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David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

TPM, across all its platforms, is making a concerted effort to track the various shadow groups involved in congressional campaigns nationwide. The 527 groups, which played such a huge role in the 2004 presidential campaign, are back with a vengeance.

While technically the 527s that take soft money are prohibited from coordinating their activities with candidates and parties, you can't fully understand the strategies and tactics of the national campaigns being waged by either party without understanding where the 527s fit into the mix.

The prohibition on coordination is one of those fine legal distinctions that makes the campaign finance laws such a mess.

Take for instance "Softer Voices," a 527 group supporting Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) in his re-election campaign against Bob Casey. Until this past week, the contact person and custodian of records for Softer Voices--the person who signed their IRS filings--was Cleta Mitchell, a partner at the DC firm of Foley & Lardner LLP and . . . wait for it . . . legal counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

All of Softer Voices's contributions so far in 2006 came this past week, with $650,000 raised from just two contributors. The group turned around and spent more than $750,000, all of it on the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race, according to the group's FEC filing. In between the recipt of the contributions and the ad buy, the group filed an amended IRS report in which Cleta Mitchell is no longer listed as contact person for the group.

You may recall the controversy that erupted in the 2004 elections when it was learned that GOP power lawyer Ben Ginsberg was representing both the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Ginsberg resigned from the Bush campaign, but his firm, Patton Boggs, still represents the Swift Boaters, collecting more than $275,000 in fees from the group since June 2005. Meanwhile, according to his bio, Ginsberg represents the RNC, NRSC, NRCC and the Republican Governors Association.

As I said, these are very fine legal distinctions.

Bob J. Perry is no longer the sole financial backer of the Economic Freedom Fund, the 527 group that reunites the Swift Boat crowd and is making a splash this year with hard-hitting ads and pernicious robo-calls in key congressional races.

It appears another GOP financial heavyweight is getting in on the fun. Carl H. Lindner, part owner of the Cincinnati Reds and No. 133 on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans, has ponied up $50,000 to EFF. More precisely, EFF has recorded a $50,000 donation from the same address as Lindner uses in other FEC reports. For whatever reason, the FEC website is not showing the names of EFF's most recent contributors, just their addresses.

A mere $50,000 is a small fraction of the $5 million Perry has contributed to the group, but it suggests other big-money Republican donors may be climbing aboard Swift Boat 2.0. Lindner's contributions to President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign qualified him as a "Ranger."

EFF's most recent filings show it spending another $120,000 against John Barrow (D-GA); $105,000 against Alan Mollohan (D-WV); and $75,000 against Jim Marshall (D-GA). This is in addition to several hundred thouand dollars already spent by EFF collectively in those districts.

Osama bin Laden dead? I don't want to make too big a deal of this--yet. But according to a regional French newspaper that obtained a classified French secret service report, the Saudis are convinced bin Laden died of typhoid in August in Pakistan.

The newspaper printed what it said was a copy of the report dated September 21 and said it was shown to President Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and France's interior and defense ministers on the same day.

"According to a usually reliable source, the Saudi services are now convinced that Osama bin Laden is dead," the document said.

"The information gathered by the Saudis indicates that the head of al Qaeda was a victim while he was in Pakistan on August 23, 2006, of a very serious case of typhoid which led to a partial paralysis of his internal organs."

The report, which was stamped with a "confidential defense" label and the initials of the French secret service, said Saudi Arabia first heard the information on September 4 and that it was waiting for more details before making an official announcement.

A senior official in Pakistan said no foreign government had shared information with Pakistan that would back up the report of bin Laden's death.


Now, reports of bin Laden's death have been exaggerated before. What makes this report particularly interesting is that the French Defense Ministry has essentially confirmed the existence of the secret service report, saying publicly that while it cannot confirm that bin Laden is dead, it will launch an inquiry into the leak of the secret document and seek criminal charges against the leaker.

Late update: U.S. government unable to confirm bin Laden death report.

Later update: Not dead yet, according to CNN source.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has a water-borne illness, a Saudi intelligence source told CNN on Saturday, knocking down a report in a French newspaper that the man who has been hunted by the United States for the past five years is dead.

The Saudi intelligence source told CNN's Nic Robertson that there have been credible reports for the past several weeks that bin Laden is ill, but there has been no word of his death.

If you were to pick the single greatest hypocrisy of the Bush Presidency, wouldn't it have to be this: that the man who ostentatiously claims Jesus as his favorite philosopher (he of "do unto others as ye would have them do unto you" fame) would say, in all seriousness, "Common Article III says that there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It's very vague. "What does that mean, 'outrages upon human dignity'?"

That's my entry. Yours?

"I'm saying that nobody knows what humiliating treatment is. What does it mean?" --National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley

An October surprise? From Time:

The first message was routine enough: A "Prepare to Deploy" order sent through naval communications channels to a submarine, an Aegis-class cruiser, two minesweepers and two mine hunters. The orders didn't actually command the ships out of port; they just said to be ready to move by Oct. 1. But inside the Navy those messages generated more buzz than usual last week when a second request, from the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), asked for fresh eyes on long-standing U.S. plans to blockade two Iranian oil ports on the Persian Gulf. The CNO had asked for a rundown on how a blockade of those strategic targets might work. When he didn't like the analysis he received, he ordered his troops to work the lash up once again.

What's going on? The two orders offered tantalizing clues. There are only a few places in the world where minesweepers top the list of U.S. naval requirements. And every sailor, petroleum engineer and hedge-fund manager knows the name of the most important: the Strait of Hormuz, the 20-mile-wide bottleneck in the Persian Gulf through which roughly 40% of the world's oil needs to pass each day. Coupled with the CNO's request for a blockade review, a deployment of minesweepers to the west coast of Iran would seem to suggest that a much discussed—but until now largely theoretical—prospect has become real: that the U.S. may be preparing for war with Iran.

Exporting democracy to Iraq: 13,000 people in U.S. custody inhabiting the netherworld between criminal defendant and POW.

Robert Novak, on never having watched Jon Stewart: “I don’t see any reason for it. It’s a comedian, self-righteous comedian taking on airs of grandeur and I really don’t need that.”

So, Jon Stewart is Bob Novak--except funny?

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