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SRSLY: I Am Humanoid, I Ask You Money

Your three-minute read on the best reporting you probably missed.


The best reporting you probably missed

David Epstein

Welcome to SRSLY, an (experimental) newsletter highlighting under-exposed accountability journalism. We'll distill the important information from investigative reporting you probably missed, and deliver it to you in three-minutes-or-less worth of reading. Sign up to have it delivered to your inbox. (You can, of course, unsubscribe at the first whiff of a bad joke.)

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Politicians get a tough rap for their lack of innovation. The bar is low when Barack Obama is styled as “the White House’s first social media ninja” because he’s heard of Medium and can post on YouTube. (That said, Michelle’s “Minions” dubsmash with Steph and Ayesha Curry is what social media legends are made of.) But that tough rap is often a bum rap. Consider the sector of fundraising shenanigans, and I challenge you to find a more creative bunch. This week, we bring you (legal) campaign finance chicanery from both sides of the aisle. Your four W’s:


First up, Hillary Clinton. Last week, The Intercept reported on a 2015 fundraising memo apparently written by Marc Elias, now general counsel for the Clinton campaign, that gives tips for how to stay on the right side of the law while angling for the unlimited amount of money that big donors can give to super PACs. Political campaign staffers are barred from explicitly asking donors to give more than $5,000 to super PACs, but the memo makes clear that this little nuisance can be handled with a little verbal jiu jitsu at about the tangerine-belt skill level.


The memo provides useful sample solicitations: “The law allows us to ask our supporters for $5,000 for [preferred Super PAC]. That is what we are doing.” The memo notes that Elias and the gang are “happy to review any additional statements that might be more effective or less awkward than the above.” So, let us know if you can think of any wording more awkward. Perhaps: “You may have won an all-expense paid cruise for two! While you’re holding, the law allows us to ask for $5,000 for [preferred Super PAC]. That is what we are doing!! Be there or be square!” Or, peak awkward, but remarkably effective: “Hello Clarice, the law allows me to ask for $5,000. That is what I am doing, Clarice.”

What else?

Ok, but let’s say you need serious cheddar. To the memo: “I am asking you to raise $100,000 for Super Pac from 20 individuals, with $5,000 from each individual.” Personally, I prefer, “I am asking you to raise $100 billion for Dr. Evil from 20 million of your closest friends, with $5,000 from each individual.” This trend could inspire the entrepreneurial youth of America. “Mom, Dad, I’m asking you to raise $400 for an iPad from 15 of my cousins, with just $26.50 from each cousin.” How can you say “no” to that??

Who else?

D. J. Trump. This one is pretty straightforward. A single tweet by ProPublica’s @derekwillis drew mass attention to the fact that Trump is spending heaps of campaign money on the services of his own companies. Trump certainly wouldn’t be the first politician to chart this spending course, but he’s probably the first to have spent more renting out his Versailles-lookin’ club than on his entire campaign payroll. In fairness, the club is probably way more fun than campaign staffers.

They [We] Said It

“This is me asking you to raise $1 million in gold doubloons for ProPublica from a million of your LinkedIn connections.”

#facepalm of the Week

Last week, according to the Guardian, a judge ruled that two Starbucks customers can sue the coffee chain for allegedly systematically putting too little milk in lattes. (A Starbucks spokesman told Eater that customers are informed about “the likelihood of variations.”) And here I thought they might sue for the ridiculous amount of sugar that’s in Starbucks concoctions. Silly me! Well, hopefully there will be some quippy back and forth, like when a woman sued Starbucks for their ratio of ice to coffee in cold drinks. The company responded that ice is an “essential component of any ‘iced’ beverage.” Debatable. Still, maybe these plaintiffs should take it easy on the caf–… ah never mind.

Tweet of The Week

Broken windows, on ‘roids

Additional research by Kate Brown.

Tips are appreciated. The paper kind, or the green paper kind.

ProPublica does not vouch for the accuracy of stories appearing on SRSLY. We select, review and summarize key points from accountability stories that may not have gotten wide exposure. But we are not able to independently vet or vouch for the accuracy of stories produced by others. We will inform readers if we learn that stories have been challenged publicly or corrected.

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