U.S. Soldiers with Combined Task Force Arrowhead use mine detectors to clear a school in Sperwan, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Photo by the US Army.

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


The Money Shot 

Numbers current as of July 12.Numbers current as of July 12.


Quote of the Week

"I would tell them: 'He is brilliant. Sometimes, like the emperor, he is brutal.'"
—William Weidner, former president of the Las Vegas Sands casino, recalling his struggle to properly explain casino magnate and super-PAC megadonor Sheldon Adelson to Chinese officials. Adelson's business activities in Macau are the subject of a federal investigation for potentially violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Attack Ad of the Week

This anti-Romney ad from Priorities USA Action, the pro-Obama super-PAC, came out last month. This week, In These Times labor reporter Mike Elk tracked down the star of the spot, Donnie Box, who had some surprising things to say about President Obama. Box appeared in the ad because he used to work as a steelworker at GS Technologies in Kansas City, which was shuttered by Bain Capital in 2001, and Box told Elk that Mitt Romney is "an asshole" who played a major role. But Box revealed to In These Times that he's no Obama fan either—"I think Obama is a jerk, a pantywaist, a lightweight, a blowhard. He hasn't done a goddamn thing that he said he would do"—and plans to sit the election out.

Stat of the Week

$6 million: The June fundraising haul of pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action, including $2 million from former Qualcomm director Irwin Jacobs and his wife, Joan, and $1 million from actor Morgan Freeman. While conservative outside-spending groups continue to enjoy a big money advantage over their liberal counterparts, a Politico Influence analysis found that liberal super-PACs actually spent more money than conservative ones on election ads in the first half of July.

Disclosure Evasion of the Week

Earlier this year, a federal district court ruled "that Congress did not delegate authority to the FEC to narrow the disclosure requirement" that has kept anonymous the funders of "social welfare" nonprofits' issues ads, which mention candidates without telling viewers how they should vote. In response, US Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donahue decried the ruling as "all about intimidation." The decision will likely be challenged, but  the Chamber is now sidestepping the court anyway by spending more than $1.1 million on "express advocacy" ads, which do encourage viewers to vote for specific candidates, supporting Republicans in Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, and North Dakota. Here's a boxing-themed spot that attacks Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada:


More MoJo Dark-Money Coverage

Senate Republicans Stand Up for the Rights of Secret Donors: GOPers vote to keep dark money in the shadows by blocking the DISCLOSE Act.
Republicans to Secret Donors: We've Got Your Back (Yet Again): GOP senators who once talked up dark-money disclosure kill off the DISCLOSE Act.
Democratic Super-PACs Bank $25 Million—But Lag Karl Rove and Co.: A quartet of Democratic super-PACs hauled in more than $25 million in April, May, and June of 2012.
Anti-Obama Group Caught Using Military Logos Without Authorization: "Special Operations for America" must stop politicizing military insignia, US officials tell MoJo, or face possible legal action.

More Must-Reads

• Matt Bai argues that reporters have exaggerated the impact the Citizens United ruling has had on the 2012 election. New York Times Magazine
• Election law expert Rick Hasen, who is criticized in Bai's article, disagrees. Election Law Blog
• A new iPhone app developed by students at MIT will tell you if ads playing on your TV are funded by super-PACs. Forbes
• Has anti-Citizens United sentiment dissuaded Democrats from giving to super-PACs? Politico
• The descendants of America's first Mormons are giving big to pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future. New York Times

Before Mitt Romney was dodging questions about his tax returns and his role at Bain Capital, he was was trying to squirm out of stating a coherent immigration policy. In a new Spanish-language ad, Romney carefully avoids taking an actual position on immigration policy, substituting gauzy platitudes about bipartisan solutions and America being a "nation of immigrants" instead of saying what he'd actually do. That's probably because most Latino voters wouldn't like it if Romney said what he'd actually do. 

The ad, which is narrated by Romney's son Craig, also touts the fact that Mitt Romney's father was born in Mexico:

The spot isn't only vague—it's also misleading. As Huffington Post's Elise Foley notes, Craig Romney says, "As president, my father will work on a permanent solution to the immigration system, working with leaders of both parties." Typically that has meant comprehensive immigration reform, which Romney has opposed or supported over the years based on which part of the Republican base he's trying to appeal to.

During the GOP primary, Romney campaigned as an immigration restrictionist, hammering his colleagues for supporting "amnesty" and talking up "self deportation." He promised to veto the DREAM Act, though he won't say where he stands on Obama's decision not to deport the undocumented immigrants who might benefit from it. Now he's attempting to soften his record on immigration—not by shifting from his hardline positions, but by moderating his rhetoric. It's easy to understand why—the latest Latino Decisions poll shows President Barack Obama with 70 percent of the Latino vote to Romney's twenty-two percent. Romney doesn't have to win the Latino vote to make it to the White House, but those kind of numbers certainly hurt his chances. 

Justice Antonin Scalia told CNN's Piers Morgan in an interview Wednesday night that there's nothing to fear from unlimited political spending in elections—as long as the American people know where its coming from. 

Defending his role in the Citizens United decision that struck down limits on political spending by corporations and labor unions, Scalia told Morgan that "Thomas Jefferson would have said the more speech, the better. That's what the First Amendment is all about. So long as the people know where the speech is coming from."

Scalia has expressed similar sentiments before, most notably in a 2010 case where anti-gay rights advocates in Washington State were attempting to block disclosure of signatories to a petition on the grounds that compelling them to do so violated their First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court disagreed, and in a concurring opinion Scalia wrote that "There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance."

Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.

Nevertheless, Republicans are looking forward to that society. Once in favor of disclosure in political spending, post-Citizens United GOP elected officials have fought tooth and nail to protect the identity of secret donors trying to influence American elections, most recently by blocking the DISCLOSE Act. They have embraced the Sarah Palin interpretation of the First Amendment: that the Constitution envisions not just freedom of speech but freedom from criticism. 

Still, Scalia has experienced convenient changes of heart before that have brought him in line with mainstream GOP positions. But it doesn't seem like he's had one here yet.

Staff Sgt. Casey Spang inspects one of the tilt-rotors on a CV-22 Osprey prior to takeoff on the flightline at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. The 20th Special Operations Squadron conducted a routine training flight over Melrose Air Force Range, N.M. Spang is a 20th SOS flight engineer. US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexxis Pons Abascal.

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, fresh off a landslide recall victory, took to Twitter on Wednesday evening to ponder the conservative equivalent of "What if we're all colorblind, and the people we thought were colorblind are the ones with normal vision?" In what appeared to be a response to President Obama's recent riff on the importance of public institutions, Walker wondered: "Imagine if Noah had needed help from the government to build the Ark. It might have never been built." 

That's quite the thought experiment. In Walker's scenario, the government is so inept it would have scuttled the construction of the Ark, bringing about the end of mankind. (As it was, the Ark managed to only save eight people out of the entire global population so it wasn't exactly a huge victory for the private sector.)

But the real story behind Noah's Ark isn't dependency, it's red tape. GAO reports from the pre-Flood era are understandably hard to come by, so the best records we have come from Genesis. In that telling, risk-takers like Noah were saddled (by Job's creator, no less) with cumbersome restrictions on everything from the kind of wood they could use to the size and breadth of the vessel—and who would be allowed on:

Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.

And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.

A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it.


And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.

Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind; two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.

And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them.

Given the tight regulations, it's no wonder Noah only built one.

The Planned Parenthood wars are back on in Congress. On Tuesday, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) released a Labor, Health & Human Services and Education appropriations bill that would slash funding for Planned Parenthood and any other abortion providers.

The bill is a grab-bag of nearly everything Republicans want on reproductive issues. In addition to cutting off funds needed to implement President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, it eliminates Title X family planning funds, allows employers to opt-out of covering contraception or pretty much any other medical care on the basis of "religious beliefs or moral convictions," and creates $20 million in "abstinence education" grants.

The bill states that Planned Parenthood could continue to get federal funds—if it stops offering abortions.

Markups on the bill were held Wednesday morning, and it's likely going to be used as a "starting point" for budget negotiations with the Democrat-controlled Senate, the Huffington Post reports.

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) took to the floor of the Senate Wednesday to defend Secretary of State Hillary Clinton adviser Huma Abedin, whom he refers to as a friend, from Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) baseless accusations that Abedin is an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization with branches throughout the Middle East. 

McCain absolutely lays into Bachmann and her colleagues (without mentioning them by name), defending Abedin as representing "what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully." Here's an excerpt from his speech:

Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we aspire to be. What makes America exceptional among the countries of the world is that we are bound together as citizens not by blood or class, not by sect or ethnicity, but by a set of enduring, universal, and equal rights that are the foundation of our constitution, our laws, our citizenry, and our identity. When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.

McCain's speech is all the more remarkable because it represents a tragically rare instance in which a Republican elected official has chosen to fight the anti-Muslim paranoia in his own party, rather than simply ride the wave. There are a few other examples, including Senator Orrin Hatch's (R-Utah) stand during the debate over the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque," but not many.

Nevertheless, McCain inexplicably also defends Frank Gaffney, the head of the Center for Security Policy, as a "friend" despite the center's role in providing "empirical" support for the absurd conspiracy theory that American Muslims are secretly trying to impose Taliban-style Islamic law on the United States. It's Gaffney's scurrilous reasoning masquerading as policy expertise that lead to Bachmann's smearing of Abedin in the first place. 

President Barack Obama meets with his national security team in 2010.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Obama administration over the deaths of three American citizens who were killed by US drone strikes in Yemen last year. Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed in the same attack in early September; Awlaki's 16 year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was killed in a separate strike later that month.

"This suit is an effort to enforce the Constitution's most fundamental guarantee, the guarantee of due process," said Jamil Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, on a conference call with reporters. "Ten years ago extrajudicial killing by the United States was exceptional. Now it's routine."

The ACLU's lawsuit isn't about drones, even though drones were used in all three killings in question. Instead, it's about targeted killings more broadly, including those carried out by drone strikes and those performed by elite American military units. The lawsuit contends that the United States government violated the constitutional rights of the three men by killing them without court review outside of an active war zone.

The Obama administration has contended that it has the authority to target suspected members of Al Qaeda outside the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly if a given individual poses what it calls an "imminent threat." Although the US government had tagged Anwar al-Awlaki as a terrorist through controlled disclosures to the public and the media, Khan was merely suspected of being a propagandist, and the government has never alleged that Awlaki's teenage son was involved in terrorism. Moreover, the ACLU argues, the US government has "defined the term 'imminent' so broadly as to negate its meaning."

The ACLU is suing on behalf of two relatives of the men killed in the attacks: Nasser al-Awlaki, who is Anwar al-Awlaki's father and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki's grandfather; and Sarah Khan, who is Samir Khan's mother. This isn't the first time the ACLU has sued on Nasser al-Awlaki's behalf. In 2010, the ACLU sued to prevent Anwar al-Awlaki from being killed. The lawsuit was dismissed by United States District Court Judge John Bates, partially on the grounds that the targeting of suspected terrorists was a "political question" that was inappropriate for a court to evaluate. (Bates also said that Awlaki had chosen not to avail himself of the US justice system, and so his father had no standing to sue on his behalf). The Obama administration has another option to block the ACLU's lawsuit: It could invoke the state secrets doctrine, a sort of "get out of court free" card Obama has used in numerous national security cases despite previously promising to use that power sparingly. Despite numerous public acknowledgments of the targeted killing program, it could once again claim the program is too secret to be discussed in court.

But the ACLU's lawyers believe their chances for getting a hearing are better this time, both because their clients, in losing their loved ones, suffered a concrete injury that can't be denied, and because of the more frank public acknowledgements by administration officials of the targeted killing program's existence. The latter, the ACLU argues, will make it more difficult for the government to contend the matter is a state secret.

"What they would be saying is, that they have the authority not just to kill American citizens who are deemed to be enemies of the state, and not just that they have the authority to kill citizens without explaining why they've done it, but even that they have the authority to kill citizens without even acknowledging their role in it," Jaffer said. "If the previous administration had proposed a policy of that kind, it's inconceivable that we would have accepted it." 

There have also been revelations since Awlaki's death that could bolster the government's assessment of him as a terrorist. Chief among them are the recently released documents from Osama bin Laden's compound, showing communication between Al Qaeda and its Yemeni affiliate over Awlaki's role. But Jaffer says the ACLU takes those accusations seriously—it just wants the government to prove them in court. 

"We want the government to introduce whatever evidence relied on to a court, and a court can decide whether that evidence was sufficient to justify the government's actions," Jaffer said. "That's all really our clients are asking for. They're asking for what they see as accountability." 

The recession has devastated the finances of many Americans, but it has been very good to the Walton family. Since 2007, Walmart stores have been flooded with millions of folks who've lost their shirts in the housing bust, stock market crash, and stalled job market—people who can no longer afford to buy anything that isn't made in China and sold by someone making close to minimum wage. Using newly released data from the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances (listed as "SCF" below), labor economist Sylvia Allegretto has put together this chart on the diverging fortunes of the Waltons and their customers:

As Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Insitute points out, the six Walmart heirs now have more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined, up from 30 percent in 2007. Between 2007 and 2010, the collective wealth of the six richest Waltons rose from $73 billion to $90 billion, while the wealth of the average American declined from $126,000 to $77,000 (13 million Americans have negative net worth). Here's a chart of how many average Americans it has taken over time to equal the wealth of the Waltons:

It may be no accident that rising income inequality in America since the 1970s has coincided with Walmart's meteoric expansion:

For more on how insanely big Walmart has become, see our entire series of Walmart infographics.

And also this: