Mojo - February 2013

Even Tom Tancredo's Successor Endorses Path to Citizenship

| Mon Feb. 11, 2013 12:40 PM EST
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Col.)

This is what a political wave looks like. In 2011, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Col.), who had previously sought to repeal a portion of the Voting Rights Act mandating that ballots be printed in multiple languages, went on a local talk radio station and warned that President Barack Obama planned to steal the 2012 election by granting blanket amnesty to some 12 million undocumented residents. On Sunday, Coffman, who succeeded Rep. Tom Tancredo, a notorious opponent of illegal immigration, in Congress in 2008, endorsed a path to citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants—and legal status for everyone else. That announcement came just two weeks after Coffman introduced a new bill to allow Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (i.e. formerly undocumented residents who were brought to the United States as kids) to serve in the military legally and be put on the path to citizenship.

So what's eating Mike Coffman? It's pretty simple, really: He heard footsteps. The reconfigured sixth congressional district is now 20-percent Latino (it was previously 9-percent Latino before dicennial redistricting). It went to Obama by five points in November. The Democratic House Majority PAC has put Coffman as one of its top-10 targets for 2014. And the Dems have secured a top recruit, former state speaker of the house Andrew Romanoff, to run against him.

Whether the immigration evolution will be enough for Coffman to keep his seat is unclear. Coffman is still a bit cagey as to whether he'd support a path to citizenship for non-DACAs, which, as Washington Post's Greg Sargent points out, still puts him at odds with the majority of voters. But for immigration reform advocates wary of another hardliner insurrection, it's an encouraging sign.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 11, 2013

Mon Feb. 11, 2013 10:59 AM EST

Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, fly F/A-18C Hornets over Key West, Fla., Jan. 24, 2013. The "Red Devils" of VMFA-232 conducted air-to-air training including offensive sweeps and air defense missions to retain skills used during deployment. U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Scott Murdock.

 

Exclusive: Donors Trust, The Right's Dark-Money ATM, Paid Out $30 Million in 2011

| Mon Feb. 11, 2013 9:53 AM EST

Last week, I reported on an obscure yet powerful group called Donors Trust, a dark-money ATM funding the conservative movement with hundreds of millions of dollars in mostly anonymous money. Donors Trust bankrolls the Heartland Institute, a shrill flag-bearer for climate-change denialism; the American Legislative Exchange Council, the right-wing bill mill; and a slew of think tanks and advocacy shops promoting an anti-union, free-market agenda. As The Nation's Ari Berman recently reported, Donors Trust is also the sole funder of the Project on Fair Representation, a group trying to gut the Voting Rights Act.

When I published my Donors Trust story, though, the picture was incomplete. There's a lag of a year or more between when Donors Trust, a nonprofit, raises and spends its millions and when it publicly discloses its activities. At the time I reported my story, the most recent IRS filing I could draw on covered only 2010. Over the weekend, however, I obtained a copy of Donors Trust's 2011 filing—previously unavailable anywhere online until now.

Here's what the latest filing shows us: Donors Trust is only getting bigger. In 2011, the group received more than $39 million in donations, an increase of $10 million from 2010, and handed out almost $30 million—both record sums. As in years past, recipients of Donors Trust cash include the biggest players in conservative politics today: the David Koch-chaired Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the Cato Institute, the FreedomWorks Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and the influential State Policy Network.

Like all of its previous IRS filings, Donors Trust's 2011 paperwork does not include a shred of information about the identity of Donors Trust's bankrollers. That's partly why the nonprofit is increasingly popular: At a time when conservative donors find themselves singled out by political candidates and the media, Donors Trust offers anonymity. When Donors Trust money lands at Heritage or Cato, it doesn't include the name of the original source of the money; it simply says Donors Trust. Increasingly, as this latest filing shows, conservative donors are choosing to funnel their money through Donors Trust instead of giving it themselves, meaning more of the money fueling conservative politics is draped in secrecy. "We just have this great big unknown out there about where all the money is coming from," Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University who studies money in the conservative movement, recently told me.

Here is Donors Trust's full 990 form:

 

Here is a list of all of Donors Trust's 2011 grants*:

 

*Correction: Donor Trust's 2011 grant list has been corrected to show a $40,000 grant to the Center for Independent Thought, not a $540,000 grant.

Why the Gun Lobby Is Terrified of California

| Mon Feb. 11, 2013 6:36 AM EST

California would ban the sale of all semiautomatic rifles that accept removable magazines, slap a hefty tax on ammo, and require every gun owner to take a yearly safety course under a new package of firearms laws that would give the Golden State the nation's strongest gun controls.

These and many other proposed firearms laws were announced late last week by leading state Democrats and the mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Many of the laws are expected to pass, in part because the Democratic Party in California now controls the governor's mansion and a supermajority in the Legislature.

"As it is with many issues, California is out front on firearms regulations," said Mark Hedlund, a spokesman for California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. "We don't represent the NRA. We don't think that the NRA represents the majority of Californians, by a long shot."

California's newly proposed gun laws would:

  • Ban the possession of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds
  • Prevent the future sale, purchase, manufacture, importation, or transfer of any firearms that can accept detachable magazines
  • Close the "bullet button" loophole by banning tools that allow the quick changing of gun magazines
  • Regulate ammunition sales like the state regulates gun sales. Ammunition dealers would need to be licensed and anyone buying from them would need to obtain a permit and complete a background check.
  • Create a 5 cent tax on each bullet purchased, for the purpose of funding crime prevention
  • Prevent felons and other adults barred from gun ownership from living in a house that contains any guns
  • Prohibit the loaning or sale of a firearm between people who know each other personally
  • Take steps to phase out legal possession of assault weapons that were purchased before California outlawed their sale
  • Require all firearms owners to take an hours-long gun safety course every year, similar to what the state now requires for obtaining a concealed-weapon permit
  • Require gun owners to purchase insurance to cover damage they may inflict
  • Require CalPERS and CalSTRS, two of the nation's largest pension funds, to divest from companies that make, sell, or market firearms or ammunition

California has already enacted some of the nation's strictest gun control laws, partly due to its experience with a Sandy Hook-style massacre: In 1989, a mentally unstable ex-con opened fire with an AK-47-style assault rifle on an elementary school playground in Stockton, killing five schoolchildren and wounding 28 others. The shooting contributed to the passage that year of California's assault weapons ban.

Somewhat uniquely, California's state constitution doesn't guarantee the right to bear arms. The Golden State gives its cities the option of refusing to issue concealed-carry permits and doesn't recognize permits issued by other states. It requires the reporting of all handgun sales, and it cross-checks the data against the names of convicted criminals and violent mental patients. And unlike most states, it requires background checks for firearms purchases between private parties, closing a loophole that accounts for 80 percent of gun acquisitions made with intent to carry out a crime.

Since the passage of California's strict gun rules, the incidence of mass shootings has plummeted. "California used to be the mass-shooting capital of the country, but instead of throwing up their hands, they addressed the problem head-on and are reaping the benefits," says Julie Piotrowski, a spokeswoman for the Violence Policy Center, a pro-gun-control group. "Their success will most certainly inspire action in other states and at the federal level."

If enacted, the new laws might do for guns what California's pollution and fuel economy rules did for the nation's automobiles. In 2011 alone, Californians bought 600,000 firearms; only Texas sports more registered weapons. "The gun industry has a love/hate relationship with California," Hedlund says. "They hate our gun regulations because they are among the toughest in the country, but they love our marketplace."

Not to mention how the state essentially does their marketing. No matter what, the weapons industry can rest assured that there will be no shortage of guns in Clint Eastwood flicks.

Corn on "Hardball": Can Karl Rove Rein in The Republican Party?

Fri Feb. 8, 2013 8:40 PM EST

Karl Rove, the mastermind behind the Republican super PAC American Crossroads, announced this week that he's launching a new super PAC geared towards scoring less divisive candidates wins during the primaries. The Grio's Joyce Reid and DC bureau chief David Corn discuss Rove's new plan on MSNBC's Hardball:

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

Anti-Evolution Missouri Bill Requires College Students to Learn About Destiny

| Fri Feb. 8, 2013 3:21 PM EST

Late last month, Rick Brattin, a Republican state representative in Missouri, introduced a bill that would require that intelligent design and "destiny" get the same educational treatment and textbook space in Missouri schools as the theory of evolution. Brattin insists that his bill has nothing to do with religion—it's all in the name of science.

"I'm a science enthusiast...I'm a huge science buff," Brattin tells The Riverfront Times. "This [bill] is about testable data in today's world." But Eric Meikle, education project director at the National Center for Science Education, disagrees. "This bill is very idiosyncratic and strange," he tells Mother Jones. "And there is simply not scientific evidence for intelligence design."

HB 291, the "Missouri Standard Science Act," redefines a few things you thought you already knew about science. For example, a "hypothesis" is redefined as something that reflects a "minority of scientific opinion and is "philosophically unpopular." A scientific theory is "an inferred explanation...whose components are data, logic and faith-based philosophy." And "destiny" is not something that $5 fortune tellers believe in; Instead, it's "the events and processes that define the future of the universe, galaxies, stars, our solar system, earth, plant life, animal life, and the human race."

The bill requires that Missouri elementary and secondary schools—and even introductory science classes in public universities—give equal textbook space to both evolution and intelligent design (any other "theories of origin" are allowed to be taught as well, so pick your favorite creation myth—I'm partial to the Russian raven spirit.) "I can't imagine any mainstream textbook publisher would comply with this," Meikle says. "The material doesn't exist."

The bill also establishes a nine-person committee (who must work for free) responsible for developing ad-hoc textbook material until appropriate textbook material is found.

Another bill introduced in the Missouri House, HB 179, has more in common with anti-evolution bills that have been proposed this year in states like Montana and Colorado. It asks teachers to "create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions"—but doesn't explicitly mention intelligent design. This is hardly the first time the Missouri House has tried to get evolution theory out of the classroom. Brattin and other cosponsors tried to get similar legislation passed last year, but the bill died in committee. In 2003, another bill with near-identical language to to HB 291 was sponsored by Rep. Robert Wayne Cooper (R-Mo.), but it also said that teachers who didn't comply would be fired. It was so controversial that more than 450 Missouri scientists and educators supported a statement that said "intelligent design...isn't science."

Brattin argues that there are "numerous college professors within biology, school science teachers" who are "banned from the science community" because they want to teach other theories of origin. The National Center for Science Education's Meikle agrees—the bill really could "open the door for teachers who are opposed to evolution to bring in creationist materials." That's why his group is "hoping it doesn't pass."

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 8, 2013

Fri Feb. 8, 2013 10:31 AM EST

A Soldier with 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, Combined Task Force 4-2 (4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division), helps a fellow Soldier onto the rooftop of an old, destroyed building to provide protective overwatch for another element of their patrol, Jan. 29 Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Hackbarth.

 

Senator: Let's Have a Targeted Killing Court

| Thu Feb. 7, 2013 7:35 PM EST

The United States should set up a secret court that would consider the use of lethal force against American terror suspects abroad, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said Thursday at the Senate intelligence committee hearing on White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan's nomination to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

"Having the executive be the prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner is very contrary to laws and traditions of this country," King told Brennan. King suggested that the court would involve a "FISA-type process," referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret court that considers requests for surveillance against people who are suspected of working for foreign governments. "At least that would be some check on the activities of the executive." The days, weeks, and months-long process of determining whether someone can be targeted, King suggested, meant that targeted killing was not like soldiers shooting each other on a traditional battlefield and should be subjected to some form of judicial accountability. 

Brennan was negative to non-committal, telling King that although the idea was "worthy of discussion," that courts were traditionally used for adjudicating guilt or innocence, not to prevent the sort of "imminent" threat Brennan claims lethal force is reserved for. A recently leaked Department of Justice memo on targeted killing, however, defines "imminence" as membership in a terrorist organization, not necessarily involvement in an unfolding plot that threatens American lives. Nor are courts used solely to adjudicate guilt—King noted that judges also approve warrants.

When asked about the targeted killing process earlier in the hearing, Brennan said that the administration goes through "agony" before determining whether a strike should take place. But the agony isn't great enough for Brennan to want someone outside the executive branch to double-check the administration's decision. Speaking to Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) later in the hearing, Brennan said "any American who joins Al Qaeda, will know full well that they have joined an organization which is at war with the United States." That's true, but saying someone has joined Al Qaeda isn't the same as proving it.

Penny Pritzker, Longtime Obama Fundraiser, May Finally Get Her Cabinet Position

| Thu Feb. 7, 2013 5:03 PM EST
Businesswoman and Obama fundraiser Penny Pritzker.

Early in President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, when it looked as if he would be buried in an avalanche of money by Republican super-PACs and dark-money nonprofits, I talked to a lot of Democratic strategists and fundraisers who were fretting over the potential cash imbalance between Obama and Rove, the Kochs, and the rest of the GOP. Thinking about how to beat back that tide of cash, many of them raised the same question: Where is Penny Pritzker?

Pritzker, the Chicago businesswoman whose family owns the Hyatt hotel chain, chaired Obama's national fundraising operation during his 2008 campaign, helping the campaign raise nearly $750 million. Post-election, she was rumored to be Obama's top pick for secretary of the Department of Commerce. Yet the job ultimately went to someone else, and Pritzker went on to play a lesser role for Obama in 2011 and 2012, relinquishing her role as chief fundraiser (although she still bundled several hundred thousand dollars). Unlike mega-donors Jeffrey Katzenberg and Fred Eychaner, Pritzker irked Democratic fundraisers by not supporting the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action. "The word was she wanted Commerce and didn't get it and is all pissed off," one well-connected Democratic strategist complained to me last summer.

Now, it looks like Pritzker might get her commerce gig after all. Bloomberg News quotes three anonymous sources saying Obama could soon name Pritzker as his new commerce secretary. A president naming one of his top fundraisers to a cabinet position is not uncommon in Washington; fundraisers and donors are often rewarded with ambassadorships—or, in a few cases, cabinet jobs. This is how a winning presidential candidate thanks his biggest supporters. Indeed, folks who fundraise for a presidential campaign often go into the process eyeing a plush gig on the other side—if their candidate wins, of course. "You always have people that are interested in what's next for them" in political fundraising, a former senior Obama campaign staffer says.

None of this is to say Pritzker lacks the qualifications for the job. She has years of experience in the private sector, having run a real estate company and served on the boards of Hyatt, the credit-reporting company TransUnion, and the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company. That business experience, though, has caused her problems in the political world. Her family partially owned a bank that was ensnared in the subprime mortgage debacle, a blemish on her resume that hurt her chances of securing the commerce secretary job after the 2008 campaign.

But the subprime debacle is in the rear-view mirror in Washington, and Pritzker appears to be on the cusp of finally joining the Obama administration. If she does go to the Department of Commerce, it will mark a milestone in a decades-long friendship between Obama and Pritzker. In the 1990s, Pritzker met the future president through his brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, on a YMCA basketball court in Chicago. From the Y to the White House: that is quite a journey.

Poll: Drone Strikes on American Terror Suspects No Longer Popular

| Thu Feb. 7, 2013 1:35 PM EST

A poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University released Thursday finds that a plurality of Americans think drone strikes on American citizens suspected of terrorism are illegal. According to the poll, 48 percent of Americans think it is illegal to "target US citizens living in other countries with drones," while 24 percent think it is legal. The poll nevertheless finds majority approval for the use of drone attacks against "people and other targets deemed to be a threat to the US" whether carried out by the CIA or the military, as long as those targets are not American citizens. 

The poll's findings seem to be at odds with another survey published last year by the Washington Post, which found that an overwhelming majority of Americans, 89 percent, approve of the use of drones to kill terror suspects abroad, and of those who approve 79 percent also believe it is legal to kill those terror suspects if they are American citizens. Different wording of the relevant questions in each poll may account for the disparate results: The Fairleigh Dickinson poll asks if "Americans living abroad" can be legally targeted, while the Washington Post survey asks whether "suspected terrorists" who "are American citizens living in other countries" can be legally targeted. (Most people think of unmanned drones when they think of targeted killing, but targeted killings can be carried out by other means. The government can also send human assassins to do the job, or fire missiles from ships or manned aircraft.)

Polls are most accurate when aggregated, so it's still difficult to know exactly how Americans feel about targeted killing. It is possible, however, that increased media scrutiny of the practice has lead to a shift in public opinion.