Political MoJo

Florida Governor Rick Scott to Attend Fundraiser at the Home of a Tax Cheat

| Thu Jun. 5, 2014 11:21 AM EDT

Update: Less than three hours after this story was published Thursday, Scott canceled the fundraiser.

Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) is in the midst of a tight reelection race, running neck and neck against former Republican governor Charlie Crist, who's now a Democrat. Scott has raised gobs of money to fuel his campaign—and apparently he isn't especially particular about where it comes from. On Saturday, he is scheduled to appear at a $10,000-a-person fundraiser at the Boca Raton home of James Batmasian, a powerful real estate developer and philanthropist in the state who also has done hard time for tax evasion.

In 2008, Batmasian pleaded guilty to charges that he'd failed to collect and pay about $250,000 in federal withholding taxes from employees of his Boca Raton investment company. He was sentenced to eight months in a federal prison, two years of supervised release, and fined $30,000. Batmasian, a Harvard-trained lawyer, also had his law license suspended as a result of the felony plea and is still unable to practice law in Florida. 

After his release from prison in South Carolina in 2009, he returned to Florida and his real estate empire. Since then, he's thrown some money around in Republican politics. He and his wife Marta attended the Boca Raton fundraiser for Mitt Romney in 2012, where the GOP presidential candidate made his infamous "47 percent" remarks and claimed that nearly half of Americans are mooches who don't take responsibility for their own lives. Marta has also contributed generously to GOP causes, including chipping in $50,000 to Romney's campaign.

Saturday, the Batmasians will be hosting an event for Scott, who has spent a good part of his time in office battling poll ratings that rank him as one of the most unpopular governors in the state's history. Having an ex-felon as a fundraiser probably won't hurt Scott's reputation much. Scott has his own baggage to contend with. Before getting into politics, he founded and ran a company, HCA, which committed one of the biggest health care frauds in the nation's history. In 2000—a few years after Scott had been forced out of the firm—HCA paid out a $1.7 billion-with-a-b fine after being investigated by the Justice Department for Medicare fraud. That makes Batmasian's felonious past look like small potatoes. 

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Watch: Freaked out NRA Scrambles From "Weird and Scary" to "We're Sorry"

Wed Jun. 4, 2014 4:54 PM EDT

In an extraordinary move last Friday first reported by Mother Jones, the National Rifle Association laid into a group of open-carry gun activists in Texas for acting "downright weird" and "scary"—but less than 24 hours after our report, with the enraged activists cutting up their NRA membership cards, the gun lobby beat a quick retreat, insisting that Friday's lengthy statement was all just a big "mistake." What's going on here? Mother Jones senior editor Mark Follman explains:

For more of Mother Jones' award-winning investigative reporting on guns in America, see all of our latest coverage here, and our special reports.

Neo-Confederate Ally Chris McDaniel Moves One Step Closer to Winning Mississippi's Senate Race

| Wed Jun. 4, 2014 12:01 PM EDT

For months, conservatives have thrown their money and might behind Mississippi state Senator Chris McDaniel in an effort to defeat longtime Sen. Thad Cochran in the state's GOP Senate primary. Tea party activists swooned over McDaniel as the candidate who, in a year of failed challenges from the right, could succeed in knocking off a GOP incumbent. Mississippians went to the polls on Tuesday and gave McDaniel a slight edge over Cochran. A run-off is likely. With a fired-up base behind him, McDaniel is in a solid position to defeat the six-term senator.

As Mother Jones has reported, McDaniel is a southern conservative with a controversial track record. Last summer, he delivered the keynote address at an event hosted by a chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a neo-Confederate group that, as my colleague Tim Murphy wrote, "promotes the work of present-day secessionists and contends the wrong side won the 'war of southern independence.'" McDaniel spoke at past Sons of Confederate Veterans-affiliated events, according to a spokesman for the group.

From 2004 to 2007, McDaniel hosted a syndicated Christian conservative radio program, Right Side Radio. Once, McDaniel weighed in on gun violence in America by blaming "hip-hop" culture. "The reason Canada is breaking out with brand new gun violence has nothing to do with the United States and guns," he said in a promotional sampler for the radio show. "It has everything to do with a culture that is morally bankrupt. What kind of culture is that? It's called hip-hop." He went on:

Name a redeeming quality of hip-hop. I want to know anything about hip-hop that has been good for this country. And it's not—before you get carried away—this has nothing to do with race. Because there are just as many hip-hopping white kids and Asian kids as there are hip-hopping black kids. It's a problem of a culture that values prison more than college; a culture that values rap and destruction of community values more than it does poetry; a culture that can't stand education. It's that culture that can't get control of itself.

McDaniel also used his radio show to defend the efficacy—despite reams of evidence saying otherwise—of torture as a way to gather intelligence.

In April, McDaniel raised eyebrows when he appeared on a different radio show, "Focal Point," hosted by the Bryan Fischer, an top official at the rabidly anti-gay American Family Association. Here's a brief rundown of Fischer's penchant for bomb throwing:

In March, Fischer told his listeners that while he didn't think President Obama is the antichrist, "the spirit of the Antichrist is at work" in the Oval Office. He has said that people turn to homosexuality (which he'd like criminalized) when the Devil takes over their brains. He once called for a Sea World Orca whale to be Biblically stoned after it killed its trainer. He said the secretarial job in his office is "reserved for a woman because of the unique things that God has built into women." Even some Republicans have distanced themselves from Fischer—at the 2011 Values Voters Summit in Washington, DC, Mitt Romney condemned Fischer's "poisonous language."

Mark your calendars: A McDaniel-Cochran run-off would take place on June 24.

Gun Control Measures Are Going Nowhere, So Here's a Bulletproof Blanket for Your Kids

| Wed Jun. 4, 2014 11:52 AM EDT

One way to curb mass shootings in America's schools would be for Congress to pass gun control legislation. But since that plan failed miserably, an enterprising father in Oklahoma is offering another solution—equipping children with bulletproof blankets.

The Bodyguard Blanket™ was developed by Steve Walker, a father of two elementary school students who was horrified by the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which left 20 children and six adults dead. In the 14 months following Newtown, there were at least 44 school shootings. "We wanted our children to have a layer of protection immediately," Walker told Oklahoma NBC affiliate KFOR. "They can be stored in the classroom, and, when seconds count, they can be easily applied."

It comes in both child and adult sizes and is designed to be bulletproof, made from the same materials that US soldiers and law enforcement wear, the manufacturer's website claims. The manufacturers estimate that the blankets provide protection against "90% of all weapons that have been used in school shootings in the United States."

The blanket is intended to be strapped on a child's back like a backpack. When the child crouches in a ball and huddles up next to other children, they form a kind of human shield, like how the "Romans and the Greeks used to lock together," managing partner Stan Schone told KFOR. (The blanket is also being marketed toward schools that might want to protect students from tornado-induced flying debris.)

Each blanket costs a little under $1,000, but the creators told KFOR they hope to offer discounts for large orders. There is also an option to donate blankets to "schools, daycare centers, churches, and other organizations located in your community." In any case, there's sure to be a market.

This Is Where the Government Houses the Tens of Thousands of Kids Who Get Caught Crossing the Border

| Tue Jun. 3, 2014 5:17 PM EDT

Yesterday, the Obama administration announced that it was creating a multiagency taskforce to oversee the recent surge of unaccompanied child migrants coming primarily from Central America and Mexico. The announcement included plans to move some 600 kids from holding cells at the border to an emergency shelter at Naval Base Ventura County in Southern California.

As the number of unaccompanied children entering the United States has more than doubled since 2011, the Office of Refugee Resettlement—the part of the Department of Health and Human Services charged with caring for unaccompanied minors in US custody—has brought more and more shelters online to accommodate the influx. (Kids are typically housed in these shelters until ORR can reunify kids with US-based family, with whom they stay pending their immigration hearings.) Here's what the increase has looked like:

So where, exactly, are these shelters? Fifty of the 80 shelters in 2013 were in states along the Southwest border; Texas alone had 33 shelters. The rest, however, are spread out throughout the country. As Maria Woltjen, director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights, told me in an interview: "Nobody in Chicago knows there are 400 kids detained in our midst. You walk by, and you think it's just an old nursing home, and it's actually all these immigrant kids who are detained inside."

Check out our map of ORR's 2013 shelters, data I obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request:

Alabama GOP Is Offering $1,000 for Voter Fraud Tips at Polling Places Today

| Tue Jun. 3, 2014 1:21 PM EDT
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue holds up a sample Voter ID after signing the bill into law at the Capitol in Atlanta.

Today, more than 700,000 Alabamans are headed to the polls for the state's Democratic and Republican primaries. It's the first election since Alabama passed its tough new voter ID law, but the Alabama Republican Party apparently doesn't think the bill goes far enough. According to the state GOP newsletter, the party is sending trained volunteers to patrol polling places—and offering $1,000 rewards for tips that lead to felony voter fraud convictions​—all of which could add to the confusion surrounding the new law's requirements. Below is a snippet from the newsletter, which went out Monday:

Any suspicion of fraud or witnessing the willful non-enforcement of the Alabama’s voter laws needs to be reported...."Reward Stop Voter Fraud" signs with our hotline number will be placed at random polling locations tomorrow and at all polling locations in November. Poll watchers trained by ALGOP staff will also be watching to ensure that Alabama's election laws—including the new photo voter ID law—are not being violated. Our signs and poll watchers will send a clear message to those wishing to commit voter fraud. Anyone attempting to tamper with the election process will be caught and will be prosecuted.

The campaign is reminiscent of the controversial "ballot integrity" initiatives that cropped up around the same time as the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which banned discriminatory voting practices such as poll taxes and literacy tests. Under a program called Operation Eagle Eye, the Republican National Committee recruited tens of thousands of volunteers to patrol polling places in heavily Democratic neighborhoods. The ostensible goal was to deter voter fraud, but some of their techniques seemed designed to intimidate voters. Poll watchers were encouraged to snap photos of people casting ballots and enlist Republican-friendly sheriffs to help block voters whom the party had deemed ineligible. In Alabama, the GOP also offered rewards for tips leading to arrests and convictions for breaking certain election laws.

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If You're Born Poor, You'll Probably Stay That Way

| Tue Jun. 3, 2014 12:08 PM EDT
Inner City Baltimore

In 1997, before The Wire made him a household name, then-Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon published The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, a book about an open-air drug market at West Fayette and Monroe Streets in Baltimore. The book painted a grim portrait of the urban ghetto and the people trapped there. It was hailed as a landmark work of immersion journalism.

But Simon can't hold a candle to Karl Alexander, a Johns Hopkins sociologist who followed nearly 800 people from the neighborhoods surrounding Simon's corner since they started first grade in 1982. Alexander and his Hopkins colleagues are now publishing the final results of that 30-year study, their own version of The Corner, called The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth And the Transition to Adulthood. What they've found isn't quite as grim as what Simon described, but it's not much more encouraging.

Alexander set out to look at how family influences the trajectory of a low-income child's life. Thirty years later, he's decided that family determines almost everything, and that a child's fate is essentially fixed by how well off her parents were when she was born.

Alexander's findings conflict with the sort of Horatio Alger stories of American mythology, but not with other social science research on upward mobility. His are especially dispiriting. Of the nearly 800 school kids he's been following for 30 years, those who got a better start—because their parents were working or married—tended to stay better off, while the more disadvantaged stayed poor.

Out of the original 800 public school children he started with, 33 moved from low-income birth family to a high-income bracket by the time they neared 30. Alexander found that education, rather than giving kids a fighting chance at a better life, simply preserved privilege across generations. Only 4 percent of the low-income kids he met in 1982 had college degrees when he interviewed them at age 28, whereas 45 percent of the kids from higher-income backgrounds did.

Perhaps more striking in his findings was the role of race in upward mobility. Alexander found that among men who drop out of high school, the employment differences between white and black men was truly staggering. At age 22, 89 percent of the white subjects who'd dropped of high school were working, compared with 40 percent of the black dropouts.

These differences came despite the fact that it was the better-off white men who reported the highest rates of drug abuse and binge drinking. White men from disadvantaged families came in second in that department. White men also had high rates of encounters with the criminal justice system. At age 28, 41 percent of the white men born into low-income families had criminal convictions, compared with 49 percent of the black men from similar backgrounds, an indication that it is indeed race, not a criminal record, that's keeping a lot of black men out of the workforce.

Alexander doesn't call it white privilege, but it's basically what he describes. His data suggests that the difference in employment rates between white and black men with similar drug problems and arrest records stems from better social networks among white men, who have more friends and family members who can help them overcome many of their obvious impediments to employment.

He does find some silver linings in the data and in the interviews with people he's been talking to since they were six years old. Included in one random sample from a single, very poor public school close to Simon's corner were 22 African-American men. Alexander was able to stay in touch with 18 of them through 2005, when they were adults. Of that 18, 17 had been arrested and convicted of a crime at some time in their lives. (Seven of the interviews in 2005 were done in prisons.) But a fair number of that group had also gone on to get post-secondary education of some sort, and nine were also working full time—two making more than $50,000 a year, indications that not everyone from the 'hood was doomed to a life of poverty and crime. "These are young black men from The Corner working steadily and drawing a decent paycheck," Alexander writes.

Even so, he admits that his substantial data trove proves pretty conclusively that social status in the inner city is relatively immobile. 

“The implication is where you start in life is where you end up in life,” Alexander said in a press release. “It’s very sobering to see how this all unfolds.”

 

 

Obama to Donors: "I Might Be In a Very Strong Position" To Demand Constitutional Change on Money in Politics

| Tue Jun. 3, 2014 11:28 AM EDT

Ken Vogel knows what it is like to get tossed out of a good party. Among us campaign finance reporters, Vogel is known as a fearless crasher of political fundraisers and invite-only donor schmoozefests, from which he is usually—but thankfully not always—ejected. As the chief investigative reporter for Politico, the hyper-competitive town organ for Washington, DC, Vogel has for years chronicled the rapidly increasing flow of money into American politics and the eccentric, grouchy, madcap millionaires and billionaires who, in Vogel's telling, "are—in a very real and entirely legal way—hijacking American democracy."

Vogel's new book, Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp—On The Trail of the Ultra-Rich Hijacking American Politics, propels us through the ever-changing world of what he calls "big-money politics." Here are four juicy tidbits from Big Money.

1) Bill Clinton told donors that a controversial new pro-Obama nonprofit group could be used to influence the 2014 midterms—despite the nonprofit's pledge to be issue-only

Vogel reports on a January 2013 private speech by Clinton to a group of Obama fundraisers on behalf of Organizing for Action (OFA), the rebooted version of Obama's 2012 campaign. Launched at the start of the president's second term, Obama officials said OFA would focus strictly on issues—gun control, immigration, raising the minimum wage. But that's not how Clinton saw it:

"This is a huge deal, this midterm election," said Clinton. "And I think even more important, this question is whether we can use the techniques that actually gave people the chance to debate health care, debate economic policy, understand what happened in the Recovery Act, all these things that were an issue last time, understand why the welfare reform act was wrong, and the Medicare Act was wrong. Can we use that to actually enact an agenda in the Congress and then go into the midterm and protect the people who voted for it?"

2) Josh Romney invited all of his dad's biggest rainmakers to a future Romney White House inauguration ceremony

On the eve of the 2012 Republican Party convention in Tampa, Vogel got inside a reception for major Romney donors and fundraisers (also known as bundlers). At one point in the shindig, Josh Romney, one of Mitt's sons, appeared to go a little overboard when thanking his dad's money-men:

"My dad will be the next president of the United States of America and you are all invited to the inauguration," [Romney] proclaimed to rousing cheers before backtracking sheepishly, as if wondering whether the complicated campaign and ethics rules forbade inviting big donors to the inauguration. "I don't think I'm really allowed to do that," he said, looking offstage to his right, perhaps for guidance from a campaign official familiar with the rules, before letting his exuberance and sense of kinship with the campaign's rich supporters takes over. "But it's a big place, so you all can come."

3) Romney's inner circle flirted with using a legally dicey big-money committee for his first presidential run

Top aides secretly hatched a plan to boost Romney's 2008 campaign by forming a so-called 527 committee, a big-spending precursor to super PACs. They called it Turnaround America and enlisted a well-connected fundraiser named Phil Musser to run the group. But the plan didn't get far:

Musser laid it all out in a PowerPoint presentation, and he spent a few months crisscrossing the country on his own dime, delivering it to Romney's richest backers. Several liked the plan and made tentative commitments. But most got cold feet after they checked with their lawyers, who explained that it could expose them to legal risk. The plan was too far ahead of its time, and Musser scrapped it before he ever filed the paperwork, leaving no trace that more than two years before the Citizens United decision Romney's allies had foreseen the power of what would become super PACs.

4) Obama privately suggested he'd push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United during his second term

Obama made waves during an August 2012 Reddit "Ask Me Anything" forum by voicing support for a constitutional amendment to roll back the effects of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. It turns out that such a radical move, favored by many activists on the left, had been on the president's mind for quite a while.

Vogel quotes the president stumping for an amendment during a February 2012 Q-and-A at a private Seattle fundraiser:

"Now, I taught constitutional law," Obama continued to [Bill] Gates et alia. "I don't tinker with the Constitution lightly. But I think this is important enough that citizens have to get mobilized around this issue, and this will probably be a multiyear effort. After my reelection, my sense is that I may be in a very strong position to do it."

Obama added that a reelection victory "may allow me to use the bully pulpit to argue forcefully for a constitutional amendment." So far, the president has done no such thing.

Jay Carney Is Stepping Down as White House Press Secretary

| Fri May 30, 2014 2:28 PM EDT

Jay Carney is stepping down as White House Press Secretary, President Obama announced Friday. Carney, who joined the administration in 2011 after more than two decades in journalism, will be replaced by Josh Earnest. Earnest had served as Carney's deputy.

Gone but not forgotten, we'll think of Carney whenever we watch A Christmas Story.

 

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 30, 2014

Fri May 30, 2014 10:12 AM EDT

More than 1,000 cadets of Class of 2014 received their diplomas in Michie Stadium May 28, during the U.S. Military Academy’s Graduation and Commissioning Ceremony. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Fincham)