Mojo - October 2012

Photo: Mitt Romney Breaking Ground at Public Broadcasting Station, 2005

| Wed Oct. 10, 2012 6:28 PM EDT

Yes, we've all heard and seen the meme: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney loves Big Bird and PBS, but still pledges to cut off government funding, due to the fact that PBS is a drain on the federal budget and requires money borrowed from China to stay afloat. (No.)

Here's a photo of then-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, at a WGBH groundbreaking ceremony in Brighton, Boston back in 2005:

WGBH is  WGBHWGBH provides non-commercial educational public radio and television, and is a PBS member station. WGBH.orgClick here to read about how Gov. Romney signed a bill that would later ensure millions of dollars in funding for nefarious, budget-killing public TV in Massachusetts for years to come.

And in case you were wondering, yes, WGBH does indeed carry Sesame Street.

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This Week in the 47 Percent: Romney Fundraiser Bans Recording and a Rap Ringtone

| Wed Oct. 10, 2012 3:12 PM EDT

President Obama chose not to mention Mitt Romney's 47 percent remarks in the presidential debate last week, but the leaked video appears to be picking up steam regardless. Not only are outside democratic groups reviving the narrative in radio ads, but the Obama campaign is launching another TV ad campaign based on the fundraiser footage in crucial swing states. Here's our full roundup of this week's 47 percent news:

MItt romney fundraisers, post-47 percent

Lynn SweetLynn SweetLynn Sweet of The Chicago Sun-Times published this gem of a photo showing that a Sunday Romney fundraiser near Chicago banned audio and video recordings. Wonder why?

New Obama 47 Percent Ad

The Obama campaign released this advertisement, titled "Earned," on Tuesday and plans to air in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. It features Romney's remarks with a reminder to voters that he could take away benefits like Medicare. As you may recall, this isn't the first time the Obama campaign has used the 47 percent message in a campaign ad.

democracy corps breaks it down

Democracy CorpsDemocracy CorpsDemocracy Corps, an independent nonprofit, has joined with the Women Vote Action Fund to crunch numbers on the effect the 47 percent video has had on single women, people of color, and young people: a demographic they call the "Rising American Electorate." According to their research:

Voters were asked which of a series of attacks raised the most doubts in their mind about Mitt Romney. The strongest—Mitt Romney’s 47 percent quote—raised serious doubts for four in ten voters and the fact that many of the so-called ‘47 percent’ are veterans, seniors, and the children of the working poor raised serious doubts for a third.

Big lou really breaks it down

We don't know exactly where this 47 percent remix came from (it has different lyrics than the original "We are Fighters" song with Big Lou and Bruno Mars), but it appears to have been posted on YouTube by the real Big Lou. In any case, it's cool and you can make it your ring tone, so shhh don't ask questions.

Obama Campaign Now Employing Jedi Mind Tricks

| Wed Oct. 10, 2012 2:44 PM EDT

I wrote a long piece for the current issue of the magazine (on newstands now!) about the Obama re-election team's efforts at constructing the "smart campaign." The tl;dr version is that Chicago is using data-mining, analytics, and behavioral science to a degree that hasn't been attempted before—all with the goals of squeezing their supporters for cash and volunteer hours and coaxing sympathetic voters to the polls.

One of the easiest ways to see this in action is through the fundraising emails the Obama campaign sends out, which vary substantially depending on the audience. ProPublica, which set out to track these emails last spring, found that a single pitch comes in no fewer than 11 different flavors. Any interaction you have with that an email—whether you responded with a donation, or whether you just clicked through at all—can be tracked by the campaign. That helps them learn a little bit about you, but it also helps them learn a little bit about themselves; they can send out blasts to randomized samples to determine what works and what doesn't.

And now, with four weeks to go until election day, here's the latest pitch I received in my inbox, nominally from the campaign's COO, Ann Marie Habershaw:

Supporter ID number? Passive-aggressive receipt? Sounds like a Jedi mind trick.

Or maybe it's just behavioral science—something Democratic groups have been experimenting with increasingly through the work of the electioneering think-tank, the Analyst Institute. As Sasha Issenberg chronicles in his new book, Victory Lab, in 2010 Democrats sent out mailers to Colorado Democrats in advance of the midterm election, thanking them personally for voting in 2008—and then thanking them in advance for voting in 2010. The passive-aggressive mailers boosted turnout among recipients by 2.5 percent. As Issenberg puts it, they were "designed to push buttons that many voters didn't even know they had."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 10, 2012

Wed Oct. 10, 2012 12:05 PM EDT

A Soldier assigned to 864th Engineer Battalion fires an M249 machine gun during a range, Oct. 7, 2012 at Orchard Combat Training Center, Idaho. The battalion is preparing for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. US Army photo.

Scoop: Ben & Jerry's Cofounder Wants to Freeze Money in Politics

| Wed Oct. 10, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Ben Cohen Gavin AronsenGetting the dough out: Ben & Jerry's cofounder and campaign finance reformer Ben Cohen Gavin Aronsen

Shortly after I met Ben & Jerry's cofounder Ben Cohen in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park last Saturday, he removed a rubber stamper from his pocket, took a dollar bill from my wallet, and stamped it with the words "STAMP MONEY OUT OF POLITICS. AMEND THE CONSTITUTION."

"Money stamping is kind of like petitions on steroids," he explained as we sat on a lakeside bench. "You sign a petition and, let's face it, nobody really sees it. But stamping money is essentially monetary jiu jitsu. It's using the power of money to get money out of politics." The money stamp is part of Stamp Stampede, Cohen's effort to build popular support for a constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United, one greenback at a time.

Cohen hopes that thousands of marked bills soon will be circulating through cash registers around the country. Anyone can purchase a bill stamper on the group's website. Cohen also plans to spread the message via the Amend-o-Matic Stampmobile, a customized van mounted with a 10-foot-tall "Rube Goldberg-esque machine" that will stamp bills "in an entertaining and educational way." (The contraption was supposed to hit the streets of San Francisco last weekened, but Cohen cheerfully explained that his team was still "fine-tuning" it.) Ben & Jerry's, where Cohen is employed as a "pretty face" with "no authority or responsibilities," is one of Stamp Stampede's main supporters; Cohen promised "there will be times where ice cream is given away."

Stamp Stamp Stampede"Monetary jiu jitsu": A stamped dollar bill Stamp Stampede

Stamp Stampede, which launched in July, was inspired by two similar projects: the dollar bill-tracking site Where's George? and the 99-percent themed bill-stamping site Occupy George. It was also inspired by Occupy Wall Street itself. Last fall, Cohen and fellow ice cream magnate Jerry Greenfield stopped by Zuccotti Park and came away "impressed and inspired." The duo later returned to hand out ice cream. (They hid the company logo and used unmarked cups to appease corporate-wary occupiers.) The board of directors at Ben & Jerry's also endorsed the movement but stopped short of naming an ice cream flavor after it.

Mitt Romney Probably Didn't Hack Your Facebook Page

| Wed Oct. 10, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

It is not just conservatives who have been forced to like Mitt Romney. In recent weeks, a host of liberal types have complained that their Facebook accounts have erroneously "liked" Romney's page, and some are floating the theory (see here and here and here) that the Romney campaign has deployed a virus or used other nefarious means to inflate the candidate's online stature. This conspiratorial notion has spawned a Facebook community forum, and its own page: "Hacked by Mitt Romney" (cute url: facebook.com/MittYouDidntBuildThat), which has over 200 likes. It even inspired an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which pondered: "Was I the victim of sabotage (like the time one of our kids swiped about 100 campaign signs and posted them all in our front yard)? Or the victim of my own keyboard clumsiness?"

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Democratic Groups: Hey, Remember the 47 Percent Video?

| Tue Oct. 9, 2012 1:40 PM EDT

There's been something missing from the presidential campaign since last Wednesday's debate in Denver: the 47 percent. Since President Obama's underwhelming performance, his campaign has hammered Mitt Romney repeatedly, in stump speeches and television spot, on the sanctity of Big Bird. But the talking point that helped turn Obama's post-convention bounce into what became an eight-point cushion has been AWOL. (That was the case during the debate, too.)

But in a new radio ad, AFSCME and the super-PAC Priorities USA, two leading Democratic outside groups, are trying to reprise the narrative, this time comparing Romney's decidedly warmer debate rhetoric to his closed-doors ruminations on the makers and takers:

CREW Files FEC Complaint Over Coal Company's Coerced Campaign Donations

| Tue Oct. 9, 2012 1:40 PM EDT

An ethics watchdog group wants to know whether an Ohio coal company violated federal election rules by forcing employees to donate to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sent a complaint to the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday alleging that Murray Energy and its CEO Robert Murray "coerced" company employees to make contributions to its political action committee (PAC).

The company's PAC regularly donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican politicians. The CREW complaint, based on reporting in The New Republic, alleges that the company threatened employees with "financial reprisals, including the loss of their jobs" if they did not contribute to the PAC.

The TNR piece published last week cites interviews with Murray employees as well as internal memos that suggest employees were pressured to donate. An internal memo from Robert Murray also complains about salaried employees not attending political functions for whichever "coal friend" in Congress happens to be visiting, and includes a list of specific staffers who had not attended the CEO's fundraisers. Another letter from September 2010 is very direct in its threat for staffers who don't give to the PAC: "We have only a little over a month left to go in this election fight. If we do not win it, the coal industry will be eliminated and so will your job, if you want to remain in this industry." Salaried employees were expected to give 1 percent of their salary to the PAC, TNR's Alec MacGillis reported, and would receive letters telling them which candidates to support.

In August, Murray Energy forced miners in Ohio to take a day off work without pay to attend a Mitt Romney rally. Romney then used the miners as props in television ads complaining about President Obama's "war on coal."

CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan says that Murray's tactics are "outrageous" and claims they are a violation of campaign finance rules. "Whether coercing company executives to make campaign contributions or insisting coal miners take time off without pay so that a candidate can stage pretty pictures — it is all illegal," said Sloan. 

In the TNR piece, Murray's lawyers insist they aren't breaking any rules:

Murray Energy general counsel Mike McKown says the firm’s approach to political giving complies with federal laws. Employees are not required to give to the PAC, he says, nor are they reimbursed. "We follow carefully the FEC [Federal Election Commission] rules about what employees can be solicited and how they can be solicited," he says, adding that Bob Murray’s encouragement for employees to contribute to individual candidates is the CEO’s personal endeavor. "The PAC and Mr. Murray’s fundraising are kept separate," he says.

Flashback: Mitt Says Ann's Views Not "Terribly Relevant to My Campaign"

| Tue Oct. 9, 2012 12:32 PM EDT

Ann Romney has been getting more face time on the campaign trail, making the public pitch for her husband while also reportedly taking a more active role in strategy behind the sceens. She's been a key conduit to women voters, arguing that they should "wake up" and vote for Romney.

But it's worth noting that, during his first presidential bid, Mitt Romney argued that his wife's positions don't matter to his campaign. Back in 2007, reporters noted that Ann Romney had given a $150 check to Planned Parenthood in 1994 from their joint account, after the pair attended a fundraiser hosted by a Republican activist. The story also cropped up again later that year when a photo of Mitt attending the event was posted online. (It was also mentioned in Slate's exhaustive history of Romney's ever-evolving stance on abortion earlier this year). In response to the revelation in 2007, the presidential candidate told reporters, "Her contributions are for her and not for me, and her positions I do not think are terribly relevant to my campaign." Here's the video:

As a candidate, Romney has pledged to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood. So maybe he's right: Ann's positions aren't terribly relevant to his campaign. But it's worth noting as she takes to the stump to rally women voters behind her husband.

Paul Ryan: Obama Won't Take Away Your Guns

| Tue Oct. 9, 2012 11:26 AM EDT

Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski flagged this video on Monday afternoon, in which an agitated Rep. Paul Ryan chides a Michigan television reporter for a particularly loaded line of questioning. But I was more interested in what Ryan actually said.

Pressed on whether he supported new restrictions on gun ownership, Ryan responded: "If you take a look at the gun laws we have, I don't even think President Obama's proposing more gun laws. We have good strong guns laws—we have to make sure we enforce our laws, we have lots of laws that aren't properly enforced. We need to make sure we enforce these laws."

By contrast, take a look at this new ad from the National Rifle Association:

And here's Paul Ryan himself, in an interview with Outdoor Life magazine in September: "What I worry about as a hunter, as a person who believes in the Second Amendment, as a gun owner, is knowing that President Obama—in his earlier career, prior to his presidency—was an advocate for gun control. I worry about what his attitude will be once he never has to face voters again."

President Obama isn't proposing new gun laws. In fact, the only gun-related pieces of legislation he's signed into law have actually expanded gun rights. Caught in a defensive moment in a local news interview, even Ryan seems to admit it.