Mojo - October 2012

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Oct. 19, 2012 5:03 AM EDT

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

the money shot


 

quote of the week

"The ability to pool money into a super PAC turns out to be very significant."
—Columbia Law School's Richard Briffault, explaining to ProPublica why he believes megadonors like Sheldon Adelson never independently financed political ads with the amounts of money they're now pouring into outside spending groups. Briffault is a campaign finance historian who has written extensively on super-PACs. (Also see Andy Kroll's must-read four-decade history of how super-PACs came to be.)

 

protest of the week

On Saturday, more than 1,000 people lay down on a San Francisco beach to create a human protest sign against Citizens United. Local cab driver Brad Newsham organized the event along with a host of activist groups, including Move to Amend and Public Citizen (both of which also support Ben & Jerry's cofounder Ben Cohen's effort to stamp money out of politics). Protesters also came out in support of Proposition G, which would make it official city policy to recognize that corporations aren't people.

Photo by John MontgomeryPhoto by John Montgomery

 

stat of the week

$13 million: The amount of money that super-PAC megadonors contributed toward expenses for the Republican National Convention in August, according to a report filed with the FEC on Wednesday. All told, more than $55 million was raised for the RNC, $32.6 million of it from corporations. The single largest donor, however, was casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has given at least $71 million to outside groups so far in this election. Democrats' hands weren't clean, either: $24 million was raised for the DNC (plus another $18 million from taxpayers) despite an earlier pledge to steer clear of corporate cash.

 

chart of the week

Here's a chart, in video form, from Northeastern University's Lazer Lab that shows super-PAC spending over time by partisan breakdown and whether the spending was positive or negative. Fair warning: There's lots of booing involved, and you might want to turn down your speakers before clicking play. (Or just check out the still version here.)

 

more mojo dark-money coverage

Democrats Broke Pledge by Taking Corporate Convention Cash: The DNC vowed to hold the first convention in history that wasn't fueled by cash from corporations, lobbyists, and PACs. So much for that idea.
6 Must-Have Apps for Political Junkies: From fact-checking to donation tracking, data-mining the horse race has never been so easy.
Following the Mystery Money Behind a Super-PAC's Attacks on Tammy Duckworth: The Now or Never super-PAC pocketed $1.95 million from a nonprofit that won't say who funds it.
Who's Really Behind This Ad Scaring Seniors in Florida?: The dark-money group Defend my Dividend is more astroturf than grassroots.

 

more must-reads

• Gov. Tom Corbett (R-Penn.) received a mysterious $1.5 million contribution from Wisconsin in 2010 in a legal "money-laundering scheme." Center for Public Integrity
• With more than 73,000 political ads, Las Vegas has the dubious honor of being America's most ad-saturated media market this year. New York Times
• How annoyed are voters getting by political ads, and will it matter? Associated Press

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Romney Enlists General Behind Iraq Debacle as Key Military Adviser

| Fri Oct. 19, 2012 5:03 AM EDT

General Tommy Franks with Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld in 2003

If you're a presidential candidate looking to establish your national security cred with a war-weary American public, who might be the worst frontman you could choose for your cause? How about the guy who oversaw the campaign that lost Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora, then bungled planning for war in Iraq? In a news release Wednesday night, Mitt Romney announced the 300-plus members of his "Military Advisory Council," and that man led the list of endorsements:

"I'm proud to be supporting Mitt Romney in this critical election about our nation’s future," said General Tommy Franks, USA (Ret.), Past Commander, U.S. Central Command. "Governor Romney is committed to restoring America's leadership role in the world. Instead of playing politics with our military, he will strengthen our defense posture by reversing the President's devastating defense cuts. The fact of the matter is that we cannot afford another four years of feckless foreign policy. We need level-headed leadership which will protect our interests and defend our values with clarity and without apology."

Few living Americans can speak with as much authority about "years of feckless foreign policy" as can Tommy "Rumsfeld's water boy" Franks, who comes in at No. 4 on a Foreign Policy list of worst US generals ever. As readers of our lie-by-lie Iraq timeline will recall, Franks oversaw CENTCOM from 2000 to 2003 and scripted the initial conduct of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Franks:

  • Deliberately concealed from the American public how in 2001, at Bush White House's request, he was planning an Iraq invasion—while we were still trying to topple the Taliban and find  bin Laden in Afghanistan.
  • Perpetuated the bogus "weapons of mass destruction" myth about Iraq.

Samuel L. Jackson Threatens Lawsuit Over Candidate's "Uncle Tom" Ad

| Thu Oct. 18, 2012 2:01 PM EDT
Randall Terry as "Sir Reginald Bling," rapping about Samuel L. Jackson as the "New Uncle Tom."

Randall Terry, who is concurrently running for president of the United States and for Congress in Florida, is suffering the wrath of actor Samuel L. Jackson, who is going after the anti-abortion activist. With a vengeance.

Jackson, you may recall, made an ad for a pro-Obama super-PAC, in which he implores voters to "Wake the fuck up!" In response, Terry made his own ad, which he says has aired on more than 100 TV stations. It accuses Jackson of "carrying water for racists," among other things. (It also contains graphic images of aborted fetuses.)

Terry also set up an accompanying website, www.uncletomjackson.com, to broadcast his "faux-Dr. Seuss rhyme" entitled, "The New Uncle Tom." In the video, Terry is dressed as "Sir Reginald Bling" and raps about Jackson's alleged betrayals of his race using lines from his own movies:

When Obama and Biden work themselves to a fit, they picked up the phone, called 9-1-holy shit. Send a man who will "Die Hard with a Vengeance" for us, and a man who will stay in the back of the bus. You’re darn right we’ll work, no you just stay calm. Get Samuel L. Jackson to play uncle Tom.

The ad, the rap (which accuses Jackson of advocating "Black genocide"), and the website haven't gone unnoticed by Jackson. He's threatening to sue Terry and the TV stations that air the ad. In the letter from his lawyers, according to Terry, Jackson's attorneys claim:

The Commercial states that Samuel L. Jackson associates himself with persons and organizations who advocate that "Blacks are human weeds" and want "to abort Black babies" and "sterilize Black men and women" and advocate "Black genocide." All such statements are false, defamatory and outrageous.

The use of Mr. Jackson's name and image to advocate the highly offensive statements in the Commercial, namely that he supposedly advocates "Black genocide," and the other such outrageous positions discussed above, has caused Mr. Jackson to suffer substantial emotional distress... Moreover, Randall Terry maintains a website at the domain name www.UncleTomJackson.com where he refers to Mr. Jackson as "Uncle Tom" and expressly states about him: 'Mr. Jackson is advocating the eradication of his own race.' Mr. Jackson may seek substantial monetary damages, including punitive damages, for this violation.

Terry seems amused by all of this. He released a statement saying he will "not be bullied or intimidated by Mr. Jackson's threats, nor will we stop running the ad. Shame on Mr. Jackson for trying to silence political dissent."

He also points out that Jackson is facing an uphill legal battle. That's because Terry is a political candidate, and FCC rules basically say he can say anything he wants in a political ad and it will be considered protected free speech. That's why he's running for office—so he can put gruesome fetus pictures in ads and stations will have no choice but to run them. In his response to the lawsuit threat, Terry essentially taunts Jackson by pointing this out. He says, "The stations are protected by FCC law from any legal action for ANY political campaign ad that runs on their stations. And I am protected by the first amendment—not to mention the truth."

On Wednesday night, I spoke with Charles Harder, an attorney with the law firm Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin in Los Angeles representing Jackson (and Hulk Hogan). He was surprised to learn that Terry had used his firm's threat letter in a press release, perhaps a sign that he neglected to do a Google search on Terry before threatening to sue him. (Of course Terry would use a legal threat for publicity!) Harder told me he hadn't seen the release so declined to comment, and after I sent it to him, he didn't respond to calls or emails. Score one for Terry.

Democrats Broke Pledge by Taking Corporate Convention Cash

| Thu Oct. 18, 2012 12:43 PM EDT
President Barack Obama speaks to the delegation at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In the lead-up to their party's convention in Charlotte last month, top Democrats vowed to fund their every-four-years gala solely with individual donations. "We will make this the first convention in history that does not accept any funds from lobbyists, corporations, or political action committees," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the DNC chairwoman, said last year. That pledge, it turns out, was a whole lot of bluster.

New election filings show that the Democratic National Convention benefited from millions in corporate cash. The convention took in at least $5 million in corporate money to rent the Time Warner Cable basketball arena that served as the convention hall. Convention officials also tapped almost $8 million from a line of credit from Duke Energy, a Charlotte-based electricity company with close ties to the Obama administration. The DNC banked a million more in in-kind contributions from corporations such as AT&T, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and Costco. Labor unions gave nearly $6 million to the convention as well, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

A separate fund created to support the convention, New American City, also brought in corporate money. Bank of America gave $5 million, Duke Energy contributed $4.1 million, and AT&T chipped in $1 million.

DNC spokeswoman Melanie Roussell told the AP that convention officials broke no laws in raising corporate money. Any fundraising restrictions, Roussell said, were self-imposed by conventional officials. In all, Democrats' official convention fund raised $24 million to supplement the $18 million provided by taxpayers. New American City raised $19 million.

The GOP had no qualms raising corporate cash, and it ultimately hauled in nearly $56 million for its convention held in Tampa in late August. The RNC's corporate donors included Archer Daniels Midland, Bacardi, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Chevron, Citigroup, Comcast, CSX Corporation, Duke Energy, Ernst & Young, FedEx, Ford, General Electric, Google, JPMorgan Chase, Lockheed Martin, Walmart, Wells Fargo, and Xerox Corporation. GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson chipped in $5 million, while industrialist David Koch and investor John Paulson both gave $1 million.

Romney Military Adviser Wanted Separate Housing for Gay Troops

| Thu Oct. 18, 2012 11:09 AM EDT

A military adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney recommended housing servicemembers separately on the basis of sexual orientation. 

"I would not ask our Marines to live with someone that's homosexual if we can possibly avoid it," then Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway told Military.com in March of 2010. Conway, who retired in 2010, was among the big names listed on Romney's Military Advisory Council, whose members were released by the Romney campaign on Wednesday. Conway cited the growing national debt and a desire to protect military spending as his reason for backing Romney. 

Conway, a vocal opponent of repealing the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy before and after he was succeeded by Gen. James Amos as Marine Commandant, elaborated on his logic in a press briefing at the Pentagon in August of 2010. "[W]e recruit a certain type of young American, pretty macho guy or gal, that is willing to go fight and perhaps die for their country," Conway said. "We sometimes ask Marines, you know, what is—what is their preference. And I can tell you that an overwhelming majority would like not to be roomed with a person who is openly homosexual."

The Pentagon's report on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal did find higher levels of opposition among Marine combat arms units, who predicted a negative impact from allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. Fifty-eight percent of those serving Marine combat arms units thought the policy would cause problems. But when asked about their actual experience of serving with comrades they believed to be gay or lesbian, the overwhelming majority of those servicemembers, 84 percent, said their ability to work together was "good," "very good," or "neither good nor poor." Last month a study by the pro-gay rights Palm Center found no negative impact on morale, unit cohesion, or readiness from DADT repeal. Conway's successor, Gen. Amos, who at first also opposed repealing the policy, said last year that implementing repeal had been a "non-event."

Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" hasn't meant full equality for gay and lesbian military families, however. Federal law prohibits those families from receiving the same benefits as heterosexual ones. With Romney taking on people like Conway as military advisers, it's doubtful he'll see that as a problem.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 18, 2012

Thu Oct. 18, 2012 8:57 AM EDT

Kaydence Hoversten, 22-month-old daughter of Gunnery Sgt. Jared Hoversten, sits in front of buses shortly before her dad and other Regimental Combat Team 7, 7th Marines leave for their deployment to Afghanistan Oct. 9 at 7th Marine Regimental Headquarters.
US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. William J. Jackson.

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Romney Tries to Woo Small Business Owners with Eau de George W. Bush

| Thu Oct. 18, 2012 5:08 AM EDT

Judging by Tuesday night's debate, the 2012 election is all about wining, dining, and seducing small business owners. At the town hall event, President Obama and Mitt Romney said the phrase "small business" a collective 21 times. But when it comes to promises to small business owners, Romney is like that prom date you rejected senior year. He's showing up to your house again in a better suit, but trying to woo you with the same, sweaty cologne: Eau de George W. Bush. 

Romney has promised to permanently extend Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the rich, and the 2012 nominee's rhetoric is strikingly similar to Bush's. At a 2008 Small Business Summit, Bush told small business leaders:

"The last thing small business owners need is higher taxes. I believe strongly that to make sure this economy recovers and stays strong, there needs to be certainty in the tax code. And the best way for Congress to make sure there's certainty is to make the tax relief we passed permanent."

In last night's debate, Romney echoed Bush's words: "Why do I want to bring rates down and at the same time lower exemptions and deductions, particularly for people at the high end? Because if you bring rates down, it makes it easier for small business to keep more of their capital." 

Like Bush, Romney is claiming these massive tax cuts can be offset, but hasn't demonstrated how he will do it. 

"That's the unspecified part of the plan," says Joseph Rosenberg, research associate at the Urban Institute. "It's hard to know how it will play out." 

Romney Points Finger at Single Moms on Gun Violence

| Wed Oct. 17, 2012 3:50 PM EDT
Babies out of wedlock, AK-47s in the streets

The issue of gun violence, long stuck in an unvirtuous cycle of hardened rhetoric, tends to get ignored in national politics. But 2012 has been terrible with mass shootings, and an audience member raised the issue in Tuesday's town hall presidential debate, asking what will be done to limit the availability of assault weapons and keep them from criminals. President Obama, directly acknowledging the recent slaughter at a Colorado movie theater, called for a "comprehensive strategy" to deal with the problem.

Mitt Romney took a different approach, demonstrating that no issue is too peripheral for him to make false claims, dissemble, and utter comments likely to piss off women. (See also from Tuesday night: binders.) In less than three minutes, Romney bungled the facts on assault weapons, cited Fast and Furious as the nation's "greatest failure" on gun violence, and, more broadly, pointed the finger at single moms:

But let me mention another thing, and that is parents. We need moms and dads helping raise kids. Wherever possible, the—the benefit of having two parents in the home—and that's not always possible. A lot of great single moms, single dads. But gosh, to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone—that's a great idea because if there's a two-parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically.

That set up Romney's assertion that "we can make changes in the way our culture works to help bring people away from violence." (Watch his full remarks below.)

If it seems a little nutty to suggest that fewer unwed mothers is key to reducing carnage from AK-47s, consider that Romney also recently embraced a debunked conspiracy theory involving a United Nations plot to seize Americans' firearms. Moreover, Romney got his facts wrong Tuesday night, claiming in his initial response that it's "already illegal in this country to have automatic weapons." As the LA Times and other news outlets have since explained, automatic weapons can be possessed legally in the United States.

As for his declaring that the alleged Fast and Furious conspiracy is our nation's "greatest failure" on gun violence, Romney might want to speak with survivors of the mass shootings in Aurora and Tucson, as Obama has. After Romney made time in September for a long chat with the National Rifle Association's chief lobbyist, some of those survivors reached out to the GOP presidential candidate and asked for equal time. But as I reported recently, he has ignored them.

Not surprisingly, Romney wasn't always such a hard-liner on guns. As Obama himself pointed out Tuesday night, the former Massachussetts governor once signed a ban on assault weapons similar to the federal legislation that expired in 2004. Watch Obama call him on it:

And here are Romney's remarks in response to the town hall attendee's question about assault weapons:

Footage via the New York Times, where you can see the full video and transcript.

Romney and the Women Who Still Don't Love Him

| Wed Oct. 17, 2012 2:24 PM EDT

Earlier this week, the media were atwitter with poll results showing that GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney was surging among women voters. Until the first debate, women, particularly single women, had been strong backers of President Obama, who in April this year was winning women by 19 points over Romney—and single women by 36 points. But on Monday, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told USA Today that since Romney's strong first debate performance she'd noticed a  "a major surge among women in favorability for Romney" in "every poll."

But after surging in the lady polls after the first debate, Romney whiffed on an important women's rights question in the town hall-style debate on Tuesday night. Asked about gender equality, he tried to address the issue with his record on gender as Massachusetts governor. Instead, he ended up suggesting that he sees women as a compartmentalized problem to be dealt with through office supplies—"binders full of women." 

Don't be surprised if, in the wake of the "binder" mess, women decide they don't like Romney after all. Romney has never won a majority of women voters in any of his previous election runs. During the 2012 Republican primary, he lost women voters in many states to the sanctimonious and rigidly anti-abortion Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, a famous philanderer. He won the Massachusetts gubernatorial race in 2002 thanks only to men, losing women voters by 4 percent. During his first Senate race in 1994, Romney even managed to lose women voters by 24 points to Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) in a year when Kennedy was struggling to overcome an image as a womanizer. 

Romney was no more successful at hiring women to work for him at Bain Capital. Women held fewer than 10 percent of vice president positions during Romney's tenure there, a problem he dismissed in 1994 by saying that private equity was "a profession that has yet to attract many women and minorities."  

Romney's had lots of time to prep for a question on this topic. Kennedy bashed him with the issue to great effect in 1994, pointing out his horrible record at hiring women at Bain in TV ads. But in answering the question, Romney came off not like the nation's stepdad, but like every woman's worst boss. He's the condescending guy who cuts you off in meetings, dismisses your ideas, and who then also believes there's no such thing as gender discrimination. (His talking over moderator Candy Crowley certainly didn't help his attempts to prove his respect for women in the workplace, either.) 

Like the idea of "self-deporting" immigrants, Romney's response to the debate question about gender inequality showed that he still thinks women "self-discriminate" by not flocking to high-finance or political jobs because, you know, they want to be home for dinner. Gender inequality, in Romney's view, is not something that requires substantive national policy solutions, just more enlightened, paternal men at the top to generously fish women out of a binder and graciously give them jobs.

No, Obama Isn't Just Deporting "Gang Bangers"

| Wed Oct. 17, 2012 11:19 AM EDT

Barack Obama's record numbers of deportations have been drowned out by Republican accusations of amnesty. Nevertheless, Obama has still deported more than a million unauthorized immigrants. During Tuesday night's debate, the president offered a very misleading characterization of the undocumented immigrants who have been subject to deportation during his administration. 

Here is what Obama said:

What I've also said is if we're going to go after folks who are here illegally, we should do it smartly and go after folks who are criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community, not after students, not after folks who are here just because they're trying to figure out how to feed their families. And that's what we've done. And what I've also said is for young people who come here, brought here often times by their parents. Had gone to school here, pledged allegiance to the flag. Think of this as their country. Understand themselves as Americans in every way except having papers. And we should make sure that we give them a pathway to citizenship.

The truth is that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants who have been deported during Obama's tenure do not have violent criminal records. Julianne Hing at Colorlines breaks it down, looking at the most recent numbers:

In preliminary data for the January-March 2012 quarter collected by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, for example, just 14 percent of those deported had any criminal record. (Immigration violations are typically considered civil violations, and do not constitute a criminal offense.) But, a closer look at the data shows that just 4 percent of those deported had a so-called “aggravated felon” on their record, an immigration court-specific designation of crimes that can include crimes as serious as rape and murder, but has also been expanded to include violations like theft or non-violent drug offenses.

This is reflected in earlier numbers, as well: Most of those deported don't have criminal records, and of those who do, few involve violent offenses. It's true that sometimes minor offenses can be used to target people who are actually suspected of more serious crimes. The reality, though, is that there just aren't more than a million undocumented "gang bangers" in the United States, and had Romney used similar phrasing to describe undocumented immigrants, the left probably wouldn't forgive him for it. But Obama gets away with statements like this—perhaps because Romney is so dodgy on immigration that he makes Obama look good by comparison.