Mojo - September 2012

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Sep. 7, 2012 6:01 AM EDT

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

the money shot

 

 

quote of the week

"At the Democratic convention, you can get a lot of work done just walking down the street."
—Bill Burton, cofounder of the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action, on wooing donors at the Democratic National Convention. Speaking on ABC, he warned liberal donors to "be very nervous" about outraising pro-Romney groups. That's basically why Chicago mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel decided this week to step down from an honorary position with the Obama campaign to raise funds for Priorities.

 

attack ad of the week

The conservative super-PAC Campaign for American Values is out with a new ad attacking President Obama for supporting gay marriage. In a stilted conversation, a couple decides it won't vote for Obama again because he lacks the values of Mitt Romney. Watch the ad below, and also take a look at these other comically bad anti-gay marriage ads.

 

stat of the week

$75,000: The amount spent by the dark-money Republican Jewish Coalition on an attack ad in the Charlotte Observer ahead of Obama's speech Thursday night at the DNC. The ad, which is slated to run next week in four swing-state Jewish newspapers, hits Democrats for omitting in their 2012 platform the pro-Israel rhetoric they included in 2008. Reportedly at Obama's request, language recognizing Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel was reintroduced to the platform in a convention floor voice vote, a contentious move that may have violated party bylaws.

 

chart of the week

The election's 10 weeks away, but spending from outside groups has already eclipsed the $301.6 million spent in 2008. They've spent at least $306.2 million so far this election, but as the Center for Responsive Politics notes, that's a conservative estimate.

 

more mojo dark-money coverage

How Nonprofits Spend Millions on Elections and Call It Public Welfare: It's spending by nonprofits, not super-PACs, that may sway this election.
Americans for Prosperity Chief: We Don't Know If $27 Million in Anti-Obama Ads Has Any Effect: The president of AFP, the conservative group founded by David Koch, also cast doubt on future politically charged ad blitzes.
Karl Rove Jokes About Murdering Rep. Todd Akin: Rove's Crossroads groups intend to spend $200 million to boot Obama out of the White House.

 

more must-reads

• Did a Republican appeals court just make Citizens United even worse? ThinkProgress
• Democrats work behind the scenes at the DNC to compete with the GOP's fundraising advantage. Washington Post
• Democratic strategist Paul Begala rails against super-PACs, while asking donors to give to one supporting Obama. Center for Public Integrity
• 501(c) groups are set to disregard a federal court's order that they disclose donors by today. Reuters

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Are Most Revolving-Door Lobbyists Breaking the Law?

| Fri Sep. 7, 2012 6:01 AM EDT

A new study picked up by Politico and National Journal this week contained findings that would make any DC journalist drool: About 57 percent of lobbyists who move through the revolving door from Capitol Hill into the private sector fail to adequately report their former government employment as mandated by the Lobbying Disclosure Act.

While that figure suggests that there's some serious K Street law-breaking going on, it doesn't tell the whole story. The study, published by Tim LaPira of James Madison University and H.F. Thomas III of the University of Texas at Austin, overlooked lobbyists who are filing their paperwork correctly, just not on forms the researchers reviewed.

One such lobbyist is William L. Ball, a former Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan who worked for several years as a lobbyist for the Loeffler Group. I stumbled upon Ball when trying to find an example of a lobbyist in the wrong. The Center for Responsive Politics, which collects data on lobbyists, told me that Ball repeatedly failed to indicate his former government employment. But when I contacted Ball, he "respectfully" disagreed and sent me copies of his lobbying disclosure forms, which were filled out correctly.

GOP Platform Flashback: "Government Must Have a Heart"

| Fri Sep. 7, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Last week, President Obama accused the GOP of time-warping back to the days of "black and white TV." True, the party's policies, especially on women and civil rights, are straight out of the 50s (if not the Middle Ages). But Obama's jab wasn't quite fair to Republicans of the Leave it To Beaver era, whose 1956 platform seems downright progressive when compared with some of the retrograde planks laid out in the 2012 version. The year President Dwight Eisenhower ran for a second term against Adlai Stevenson, the platform sung the praises of unions, called for government to have a "heart as well as a head," and backed the doomed Equal Rights Amendment. Oh, and the 1956 Dems were a lot more agro on labor, and positively chest-thumping when it came to defense. Scroll down to check out how the parties' positions have shifted over the past 50-plus years.

Wikipedia & Library of Congress

 

Image credits: donkey: The Noun Project; elephant: Adrijan Karavdic, from The Noun Project.

 

Corn on "Hardball": Obama's "I Am the President" Moment

Fri Sep. 7, 2012 1:52 AM EDT

David Corn and Howard Fineman joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss President Obama's big finale at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Also read Kevin Drum's less enthused reaction to the speech.

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

A Comparative Analysis of Bands Rocking the Democratic and Republican National Conventions

| Thu Sep. 6, 2012 5:15 PM EDT

Presidential nominating conventions have a way of turning party leaders into part-time concert promoters.

"We've booked outstanding performers and world-famous acts," RNC chairman Reince Priebus boasted last week, referring to the Republican convention's musical line-up. "Everything from pop and rock to country and gospel."

Organizers of the 2012 Democratic National Convention were determined not to be outdone. "This roster of performances only adds to the excitement building in Charlotte for the historic week ahead of us," Democratic convention chair Antonio Villaraigosa said. "[B]e ready for quite a show."

Here's your side-by-side comparison of the bands playing in Charlotte this week, and the ones that took the stage in Tampa last week.

1) A Tale of two taylors

The Republicans got...

Taylor Hicks: On the last night of the Republican National Convention, Hicks sang Michael McDonald's 1976 hit "Takin' It to the Streets." The American Idol season 5 champion is famous for competently covering Stevie Wonder, being damned by TMZ's faint praise, and for his baffling, harmonica-laced cameo on Stephen Colbert's cover of Rebecca Black's signature song:

When asked about his performance by the Huffington Post, Hicks got bashful about his politics: "I don't really talk about my party or political affiliations. I'm an entertainer; that's what I was invited to do." (His most political lyric is probably in "The Distance," which goes, "[s]eems we've taken different sides, all caught up in politics and pride." That is about as middle-of-the-road as it gets.)

And the Democrats got...

James Taylor: Taylor, who grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (roughly a 3-hour car ride from the site of the Democratic convention), arrived in Charlotte to entertain convention-goers on the final day. Taylor also wrote that song that has something to do with North Carolina. Along with marrying Carly Simon and guest-starring on The Simpsons space exploration episode, the singer-songwriter is known for being pretty hilarious in Judd Apatow's Funny People:

James Taylor is a die-hard liberal; he played on the anti-Bush "Vote for Change" tour in 2004, along with Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, and Pearl Jam. His pet causes include the environment, cancer research, and not destroying rainforests.

2) The Partisan Solo Artists

The Republicans got...

Kid Rock: Standing in for the indefinitely postponed Reagan hologram, Robert James Ritchie performed a 75-minute set outside the GOP convention site last Thursday. During the gig, he ad-libbed the following rap lyrics: "They say Obama is lyin' / That's why I'm voting for Romney and Ryan." (Ironically enough, during the whole performance Rock was wearing a "Made in Detroit" t-shirt that wasn't actually made in Detroit.)

Kid Rock is also famous for purportedly putting his marriage on the rocks by blowing up at his now ex-wife, Canadian actress/activist Pamela Anderson, over her cameo in Borat.

Here's footage of a Romney rally in Michigan (where Rock endorsed the Republican candidate), with the heartland rocker singing Romney's official campaign jingle "Born Free":

Human Rights Group: Waterboarding More Widespread Than Acknowledged

| Thu Sep. 6, 2012 4:58 PM EDT

Human Rights Watch has released a report suggesting that waterboarding, a form of torture that President George W. Bush's administration insisted was only practiced on three detainees, was more widespread than previously known.

The report mostly focuses on the counterterrorism relationship between Moammar Qaddafi's Libya and the Bush administration, in particular the US's practice of handing over suspected terrorists to Libyan authorities to be tortured. Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed 14 former detainees, most of them ex-members of the militant Islamist Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which resisted Qaddafi and had been designated a terrorist organization by the US government in 2004. A few ex-LIFG participants joined al Qaeda, but by 2009 several of the group's former members were publicly distancing themselves from Osama bin Laden's terror syndicate.

If true, the allegations made by the former detainees would mean that the Bush administration tortured more prisoners in American custody than previously acknowledged:

One former detainee, Mohammed Shoroeiya, provided detailed and credible testimony that he was waterboarded on repeated occasions during US interrogations in Afghanistan. While never using the phrase "waterboarding," he said that after his captors put a hood over his head and strapped him onto a wooden board, "then they start with the water pouring... They start to pour water to the point where you feel like you are suffocating." He added that, "they wouldn't stop until they got some kind of answer from me." He said a doctor was present during the waterboarding and that this happened numerous times, so many times he could not count. A second detainee in Afghanistan described being subjected to a water suffocation practice similar to waterboarding, and said that he was threatened with use of the board. A doctor was present during his suffocation-inducing abuse as well.

Bush administration officials and torture apologists had defended the use of waterboarding in part by arguing that its use was limited and that those who were subject to it—Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Abd-Rahim Al-Nashiri—were among the most hardcore al Qaeda-affiliated detainees in US custody. (The claims about Zubaydah's connections to al Qaeda, in particular, turned out to be exaggerated.) Shoroeiya and the other detainee who described treatment similar to waterboarding, Khalid al-Sharif, were captured in Pakistan in 2003. The HRW report states that al-Sharif is now head of the Libyan National Guard. 

When approached by the New York Times about the interviews, the CIA had a very curious response:

Asked about the reported fourth case of waterboarding, a C.I.A. spokeswoman, Jennifer Youngblood, said, "The agency has been on the record that there are three substantiated cases in which detainees were subjected to the waterboarding technique under the program."

As Lawfare's Benjamin Wittes notes, Youngblood's construction leaves "open the possibility that there may have been unsubstantiated additional cases of waterboarding outside of the agency's formal high-value detainee interrogation and detention program." Anyone involved in such cases, however, may have little to worry about: In keeping with the president's stated policy of "looking forward" when it comes to torture, the Obama administration declined last week to prosecute individuals involved in the deaths of two detainees in US custody. Though the president banned the use of techniques like waterboarding his first few days in office, the fact that no one has been held accountable for their use means that a future president—like say Mitt Romney—could allow the United States to torture again.

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Obama Talks Drone Strikes

| Thu Sep. 6, 2012 1:21 PM EDT

Barack Obama's administration is still insisting in court that its worst-kept secret—the use of unmanned aircraft to target and kill suspected terrorists—is classified information. But that didn't stop the president from openly defending the program to CNN reporter Jessica Yellin in an interview that aired Wednesday. Here's an excerpt from Obama's remarks, transcribed by Chris Woods at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

It has to be a situation in which we can't capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States. And this is an example of where I think there has been some misreporting. Our preference has always been to capture when we can because we can gather intelligence. But a lot of terrorist networks that target the United States, the most dangerous ones operate in very remote regions and it's very difficult to capture them. And we've got to make sure that in whatever operations we conduct, we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties, and in fact there are a whole bunch of situations where we will not engage in operations if we think there’s going to be civilian casualties involved.

So we have an extensive process with a lot of checks, a lot of eyes looking at it. Obviously as president I'm ultimately responsible for decisions that are made by the administration. But I think what the American people need to know is the seriousness with which we take both the responsibility to keep them safe, but also the seriousness with which we take the need for us to abide by our traditions of rule of law and due process.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 6, 2012

Thu Sep. 6, 2012 10:54 AM EDT

Marines with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, move through a poppy field on their way to Patrol Base Mohmon in the Lui Tal district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 17, 2012.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ismael Ortega.

Rep. Keith Ellison: GOP Is "Basically a Bigoted Party"

| Thu Sep. 6, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the nation's first-ever Muslim member of Congress, doesn't mince words when asked about the Republican party's formal proclamation that the United States is under assault from Islamic Shariah law. "It's an expression of bigotry," he said on Wednesday, in an interview with Mother Jones at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. "There has never been any legislation offered to establish Shariah law—not at the federal level, not at the state level. There's not been a municipal ordinance opposing this, there's not been anything."

For Ellison, the anti-Shariah plank was part of a broader narrative of exclusion. "Why do they want to become the party of hate? They're hating on immigrants who are from Latin America. They're demonstrating hatred toward Muslims. They're demonstrating hostility toward women. They act like they don't like gay people. Who is their party supposed to be made up of in 20 years?"

"I'm sad that they have decided to go into this dark ugly place where they see the whole world as their enemy," Ellison continued. "And this is the thing: I don't mind debating taxes and spending; we probably should. But they're the party that is basically a bigoted party and they have now officially declared themselves against a whole segment of the American population, because if we said we were going to put a plank opposing Jewish law, or Catholic canon, it would be an outrage. This is also an outrage. But you know, it'll pass."

Ellison's remarks echoed comments he made in July after his Minnesota colleague, GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann, accused Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. (Bachmann's statement was condemned by some high-profile Republicans, like Arizona Sen. John McCain.) Ellison said he's spoken with Bachmann once since the Abedin controversy—in response to a bill she was proposing to audit Medicaid recipients—but didn't bring up the subject with her. "I don't find that to be a productive use of my time or hers," Ellison said. "She whipped up a million [fundraising] dollars by promulgating hate against a religious minority. I'm not gonna talk her out of that." His plan to settle the argument is to campaign for her opponent this fall, Minneapolis hotelier Jim Graves.

"She's always bragging about how great the private sector is. She should join it."

Corn on "Hardball": Clinton's Speech the Pinnacle of Political Theater

Thu Sep. 6, 2012 3:07 AM EDT

David Corn and Darrell Hammond (who famously portrayed Bill Clinton on Saturday Night Live) joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss how Bill Clinton's inherent charm makes him such an effective political speaker.

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