his investigating opponent, his tea party-flavored positions could present an obstacle to his congressional hopes. As Sally Jo Sorensen at the blog Bluestem Prairie notes, Parry recently sponsored legislation to set up a legislative commission on the United Nations' Agenda 21, a non-binding document never ratified by the Senate, that outlines basic principles of sustainable development. (Some conservatives, including Bachmann, believe Agenda 21 is part of a nefarious one-world plot to force humans to return much of rural America to the wildlife.)

Indeed, neither candidate has caught much traction; Parry had just $30,000 cash on hand, according to his July quarterly fundraising report to the Federal Elections Commission—considerably less than Quist's $165,000, though it's worth noting that almost all of Quist's money came from a personal loan.

The clear winner in all of this is, in other words, is Walz, who is looking at an easy re-election campaign in a Republican-leaning district that could very well go to Mitt Romney in November.

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4 Ways That Democrats Want to Cut Taxes on The Rich

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

The big debate in Washington right now centers around whether or not to "tax the rich." This week, Senate Democrats passed a plan to cut income taxes on the middle class while increasing them on families that make more than $250,000 a year. Next week, House Republicans will push through a bill to extend (the erstwhile "temporary") Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class and the rich. But scratch beneath the surface of these dueling tax plans, and it quickly becomes clear that the GOP isn't the only party in Congress that wants to help the rich get richer. As Ezra Klein notes at Wonkblog, the cumulative effect of Democratic tax proposals will most likely be a $17,000 tax cut for the top 1 percent of earners (compared to a $75,000 tax cut under the GOP plan). Here are four ways that the Democratic tax plan would benefit the wealthy:

Extending most of the Bush income tax cut

By extending the Bush tax cuts for people who make less than $250,000 a year, Democrats are still giving a tax break to a lot of people who are wealthy by any reasonable definition. As New Republic's Timothy Noah points out, anybody who makes more than $110,000 resides in the top decile (i.e. top 10 percent) of US incomes and probably shouldn't be called middle class. Moreover, Democrats are only proposing to increase the marginal tax rate on $250,000-dollar incomes, which means that if you make a million dollars, you still get a tax cut on the first quarter million. In the chart to the right, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that the biggest winners from the Democratic tax plan are people who make between $200,000 and $500,000 a year.

Extending a major cut in the estate tax

Faced with opposition from conservative members of their own party, Senate Democrats dropped a proposal to restore the estate tax to 2009 levels, when it applied to estates worth more than $3.5 million and maxed out at a rate of 45 percent. (Under current law, the estate tax exempts property worth less than $5.12 million and tops out at 35 percent). The price tag for this gift to the wealthy? A cool $21 billion—almost enough to cancel out the additional $28 billion to be raised by boosting income taxes on high earners.

Patching the alternative minimum tax

The alternative minimum tax, or AMT, is designed to make sure that people who benefit from certain tax loopholes pay at least a minimum amount of tax. The AMT is not popular with rich people, which might be one reason why in recent years Congress has always passed legislation temporarily increasing AMT exemptions. Matthew Campione of Forbes estimates that this year's exemptions will be worth a whopping $100 billion. Citizens for Tax Justice has illustrated who benefited from last year's AMT exemptions (see chart).

Extending a tax cut on stock dividends and capital gains

The main reason that Mitt Romney paid an effective tax rate of just 13.9 percent in 2010 was that most of his income was taxed at the capital gains rate, which Republicans under George W. Bush had slashed from 20 percent 15 percent. He also benefited from a Bush-era reduction in the tax rate on corporate stock dividends to 15 percent from a much higher top rate of 39.6 percent. President Obama wants to partially reverse those changes, applying the higher pre-Bush rates to all capital gains and corporate dividends income that falls into the top two tax brackets. But Senate Democrats wussed out, passing a bill with much smaller increases in those tax rates. Citizens For Tax Justice illustrates how the Senate's changes benefit the wealthy:

Corn on MSNBC: To China, With Love

Thu Jul. 26, 2012 8:43 PM EDT

David Corn joins MSNBC's Reverend Al Sharpton to discuss how he broke the story on Romney's outsourcing history with Bain Capital.

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

Michigan's "Vaginagate" Bill is Back

| Thu Jul. 26, 2012 4:23 PM EDT

Remember Michigan's omnibus anti-abortion bill? It's baaaack.

On Thursday morning, Michigan's Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing and passed the bill out of committee by a vote of 3 to 1—a crucial step towards a vote in the full Senate. Abortion rights groups complained that the hearing was only announced on Wednesday, giving both legislators and the public little time to prepare. When the bill passed in the House last month, it erupted into an argument about the use of the word "vagina."

The bill requires abortion providers to meet the same standards as "ambulatory surgical centers"—a provision often referred to as "targeted regulation of abortion providers" (or TRAP) laws by abortion rights advocates. That provision alone would likely shut down all abortion providers in Michigan. Other provisions of the bill require a physician to be physically present in order to dispense abortion drugs (which would outlaw the use of telemedicine abortions), and implement new procedures for disposing of fetal remains that require them to be treated like the body of a dead person.

The Center for Reproductive Rights put out a statement shortly after the committee vote calling on the Senate to "end this relentless attack on Michigan women's constitutional rights." The full Senate is not back in session until August 15, so the bill isn't expected to move any further until after that.

In Defense of Chick-Fil-A

| Thu Jul. 26, 2012 12:19 PM EDT

Dan Cathy, the president of the fast-food franchise Chick-fil-A, doesn't like same-sex marriage. He believes that "we're inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage." The company has put its money where its mouth is, lavishing anti-gay rights groups with millions of dollars in donations

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that a Chicago Alderman named Joe Moreno has pledged to block construction of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in his ward over Cathy's anti-gay views. Boston Democratic Mayor Thomas Menino is also trying to block construction of a Chick-fil-A restaurant over its president's anti-gay views. 

Menino and Moreno have it wrong. Blocking construction of Chick-fil-A restaurants over Cathy's views is a violation of Cathy's First Amendment rights. Boston and Chicago have no more right to stop construction of Chick-fil-As based on an executive's anti-gay views than New York City would have had the right to block construction of an Islamic community center blocks away from Ground Zero. The government blocking a business from opening based on the owner's political views is a clear threat to everyone's freedom of speech—being unpopular doesn't mean you don't have rights. It's only by protecting the rights of those whose views we find odious that we can hope to secure them for ourselves.

"We think there's a constitutional problem with discriminating against someone based on the content of their speech," says John Knight, director of the LGBT rights project at the Illinois branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. And Illinois law does not demand that restaurants have anti-discrimination policies in place—"It's a good idea for restaurants to have those policies," Knight says, but the law doesn't require it.

Even so, Illinois and Massachusetts residents are still protected. There are federal laws against discrimination in employment and public accommodation on the basis of race, sex, religion, and national origin. Federal anti-discrimination law does not yet protect people on the basis of sexual orientation, but Illinois state law does. So does Massachusetts state law.

Chick-fil-A should not be prevented from opening business because of the views of its leaders, or his donations to anti-gay causes. But gays and lesbians in Illinois and Massachusetts have the right to be free from discrimination in employment based on who they are. They also have a right to protest, boycott, and make Chick-fil-A's customers aware that their purchases fund anti-gay activism. If Chick-fil-A discriminates in hiring or refuses to serve customers on the basis of sexual orientation, the local authorities can and should hold him accountable.

Until then, the politicians should get out of the way.