Mojo - December 2012

Obama for America's Magic Number: $1.4 Billion

| Mon Dec. 10, 2012 9:02 AM PST
Barack Obama.

There is no disputing it: Barack Obama and his campaign juggernaut are the kings of political fundraising.

Obama for America, the president's own campaign, raked in $1.4 billion in campaign donations during his two bids for the White House, according to the Huffington Post's Paul Blumenthal, who crunched the numbers. That $1.4 billion tally—which does not include spending by the Democratic National Committee or the other groups that backed the president—is the biggest presidential haul in history.

During the 2012 campaign cycle, when you include Obama's campaign and the Democratic groups backing him, Obama and his allies topped GOP nominee Mitt Romney and his GOP backers in the fundraising fight. Team Obama banked $1.2 billion for the 2012 campaign cycle, making the president the first billion-dollar candidate in history; Team Romney pocketed $923 million. By comparison, Sen. John McCain, the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee, raised a little more than a third of that, $368.1 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

McCain's haul was so small compared to Romney's because the Arizona senator accepted taxpayer-provided public funding in 2008. Romney opted out. As did Obama during both of his campaigns. Which leads to one of the big takeaways from the 2012 campaign season: Parsing the spending and fundraising tallies for 2012, it's obvious that the current public financing system—funded by taxpayers, capping the amount of money presidential candidates can raise and spend—is horribly outdated and badly in need of a reboot. The way it works now, it's dead as dust.

Obama is the first billion-dollar presidential candidate. But until public financing gets a facelift, he's unlikely to be the last.

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

Mon Dec. 10, 2012 8:37 AM PST
U.S. Army Spc. Samnith Thy, right, a security force team member for Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah, provides security outside a youth meeting in Farah City, Dec. 2. U.S. Navy photo by HMC Josh Ives.

Obama Inauguration Accepting Unlimited Corporate Cash

| Fri Dec. 7, 2012 4:35 PM PST

Corporations have the green light to donate unlimited money to help fund President Obama's second inaugural festivities this January, sources close to the planning tell Politico, a break from the Obama team's decision four years ago to cap donations at $50,000 from individuals and shun corporate cash entirely in the interest of "chang[ing] business as usual in Washington."

Politico's sources say Obama will reject donations from lobbyists and political action committees, as he did for his first inauguration. Team Obama also reportedly plans to screen all corporate donations to eliminate any conflicts of interest, and considers the decision to accept the cash common sense after an election flooded with record-breaking spending:

But the sources say the new decision is driven by pragmatism: The president and his team just wrapped up the most expensive campaign in history—with costs topping $1 billion—and they've determined that their donors are simply tapped out.

The cost of an Inauguration can run into the tens of millions. Obama spent $47 million in 2009. And raising that in a matter of six weeks is too difficult without throwing open the flood gates, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Historically, presidents have accepted corporate cash to fund their inaugurations, and Politico's sources compared the upcoming Obama inauguration to civic events, which corporations typically help fund. But the government reform group Public Citizen is asking Obama to go back to his old corporate-money-flouting ways, noting that his January 21 inauguration falls on the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision. (In his 2010 State of the Union address Obama slammed the decision, saying it "reversed a century of law," but later reluctantly embraced the super-PACs it helped create.)

If Obama doesn't take Public Citizen's advice, it won't be the first time he's changed his tune and accepted corporate donations for an event. Obama and other top party officials said they would reject corporate money for the Democratic National Convention last September—Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the DNC, pledged to "make this the first convention in history that does not accept any funds from lobbyists, corporations, or political action committees"—but Democrats ended up taking in more than $20 million from big business.

Risk to Same-Sex Marriage "Very Great" in Supreme Court

| Fri Dec. 7, 2012 3:11 PM PST

The Supreme Court has finally decided to take on same-sex marriage. In an announcement Friday, the court said it will hear two cases: One of them will determine the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, a referendum that stripped same-sex couples of marriage rights in that state. The other involves the portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed by the states. The risk here for same-sex couples is very great, as EJ Graff explains in a piece for The Advocate, because the two cases differ widely in scope and potential impact. (My colleague Dana Liebelson has a great explainer here.)

The DOMA case asks the justices to strike down the federal law that dictates which marriages are valid. Even better for supporters of same-sex marriage: Of the several DOMA cases the court could have taken, it decided on Windsor v. United States, in which plaintiff Edith Windsor was unable to claim an estate-tax deduction after her female partner died. Between striking down part of a heavy-handed federal statute and helping someone get a tax cut, it's the kind of same-sex marriage case even a conservative justice could love. Most importantly, from the point of view of getting the requisite five votes, striking down that part of DOMA would not prevent states from banning same-sex marriage.

Dick Armey: "This Kind of Secrecy Is Why I Left" FreedomWorks

| Fri Dec. 7, 2012 2:42 PM PST

The Sunlight Foundation, a group that pushes for more transparent politics and policymaking, on Friday reported that federal records show that two mystery companies in September donated over $12 million to the super PAC of FreedomWorks, the tea party-supporting organization that this week was rocked by the abrupt resignation of its chairman, Dick Armey, the former Republican House majority leader. These contributions accounted for more than half of the $23.2 million the group raised for the 2012 campaign, and they came from two shadowy Knoxville-Tennessee-based firms—Specialty Group, Inc., and Pike Development LLC—that publicly have no reason to exist other than apparently to make contributions and mask the true source of the money. Moreover, Armey tells Mother Jones that he knew nothing about the donations or the origins of the cash and that he quit FreedomWorks partly because of a lack of transparency.

After the Sunlight Foundation posted this report—noting that the sources of this funding "remain shadowy"—Mother Jones contacted Armey and asked if he had been aware of these contributions and of where the money came from. He replied, "I know nothing about this."

That seemed odd. He was until last Friday the chair of FreedomWorks. Shouldn't he have been in the loop? "This kind of secrecy is why I left," Armey maintained. He added, "I have never seen anything like this before."

Mother Jones then reached Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks (whom Armey has accused of misappropriating FreedomWorks resources for his own personal benefit), and asked if it was unusual for the chairman of an outfit to be in the dark about half of the group's funding. "Well, we have 81,000 individual donors," Kibbe replied. Indeed, but only two donations that account for over $12 million. Nothing curious about Armey not being in-the-know? "It's not unusual," Kibbe said. He continued: "I don't know about these [donations]. It's the first time I've heard."

This seemed even more bizarre. Would Kibbe not know where half of the money for his group's super PAC came from? In fact, in September, Associated Press reported,

A shadowy Tennessee company donated more than $5 million to a prominent conservative super political action committee days after establishing itself…Campaign finance reports filed late Thursday show that the political committee, FreedomWorks for America, received seven donations totaling $5.28 million from Knoxville-based Specialty Group Inc. The money, which accounted for about 90 percent of FreedomWorks for America's donations during the first 15 days of October, is helping pay for TV ads supporting conservative candidates for federal office.

That money helped underwrite a massive $1.5 million television ad buy targeting Democrat Tammy Duckworth who was challenging Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), a leading tea partier. At the time, a FreedomWorks spokesman declined to comment, and the registered owner of Specialty Group, William S. Rose, stayed mum, as well. (The money didn't help; Duckworth won the race.)

When asked how he could not be aware of these hefty donations, Kibbe requested that he be sent the Sunlight Foundation article and said, "I'm not supposed to comment before reading."

Armey's bad-blood departure from FreedomWorks—which yielded him an $8 million payout—has created a bigtime dustup. And the group's big secrets may well be in jeopardy.

Jim DeMint: 47 Percenter

| Fri Dec. 7, 2012 12:17 PM PST

Months before my colleague David Corn reported on failed GOP 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney's 47 percent remarks at a Boca Raton fundraiser, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) told libertarian magazine Reason his theory of why American society was careening towards collapse. 

"Almost half of Americans are getting something from government, and the other half are paying for it," DeMint said. "And we’re on a track where 60 percent are getting something from government and 40 percent are paying for it. You can't sustain a democracy with that mix."

DeMint wasn't running for president. Soon, however, he will be running the Heritage Foundation, the most influential and partisan of Washington's conservative think tanks. Heritage isn't exactly known for the integrity of its policy shop these days—they produced a magic beans jobs prediction to back Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wisc.) budget plan and a laughably bad analysis of the new START treaty—but they've been very successful at helping to enforce ideological discipline within the GOP. DeMint, who spent years orchestrating primary challenges against Republican squishes and blocking potential compromises, seems suited to the gig. Despite the GOP distancing itself from Romney, with DeMint running Heritage, Washington's leading conservative think tanks are now all lead by people who think Mitt Romney's remarks writing off half the country as hopeless parasites are basically correct.

Nevermind that Romney was actually wrong: The largest share of the 47 percent he referred to as not paying federal income taxes are people who pay payroll taxes, while the remainder are retired people who have paid taxes all their lives and people who make less than $20,000 a year, which despite what you may have read at Heritage is not an easy way to live. DeMint's move to Heritage shows that conservatives aren't really interested in reevaluating this worldview, despite what you may have heard about Republican "soul-searching."

After all, most of the think-tank leadership buys into it. The libertarian Cato Institute, by far the most intellectually diverse of these right-leaning DC institutions, settled on former BB&T CEO John Allison, a self-identified objectivist, to lead the organization after a bitter internal battle. In case you've been frozen in carbonite for a while and missed tea partiers holding signs praising John Galt, objectivism is the philosophy of Ayn Rand, whose vision of heroic entrepreneurs held back by a the needs of a parasitic underclass that contributes nothing to society sounds a lot like the America Romney described in Boca Raton. The New York Times reported shortly after Romney's 47 percent remarks that his "thinking on the matter has been shaped in part by Arthur C. Brooks," who is president of the American Enterprise Institute and who at CPAC in February called for a government that will "reward the makers, not the takers."

Whatever impact the 47 percent tape had on Romney's political fortunes, it's hard to argue that he wasn't channeling his party. DeMint's  move to Heritage shows conservatives believe that all this message needs is more strident and unambivalent defenders.

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Controversial Anti-Abortion, Pro-Creationism Evangelist Makes a John Lennon Movie

| Fri Dec. 7, 2012 11:56 AM PST
A still from Christian minister Ray Comfort's (pictured, right) documentary ostensibly about John Lennon.

Ray Comfort, a Christian minister and socially conservative activist from New Zealand, made quite a splash last year when he made a documentary that the Anti-Defamation League slammed for equating the Holocaust to abortion in America. Now he's released a new movie, and its subject matter is a bit odd for a provocateur of the Christian right: John Lennon.

The documentary Genius—released this week to coincide with the December 8 anniversary of Lennon's death—portrays the former Beatle as a conservative-friendly anti-evolution rock icon. "John Lennon didn't believe in the theory of evolution; he said it was garbage," Comfort narrates, citing one quote from a 1980 Playboy interview in which Lennon expresses his doubts about Darwinism. The quote is a favorite among pop-culture-savvy anti-evolution types, even though the full context shows Lennon ripping Young Earth creationism as equally "insane." Comfort also analyzes the supposed godly subtext to "Imagine"—a song reviled by Christian right leaders like Pat Robertson for its anti-capitalist, anti-religious message. Furthermore, the documentarian brushes aside Lennon's famous 1966 "more popular than Jesus" comment as no big deal. At the time, the statement provoked international outrage, public bonfires of Beatles records and memorabilia, and threats from the Ku Klux Klan. Genius does briefly acknowledge that Lennon's flirtation with Christianity in 1977 was short-lived, and that he went on to record the "blasphemous" song, "Serve Yourself."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 7, 2012

Fri Dec. 7, 2012 10:46 AM PST
Lance Cpl. Vincent Goitortua, a rifleman with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment simulates firing an M203 during a clearing operation as part of Island Viper training exercise at Marine Corps Training Station Bellows, Hawaii, Dec. 4, 2012.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Kevin Jones.

Michigan's Own Scott Walker-Style Showdown Is Coming

| Fri Dec. 7, 2012 10:12 AM PST
Union members rallied at the state capitol to protest sudden right-to-work legislation backed by GOP legislators and Gov. Rick Snyder.

The GOP's crusade against unions is taking center stage in Michigan, a stronghold of organized labor.

On Thursday night, with the blessing of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, Michigan's Republican-controlled Legislature passed a trio of so-called "right-to-work" bills targeting unions in the public and private sectors. The bills would ban unions from collecting dues from nonmembers to pay for wage and benefits negotiations that benefit unionized and nonunionized workers. Right-to-work laws have the effect of draining labor unions of money and members, as seen in the 23 states where such laws are on the books. Snyder says he will sign the measures into law when they arrive on his desk, despite saying last year that right-to-work could divide the state. Michigan would become the 24th right-to-work state.

US Muslims to GOP: If You're Trying to Lose Our Votes, You're Doing a Good Job

| Fri Dec. 7, 2012 4:03 AM PST

This week, 11 Muslim American civil rights organizations issued a plea to the GOP: stop alienating us.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), along with 10 other groups, took out a full-page ad in the conservative Washington Times on Wednesday, offering "an open invitation to reassess your party's current relationship with American Muslims." Pointing out that while in the past the Muslim community largely voted Republican, the letter argues that "government-sanctioned discrimination against Muslims" and "despicable Islamophobic remarks" have driven away Muslim voters in recent years.

According to James Zogby, the Arab American Institute's (AAI) president, the GOP should have an opening with the Muslim American community because of its conservative values. CAIR National Legislative Director Corey Saylor agrees: "Muslims follow a conservative traditional religion and many of those values are reflected in the Republican party." But the Party hasn't tried very hard to capitalize on this; an August poll from the AAI found that 47 percent of Republicans viewed Muslim Americans unfavorably.

And it hurt them come November. A post-election poll released by CAIR (where I formerly interned) indicated that in a national survey of more than 650 American Muslim voters, 7 percent identified as Republicans, and only 4 percent voted for Romney. By contrast, in 2000, the American Muslim Political Coordination Counsel endorsed the Republican ticket and over 70 percent of Muslims voted for George W. Bush.