US Army Pvt. Zakery Jenkins, front, with Charlie Troop, 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, provides security in Mush Kahel village, Ghazni province, Afghanistan, on July 23, 2012. US Army photo by Spc. Andrew Baker.

Mitt Romney.

The Mitt Romney money machine is showing no sign of slowing down.

Romney's re-election effort raised north of nine figures for the second month in a row, raking in $101.3 million in July, his campaign announced Monday. That comes after raising $106 million in June, a blockbuster haul that topped the Obama campaign's June fundraising by $35 million.

The Obama campaign, Obama Victory Fund, and Democratic National Committee said they'd together raised more than $75 million in July. That makes the third straight month in which the Romney campaign, Romney Victory Fund, and Republican National Committee outraised Obama and affiliated Democratic groups.

It's still unlikely that Romney will raise more than Obama, despite the Obama campaign's many emails suggesting otherwise. By the end of June, Obama and affiliated Democratic groups had raised $552 million to Romney and the GOP's $394 million. The Sunlight Foundation's Bill Allison noted that, at the current pace, Romney would have to beat Obama's monthly fundraising total by an average of $39.5 million in July, August, September, and October to come out on top.

That's not impossible. But the chances of Romney pulling that off are slim, especially as less-motivated Democratic donors who've stayed on the sidelines thus far notice tightening polls and finally crack open their checkbooks. What Romney can count on, though, is a sizeable advantage in GOP outside spending by super-PACs and secretive nonprofit groups—a difference that, on Election Day, could prove crucial.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) ratchets up the clamoring for Romney's tax returns, suggesting that the Republican candidate has not paid any taxes. David Corn, DC bureau chief at Mother Jones, speculates on what could be so awful in those tax returns that Romney is not caving despite the intense pressure. Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum has a take on Romney's taxes too.

Tennessee Senate candidate Mark Clayton

Update, 2:55 p.m.: Via the Tennessean, the Tennessee Democratic party has condemned Clayton, saying in a statement that he is "associated with a known hate group" (a reference to Public Advocate of the United States), and blaming his victory on the fact that his name appeared first on the ballot.

Mark Clayton believes the federal government is building a massive, four-football-field wide superhighway from Mexico City to Toronto as part of a secret plot to establish a new North American Union that will bring an end to America as we know it. On Thursday, he became the Tennessee Democrats' nominee for US Senate.

Clayton, an anti-gay-marriage activist and flooring installer with a penchant for fringe conspiracy theories, finished on top of a crowded primary field in the race to take on GOP Sen. Bob Corker this fall. He earned 26 percent of the vote despite raising no money and listing the wrong opponent on his campaign website. The site still reads, "DEDICATED TO THE DEFEAT OF NEO-CONSERVATIVE LAMAR ALEXANDER," whom Clayton tried to challenge in 2008. (That year, he didn't earn the Democratic nomination.)

On his issues page, Clayton sounds more like a member of the John Birch Society than a rank-and-file Democrat. He says he's against national ID cards, the North American Union, and the "NAFTA superhighway," a nonexistent proposal that's become a rallying cry in the far-right fever swamps. Elsewhere, he warns of an encroaching "godless new world order" and suggests that Americans who speak out against government policies could some day be placed in "a bone-crushing prison camp similar to the one Alexander Solzhenitsyn was sent or to one of FEMA's prison camps." (There are no FEMA prison camps.)

In April 2008, Clayton issued a press release accusing Google of censoring his campaign website on behalf the Chinese government:

After spending the opening three weeks of the campaign ranked between first and third place on the first page for users who type "mark clayton senate" into the widely used internet search engine, Google, the Clayton campaign website has utterly vanished from rankings, and is nowhere to be found in the first ten pages.

Google is suspected to be acting in concert with the Communist Chinese government, which in past months has been extremely sensitive to global outrage at its treatment toward Tibet. As the Olympics, which are to be held in China, draw nearer, pro-humanitarian voices have increasingly exasperated and embarrassed the authoritarian Beijing regime.

Clayton has another intriguing theory. This one involves a former governor of California: "Schwarzenegger, born in Austria, wants to amend the Constitution so that he can become president and fulfill Hitler's superman scenario."

The closest thing Clayton has to political experience is his work as vice president of a Virginia-based organization called Public Advocate of the United States. The group's mission, per its website, is to restore the country to its conservative Christian roots. Public Advocate supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, opposes abortion rights, and believes the Boy Scouts are under assault from the gay agenda. The group refers to mayors Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and Tom Menino of Boston as "pro-homosexual socialist dictators" for stating their opposition to the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A. (It also issued a statement condemning the "gay muppets.")

Clayton's primary victory is only the latest blow for the Tennessee Democrats in a state that's becoming redder every year. Democrats lost three congressional seats during the 2010 midterms, plus control of the governor's mansion. Corker, a rising GOP star who edged Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. by just 2.7 points in 2006, is now virtually assured of another six years in Washington. The political shift is more pronounced at the local level, where Republicans have taken advantage of their new-found dominance in Nashville to advance far-right proposals like a bill to criminalize Shariah law and to ban the discussion of homosexuality from public schools.

With a conspiracy theorist now a leader of the state Democratic party, the local GOP—a bastion of evolution and climate change denialism—has an opening: It can be the party of rationality.

Tennessee Democratic Senate nominee Mark Clayton (third from left) during his 2008 campaign. Clayton for SenateTennessee Democratic Senate nominee Mark Clayton (third from left) during his 2008 campaign Clayton for Senate

Voter suppression: That term doesn't mean what Buzzfeed's John Ellis thinks it means. 

In a column that combines head-desk worthy analysis with glib race baiting, Ellis asserts that President Barack Obama is conducting a campaign of "chemical warfare" meant to "suppress turnout among white voters who might vote for Romney." The words "chemical warfare" appear in quotes in the headline for some reason, even though they're the author's words. Ellis' "evidence" for this consists of Obama's negative ad campaign and a misleading Tom Edsall column in the New York Times that asserts over and over that Obama is suppressing the votes of white males without college degrees because if they make up less of the electorate, Obama has a better chance at being reelected. Based on Edsall and Ellis' own arguments, Romney needs a less diverse electorate, but I doubt Ellis would write a column asserting on that basis alone that Romney is trying to stop blacks and Latinos from voting.

Neither column actually explains what Obama is doing to "suppress" white votes beyond running negative ads against his opponent, which all presidential candidates do. "It's not a "negative campaign" they're running. It's purposefully toxic," Ellis writes. What exactly makes Obama's campaign more "toxic" than any other negative political ad campaign, so "toxic" that it need be distinguished? Ellis doesn't bother to say. 

When used correctly, the term "voter suppression" refers to erecting barriers to voting, legal or otherwise. That is, laws that restrict the franchise or otherwise make it harder to vote, or attempts to mislead voters away from the ballot box. Robocalls targeting black voters telling them they don't need to vote are one example. "Voter suppression" doesn't refer to running negative ads, which, again, are a part of any campaign.

Incidentally, what you wouldn't know from Ellis' column is that Obama is actually being outspent by Romney and his allies. In fact, the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future has outraised every Democratic super PAC combined. If Obama and his allies $128 million in spending represents the "wall to end all wars," how would Ellis describe the $179 million spent by Romney and the outside groups supporting him, according to a Washington Post analysis done last month? If I were the kind of person who used over-the-top war metaphors to describe negative campaigning, I'd say that if Obama is engaging in chemical warfare, Romney and his pals are carpeting swing-states with atomic bombs (see how silly that is?).

Equating negative campaigning with voter suppression ignores the level of actual voter suppression happening in the states. Ten states have passed restrictive voter ID laws, even though UFO sightings are more common than in-person voter fraud and the laws themselves could disenfranchise more than half a million people.  In Pennsylvania, where one analysis estimates that close to ten percent voters in the state could be disenfranchised by the state's new voter ID law, Republican State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai declared the law would "allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."

Unlike negative campaigning, these new restrictive voting laws represent actual voter suppression. Ellis' column blurs the distinction between what can be reasonably expected in political campaigns and actual attempts to sever Americans from their right to elect their leaders, while feeding into a ludicrous conservative narrative of white racial victimhood that has been popular in some corners of the right ever since Obama took office

Combat engineers with the 459th Engineer Company from Bridgeport, W.Va. prepare to maneuver sections of an Improved Ribbon Bridge in a Bridge Erection Boat on the Arkansas River at Fort Chaffee, Ark. The floating bridge, which took three hours to complete, was the culmination event during River Assault 2012. Photo by the US Army.

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

the money shot


quote of the week

"The irony is that the more explicitly the ad pushes one particular candidate, the less disclosure is required."
Paul Ryan (no relation to the congressman) of the Campaign Legal Center, which helped successfully argue Van Hollen v. FEC. The ruling requires 501(c)(4) groups operating as "social welfare" organizations to disclose the names of donors who contribute money for so-called issue ads. Those ads air within 60 days of a general election and mention candidates without explicitly telling viewers how they should vote. In response, some dark-money groups plan to push the limits of their tax-exempt status even further and dodge Van Hollen with ads urging viewers to vote for or against candidates.


attack ad of the week

The dark-money group Secure America Now has released an ad that hammers President Obama's foreign policy, juxtaposing footage of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks with a woman firing off a litany of claims, which the Center for Public Integrity fact-checked. Among other things, she says Obama has "all but abandoned Israel," implies that Iran has a nuclear weapon, and suggests that torture led to the discovery of Osama bin Laden. Watch:


stat of the week

$5.8 billion: The Center for Responsive Politics' estimate of how much the 2012 elections will cost, a 7 percent jump from 2008. For perspective, that's how much JP Morgan has said it lost in its much-publicized deal gone bad, and it's also more than double the entire budget for the National Park Service. The Center estimates that the presidential race alone will cost $2.5 billion, including "wild card" outside spending groups. (The Obama campaign's fundraising is just shy of the record pace he set in 2008.) In addition to the ramped-up spending by outside groups, congressional candidates and political parties are both expected to outdo their 2008 spending.

race of the week

With the help of super-PACs and dark-money groups, tea party favorite—and conspiracy theorist—Ted Cruz narrowed a 3-to-1 fundraising deficit and defeated Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a Senate primary runoff election Tuesday in Texas. Dewhurst's campaign raised $33 million ($25 million of which came from the candidate, a wealthy energy investor) to Cruz's $10.2 million. But outside groups supporting Cruz outspent those backing Dewhurst by $8 million to $6.5 million. The anti-tax super-PAC Club for Growth Action spent $5.5 million helping Cruz, the most it's invested in any race so far this year. Here's one of the group's spots:


more mojo dark-money coverage

IRS: Toothless. FEC: "Thoroughly Broken": What little campaign money regulation remains isn't enforced any more.
Karl Rove's Catch-22: Crossroads GPS and other nonprofits face new pressure to reveal who bankrolls their ads.
Political Ad Data Comes Online—But It's Not Searchable.


more must-reads

• Americans for Prosperity, a dark-money group backed by the Koch brothers, says it's modeling its voter-turnout drive after George Soros'. Bloomberg
• Outside groups are prohibited from coordinating with campaigns, but that didn't stop Karl Rove from holding an off-the-record fundraising session with a top Romney strategist. CNN
• How many Americans think a super-PAC is a "popular video game for smartphones"? Washington Post

Mother Jones' David Corn and The Daily Beast's Michelle Cottle join Reverend Al Sharpton on MSNBC's "PoliticsNation" to discuss Mitt Romney and the Olympics. While Ann's horse competed today, Mitt assured reporters he would not be watching the event. But what do his ties to the so-called "horse ballet" say about his disconnect with the middle class?

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

This story first appeared on the ProPublica website.

After a bruising months-long fight between media corporations and the Federal Communications Commission, a government website came online today that will feature political ad data from television stations around the country.

This means that detailed files about political advertising—which show who is buying political ads, how much they are paying, and when the ads are running, among other information—will finally be available online. In the past, those interested in the files, which are by law public, had to travel to stations to get physical copies.

Though the new system is far from perfect, it will likely give the public and journalists a new window into how anexpected few billion dollars are spent on political ads on local television this election cycle.

Priorities USA Action, the super-PAC backstopping President Obama's presidential campaign, isn't about to let the GOP money machine steamroll the president this fall. To bolster Obama, Priorities is ramping its anti-Romney campaign by buying up $30 million in broadcast and cable TV time in six crucial battleground states—Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, the Washington Post reports.

This ad buy is arguably Priorities' most crucial of the 2012 cycle. Obama's road to victory in November runs through these six battleground states. And the GOP's biggest outside groups, including the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future and dark-money groups Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS, are pumping tens of millions in anti-Obama ads in these states. Obama will need all the reinforcements he can get—that's where Priorities comes into play.

Here's more on the buy from the Post:

[Ad buy] sources would not indicate whether this was the totality of the ad spending Priorities USA Action would make on the election or whether this was the first flight of a broader buy. The group, in coordination with the Service Employees International Union, is currently funding Spanish-language ads in Colorado, Florida and Nevada—an effort they say will continue.

Priorities USA Action, which is run by former White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, has raised $16 million this year—as of the end of June—and $21 million since the start of 2011. It recently received a $1 million donation from actor Morgan Freeman. The group says it has another $20 million in commitments.

Those fundraising figures are dwarfed by the activity of Republican super-PACs and other conservative-aligned outside groups led by American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which has pledged to spend $300 million on the 2012 election.

Priorities' fight against GOP groups is an uphill battle. In the super-PAC cash race, GOP-aligned super-PACs have raised nearly $219 million compared to $77 million for Democratic-aligned super-PACs, according to the Sunlight Foundation. For some perspective, the largest GOP super-PAC, the pro-Romney group Restore Our Future, has raised more money than every Democratic super-PAC combined.