- - Thursday, May 17, 2012

NEW YORK — Mitt Romney’s campaign is distancing itself from a Republican-leaning super PAC’s plan to run ads highlighting President Obama’s ties to his controversial former pastor.

Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades says the Republican presidential hopeful is focused on jobs and the economy. Mr. Rhoades says the campaign would repudiate any efforts that amount to “character assassination.”

A GOP strategist confirmed Thursday that conservative billionaire Joe Ricketts wants to bankroll an effort by an independent group to publicize the racially incendiary sermons delivered by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. at a Chicago church Mr. Obama attended.

The Republican spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private strategy sessions.

The plan would involve at least $10 million in advertising. News of the campaign was first reported by the New York Times.


Congressional GOP pushes for tax action

Republican lawmakers are intensifying their demands for quick congressional action on the tax code.

Forty-one Senate Republicans wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday, telling the Nevada Democrat that they want a vote this summer to head off tax increases that will automatically take effect on Jan. 1 unless Congress acts. Those increases would affect taxpayers across income levels.

Separately, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, Michigan Republican, said he wants to combine a push to head off those tax increases with another effort to overhaul the entire tax code.

Republicans want to prevent tax increases for aIl taxpayers. President Obama and congressional Democrats prefer letting tax rates rise for the highest-earning Americans.


Officials: Prisons to step up effort to prevent rape

The Obama administration ordered federal, state and local officials Thursday to adopt zero tolerance for prison rape as it issued mandatory screening, enforcement and prevention regulations designed to reduce the number of inmates who suffer sexual victimization at the hands of other prisoners and prison staff.

Anti-rape advocates and victims of prison rape, while saying the standards are not perfect, cheered the new regulations. The rules have been under development since Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003 to fight rape and sexual victimization in the nation’s prisons, jails and halfway houses. The regulations were announced only minutes after the Justice Department unveiled a new survey of former state and local prisoners that showed that almost one in every 10 reported at least one incident of sexual victimization by prison staff or other inmates.

Garrett Cunningham says he was raped in a Texas prison by a guard in 2000, and now works with Just Detention International, an anti-prison rape group. “If strong national standards had been in place when I was in prison, my abuse may have never happened. Now that the standards have been released, we can make sure it never happens again,” said Mr. Cunningham, who testified to Congress about his ordeal.

The regulations are immediately binding on federal prisons. States that don’t fall in line face a loss of 5 percent of their Justice Department prison money unless their governor certifies that the same amount of money is being used to bring the state into compliance.


Walker says he’s not afraid to lose recall

HARTLAND — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says he’s not afraid to lose the recall election he faces in less than three weeks, but if he wins, he intends to govern in a more inclusive, consensus-building way.

Mr. Walker’s first 16 months in office have been marked by massive protests and a sharp partisan war over public employees’ union rights.

Mr. Walker refused to say in a Thursday interview whether he would veto a bill making Wisconsin a right-to-work state, which would allow workers to refuse to pay dues even if they are covered by a union contract. Mr. Walker says he would actively oppose such a proposal.

The Republican faces Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the June 5 recall in a rematch of their November 2010 contest.


Pot groups hope state race sends a message

PORTLAND — Medical marijuana advocates have a message for Democratic leaders and federal prosecutors with an eye on political office: Don’t mess with pot.

One of the nation’s largest drug-policy groups is claiming credit after a former federal prosecutor was defeated in the Democratic primary for Oregon attorney general. He had been the early favorite to win.

As interim U.S. attorney, Dwight Holton oversaw efforts to crack down on medical marijuana clubs. Federal prosecutors have led similar crackdowns in other states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal use.

Retired judge Ellen Rosenblum easily defeated Mr. Holton after saying she’d make marijuana enforcement a low priority.

She had the help of the Drug Policy Alliance and its allies, which chipped in at least a quarter of Ms. Rosenblum’s total campaign cash.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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