Mark Schmitt

Mark Schmitt is director of the program on political reform at the New America Foundation and former executive editor of The American Prospect



Recent Articles

The Tax the Rove Donors Refuse to Pay -- But Democrats Do.

As The New York Times reported last month , many of the big political money committees on the Republican side take the form of 501(c)4 nonprofits. (c)4’s are tax-exempt but contributions to them are not, and they are allowed to engage in lobbying and some political activity, as long as electoral politics is not their “primary activity.” On the left, most c(4)s are the lobbying arms of organizations like the Sierra Club. The Times seemed to conclude that organizations like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, the top spender in this year’s Senate races, had crossed the line beyond which they should be required to register as a political committee under Section 527 of the tax code. If so, they would no longer be able to keep the names of their donors secret. But, the Times concluded, the IRS wasn’t going to expend resources on reclassifying Rove’s c(4) as a 527 since it wouldn’t result in additional revenues. But the Times overlooked another...

The Naivete of a Washington Cynic

There’s a particular tone that many young Washington pundits adopt (having learned it from the masters ) that seems counterintuitive and knowing, and yet manages to be predictable and hilariously naive at the same time. Here’s a classic example of it, from Josh Kraushaar , editor of The Hotline , in a regular column whose name, “Against the Grain,” should have been a flashing warning sign of the smart aleck /dimwit combo to follow. In yesterday’s episode, Kraushaar promises “The Real Story on Campaign Money.” While Democrats complain about outside money and likely foreign corporate contributions driving the election, Kraushaar says, “Money chases momentum -- not the other way around. ... If the political environment weren't as poor as it is for Democrats, and if the House and Senate weren't in play, there wouldn't be as much interest in donating to outside groups like American Crossroads.” He’s right. In 2008, when Republican...

Winning Ugly

The Obama presidency is far from over, but little survives of the original theory behind it.

(Flickr/Liz H.)
In a controversial interview with Newsweek as the 2008 presidential nominating fight heated up, historian Sean Wilentz dismissed Barack Obama with a memorable phrase: "beautiful loserdom." Like failed Democrats of the past, including high-minded reformers such as Adlai Stevenson and Bill Bradley, Obama wouldn't get his hands dirty. "You can't govern without politics," Wilentz warned. Pragmatic engagement and compromise were the only way to get things done. How long ago that seems. Now Paul Krugman, like Wilentz an Obama skeptic of long standing, argues that the administration's political failures derive from an excess of pragmatism and compromise: "a strategy of playing it safe: never put forward proposals that might fail to pass, avoid highlighting the philosophical differences between the parties." John Podesta, who headed the presidential transition, has said much the same thing: "By focusing on getting big legislative accomplishments ... they necessarily gave up a larger image of...

Some of Us Understood McCain.

Today's big political profile is Todd Purdum 's "The Man Who Never Was," in Vanity Fair , in which the intrepid reporter smacks his forehead in astonishment! John McCain , it turns out, might never have been much of a "maverick" after all, but simply a run-of-the-mill Washington operator: What happened? What happened to that other John McCain, the refreshingly unpredictable figure who stood apart from his colleagues and seemed to promise something better than politics as usual? The question may miss the point. It’s quite possible that nothing at all has changed about John McCain, a ruthless and self-centered survivor...It’s possible to see McCain’s entire career as the story of a man who has lived in the moment, who has never stood for any overriding philosophy in any consistent way, and who has been willing to do all that it takes to get whatever it is he wants. He himself said, in the thick of his battle with Hayworth, “I’ve always done whatever’s...

The Case for Mockery

Social-issue extremism is a potent reminder of everything voters hated about Republican rule.

Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
No sooner had Christine O'Donnell made her debut as the newest heroine of the far-right Republican resurgence, (taking the Delaware Senate nomination from the state's moderate GOP icon, Rep. Mike Castle) than the sensible Washington consensus warned against making fun of her social-policy views. Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post warned that portraying O'Donnell and fellow Tea Party nominees Sharron Angle and Joe Miller as "wacky extremists" would prove "unduly dismissive." The literary critic turned law professor Stanley Fish invoked Greek mythology to predict that, if liberals treat the views of Tea Party candidates with "scorn and derision," voter backlash against our "snobbery" will bring us "President Palin." Indeed, outside of Saturday Night Live , it has seemed more acceptable to mock O'Donnell's long-ago flirtation with witchcraft (or maybe it was Satanism, or possibly just a case of watching too many Billy Idol videos) than her later incarnation as the founder of a chastity-...