Political MoJo

The Lawyer Behind the Supreme Court's Latest Campaign Finance Decision Has a New Cause: Sarah Palin for Senate

| Mon Apr. 14, 2014 9:23 AM PDT

When the Supreme Court recently demolished yet another chunk of the nation's campaign finance laws, Dan Backer arguably cheered louder than anyone. It was Backer, a Washington, DC-area attorney active in conservative politics, who had convinced an Alabama businessman named Shaun McCutcheon to challenge the government's limit on the number of candidates, party committees, and political action committees an individual can contribute to in a single election cycle. (The basic limits on how much money that donor can give to each candidate, party, or PAC remain intact.) Backer, who represented McCutcheon, responded to the news of the Supreme Court's decision by tweeting (in apparent reference to William Wallace in Braveheart): "FREEEEDOMMMMM!!!!"

Backer's victory is shining some light on another high-profile cause of his: Convincing Sarah Palin to run for US Senate.

In an email headlined "Palin for Senate" recently blasted out by a PAC called the Tea Party Leadership Fund, Backer writes, "Sarah's the proven leader we need." He goes on, "She has a better grasp on world politics, and she knows what it means to cherish and protect our American freedoms far better than THE MAN WHO IS SUPPOSED TO BE LEADING THE FREE WORLD." Backer slams incumbent Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) for spending "too much time in Washington, DC, begging the Obama administration for favors rather than representing the good people of Alaska." Palin supporters need to act quick, Backer warns: The window for her to get into the race "has almost closed." And so Backer asks recipients to sign a petition and gather enough signatures to "to push Sarah Palin over the top in a critical run for Alaska's Senate seat in 2014."

In an interview, Backer said almost 100,000 people had signed the Palin for Senate petition. If Palin did enter the race,he said the Tea Party Leadership PAC would bolster her candidacy with direct mail and radio ads. "Nobody's going to be a greater agent for change than Sarah Palin from Alaska," Backer told me. "She will bring something to the race and she will disrupt the Senate. And disruption is good."

Read the email:

 

Backer's plea isn't entirely out of left field. Palin has made noises about running for Senate in Alaska. Last summer, she said on Sean Hannity's radio show that she was considering a run. "I've considered it because people have requested me considering it," she said. "But I'm still waiting to see what the lineup will be and hoping that...there will be some new blood, new energy, not just kind of picking from the same old politicians in the state." But this email comes when it's getting late for a possible Palin campaign. (The filing deadline is six weeks away.) Right now, the much-watched Alaska Senate race pits Begich against Republican Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell. Most polling shows Begich in the lead, but the seat is considered a toss-up Senate race that could determine which party ends up controlling the upper chamber.

Backer's email asks for more than just a signature; it includes a plea to donate $5 or more to the Tea Party Leadership Fund PAC. (Backer is the PAC's treasurer.) A cynical political observer might wonder if this "Palin for Senate" effort could be more of a fundraising ploy than a realistic attempt to get Palin into the race. Campaign records show that the Tea Party Leadership Fund has so far raked in $3.8 million in the 2013-14 election cycle, and most of that money—almost $9 of every $10—has gone to fundraising, legal fees (to Backer's own firm), consulting, and other related expenses.

But Backer says the Tea Party Leadership PAC has spent so much non-electoral money because it was building its donor lists during 2013, an off year. This year, he says, the PAC plans to be a counterweight to the outside money from corporations and trade associations backing establishment Republican candidates. "We knew this was going to be a tough cycle and a tough year," he said. "You need resources you can put on the ground when you need them."

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 14, 2014

Mon Apr. 14, 2014 6:48 AM PDT

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. UH 60 Black Hawk helicopters from 5th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade "Wings of Destiny" transport Soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team "Rakkasans" 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), on to Landing Zone Red Crow during Operation Golden Eagle here April 8, 2014. The four-day exercise was the first brigade-size air assault operation conducted by the 101st Abn. Div. in more than a decade and featured Soldiers from 3rd BCT and 101st CAB moving more than 1,100 Soldiers and sling-loading more than 20 pieces of equipment. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Joel Salgado, 3rd BCT Public Affairs)

White House Turned Down Request From Victims of First Fort Hood Attack for Meeting With Obama

| Sun Apr. 13, 2014 6:27 AM PDT
Retired Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford describes being shot in the head during the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage.

During last week's memorial service for victims of April 2 Fort Hood shooting, President Barack Obama spoke about the lingering hurt from the previous attack on the base in 2009. "Part of what makes this so painful is that we've been here before," Obama said. "This tragedy tears at wounds still raw from five years ago. Once more soldiers who survived foreign war zones were struck down here at home, where they're supposed to be safe." Yet, when victims of the first Fort Hood shooting invited the president to see those wounds up close, he refused, without explaining why.

The morning of the memorial, retired Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who was shot seven times during the 2009 Fort Hood rampage, requested that Obama meet briefly with victims and their families while he was on base. Lunsford's letter, which was addressed to the president's chief of staff, Denis McDonough, also described survivors' disappointment with how they had been treated:

As you may know, the President and high-ranking members of the military promised me, my family and the other Fort Hood terror attack survivors that the federal government would "make them whole." After more than four and one-half years, however, the government has yet to make good on this promise.

We believe that if the President could hear, first-hand, our plight and our mistreatment at the hands of his bureaucracy, that he would take the steps needed to set things right. Therefore, we ask for ten minutes of his time.

In the years since Major Nidal Hasan opened fire in a crowded Fort Hood medical center, killing 13 people and wounding another 32, victims have struggled to get medical care and financial benefits. This is largely because of how the incident has been labeled. Although Hasan is an avowed jihadist with ties to Al Qaeda, the Pentagon considers the attack to be workplace violence rather than terrorism or combat. Thus victims aren't eligible for many benefits and honors available to soldiers wounded or killed in action. (For more on this topic, see "The White House Broke Its Promise to the Victims of the First Fort Hood Shooting. Will History Repeat Itself?")

New Ad Hammers Gov. Andrew Cuomo For Abandoning His Pledge to Fight Corruption

| Fri Apr. 11, 2014 1:06 PM PDT

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) signed his new $140 billion budget into law last week, he hailed it as a "grand slam." For New York State's ethics reformers and good government groups, however, the budget was an epic flop. And now one national pro-reform group is planning to hammer Cuomo on the airwaves for failing to make good on his pledge to overhaul the state's cash-fueled, noxious brand of politics.

The new ad—paid for by the Public Campaign Action Fund, a non-profit funded by individuals, labor unions, and foundations—blasts Cuomo for signing a budget that doesn't include a so-called fair elections system for all statewide races. (The budget instead features a pilot program that half-heartedly applies the fair elections model to only this year's state comptroller race.) The ad also hits Cuomo for eliminating a commission—created by the governor just last year—devoted to rooting out corruption in state government. Public Campaign Action Fund has bought nearly $300,000 worth of airtime to run the ad, starting Saturday, for nine days in the Syracuse and Buffalo media markets.

The ad's narrator says:

When Governor Cuomo introduced his ethics and reform plan, it was going to clean up Albany. But he let the rule limiting campaign contributions get cut. Then the commission that was supposed to investigate corruption in state government got cut. And the promise to reduce the influence of big money in all state races? All cut, except for one office. And now the governor says he’s proud of what’s been achieved? Gov. Cuomo, get back to work and deliver the reform you promised.

Reform groups had pressed especially hard this year for Cuomo and the New York State legislature to overhaul how state elections are funded by implementing so-called fair elections, a campaign funding system that rewards candidates who accept lots of small donations by matching those donations with public money. This type of system is already used in New York City, where it helped progressive Bill de Blasio become mayor.

VIDEO: David Corn on Why Republican Strife Has Gotten Personal

Fri Apr. 11, 2014 10:23 AM PDT

Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Clarence Page this week about why the fight between Rand Paul and Dick Cheney is about more than just policy. Watch here:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 11, 2014

Fri Apr. 11, 2014 6:57 AM PDT

Expert Infantryman Badge candidates wait at the start of the 12-mile foot march before the sun rises, April 3, 2014, on Fort Stewart, Ga. All of the 94 candidates who started the foot march arrived on Cottrell Field in the time allotted, where they were awarded the EIB. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Joshua Laidacker, 4th IBCT, 3rd ID, Public Affairs)

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Religious Right Fears the GOP Can't Handle a National Convention in Las Vegas

| Fri Apr. 11, 2014 3:00 AM PDT
GOP Hangover poster

Religious conservatives are urging the GOP to scratch Sin City off its list of potential locations for the 2016 Republican National Convention, the Dallas Morning News reports. According to the paper, advocates are concerned that Las Vegas' reputation as a gambling and prostitution haven will discourage conservatives from attending the event and that the city is a "trap waiting to ensnare" convention attendees.

"The GOP is supposedly interested in reaching out to conservatives and evangelicals. Maybe that’s just a front, but if they really mean it this is not the way to do it," James Dobson, founder of Family Talk, a Christian radio show that broadcasts across the United States, told the paper. "Even though Vegas has tried to shore itself up and call itself family-friendly, it’s still a metaphor for decadence. There's still 64 pages of escort services in the yellow pages."

Dobson, along with leaders of the American Family Association, Eagle Forum, the Traditional Values Coalition, and Family-PAC sent a letter to Republican chairman Reince Priebus warning him to choose another destination.

Las Vegas is considered a frontrunner for the 2016 convention. Other cities under consideration are Dallas, Denver, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Kansas City, Missouri. The Nevada city has never hosted a national political convention for either Democrats or Republicans, but it's been aggressively courting the GOP. The city's promotional video for the convention does not feature any gambling. Instead, it emphasizes Las Vegas' hotels, sunshine, rock climbing, proximity to the Hoover Dam, NASCAR, places of worship, and the "growing Asian population." The video pans to Disney's logo.

Las Vegas has a strong lobbying campaign behind it. The team includes casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who spent over $98 million on GOP candidates in 2012, resort businessman Stephen Wynn, and Washington political strategists, according to the New York Times. Andrea Lafferty, president of the Traditional Values Coalition, told The Dallas Morning News that while she supports Adelson, she fears that with all of the escorts and prostitutes available in the Las Vegas area, she "can see all the setups that are going to take place."

Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of the conservative blog RedState.com, also expressed concern about the GOP choosing Las Vegas. "Good Christian delegates getting drunk, gambling, stuffing dollar bills in strippers' g-strings, etc. will be the toast of not just MSNBC, but the front page of the New York Times, ABC, CBS, NBC, the Huffington Post, and more." he wrote. Not to mention, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) might wake up with a tiger in his bathroom.

A Heckler Threw a Shoe At Hillary Clinton. She Dodged It. Here's the Video.

| Thu Apr. 10, 2014 4:30 PM PDT

On Thursday, Hillary Clinton gave a speech before a meeting of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada. Just after taking the stage, an as-yet unnamed woman rose from the crowd and threw something at her. Thankfully, Clinton was unharmed, ducking and joking, "Was that a bat?...Is that somebody throwing something at me? Is that part of Cirque de Soleil? My goodness, I didn't know that solid waste management was so controversial. Thank goodness she didn't play softball like I did."

Here is a video, courtesy of ABC:

The would-be assailant was taken into custody and is said to have later revealed that the item in question was a shoe, naturally.

Clinton and Bush: Just more of the same.

(Don't throw shoes at people.)

Wiretapping Advocate Condoleezza Rice Joins Dropbox

| Thu Apr. 10, 2014 3:27 PM PDT

The internet is not pleased that Condoleezza Rice will be joining the board of the filesharing service Dropbox. A lot of the concern has to do with the fact that she'll be helping Dropbox navigate "international expansion and privacy" issues. As Ars Technica notes, the former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State isn't exactly the kind of person you'd trust to defend your data from Uncle Sam: In 2003, she authorized NSA wiretaps of members of the United Nations Security Council at the behest of George W. Bush, and later defended them. Of course, to be fair, maybe having an insider like Rice onboard will allow Dropbox to push back against would-be government intrusions. Still, the news is likely to give a boost to Dropbox competitors that now market their cloud services, convincingly or not, as "NSA-proof."

GOP Senate Candidate: "I Have Big Boy Pants on Every Day”

| Thu Apr. 10, 2014 12:12 PM PDT
 

At a closed-door meeting last year at the North Carolina General Assembly building, Thom Tillis, the state speaker of the house and frontrunner in the GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in November, clashed with Republican activists and legislators who claimed that Tillis was blocking conservative legislation to bolster his chances in the Senate race. In a contentious exchange that was caught on tape, Tillis and a fellow Republican tried to put their disagreements behind them before stumbling into an argument over whether Tillis was wearing "big boy pants":

Unidentified speaker: Sometimes in the heat of the moments things are said that maybe could be better stated had we had time to think about what we’re gonna say. But sir, I think it’s time now for us to put this behind us, put our big boy pants on and say okay we—

Tillis: I understand that, I understand that, but I have big boy pants on every day, with all due respect. That's why I'm sitting in this room trying to solve this problem. That was fine up to this point, I think that kind of comment’s not really showing respect.

This is funny, because who says "big boy pants"? (Besides Florida Dem Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who used the term to diss Mitt Romney.) But the context is significant. At one point, according Chuck Suter, a North Carolina conservative activist who was in the meeting and posted the clip, Tillis slammed his chair into the table and began to walk out of the room before returning to finish a point. The chair-slam can be heard on the tape.

Tillis, whose campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment, held the meeting to clear the air after Republican state Rep. Larry Pittman, who was also in attendance, criticized Tillis in a speech. The question of whether Tillis is conservative enough hasn't gone away. Heavyweights including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Americans for Prosperity have endorsed one of Tillis' rivals, Greg Brannon, an OBGYN who runs a chain of crisis-pregnancy clinics. The most recent survey of the primary from Public Policy Polling showed Tillis well short of the 40-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.