Editorial

McConnell's hypocrisy on campaign disclosure

August 1, 2010 

Mitch McConnell believed in public disclosure related to campaign contributions in 1987. In a commentary published in the Herald-Leader, he lauded "post-Watergate disclosure laws" that help "flush out" politicians who "sacrifice duties or principles to get more money."

Kentucky's senior U.S. senator believed in disclosure in 1989 when he joined a Democratic colleague in introducing legislation that, among other things, would have required disclosure of independent groups or individuals who intended to spend more than $25,000 promoting or attacking a candidate.

By the way, there's an almost-too-good-to-be-true element to that particular episode. The current Senate minority leader's co-sponsor on the legislation was none other than current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

McConnell remained a true believer in disclosure as a candidate for re-election in 1990, when he pledged to introduce a bill that would require full disclosure of donors to multi-candidate political-action committees.

Running for re-election again in 1996, McConnell supported public disclosure of all election-related spending, including spending by independent groups and contributions to political parties.

In a commentary published by the Herald-Leader the following year, McConnell wrote, "Public disclosure of campaign contributions and spending should be expedited so voters can judge for themselves what is appropriate."

In 2007, in another commentary published by the Herald-Leader, McConnell showed his belief in disclosure was not limited to campaign spending by defending an amendment to an ethics bill because it "would require organizations filing complaints before the Senate Ethics Committee to disclose their donors so the public could have more transparency."

Given McConnell's 20-year devotion to the Holy Grail of disclosure, it may seem puzzling to hear him speak of it now as if it were the handiwork of Lucifer himself. But there's no puzzle to it. McConnell's apostasy on this issue is born of a Supreme Court decision that took his "money as free speech" argument to its ridiculous extreme.

Now that corporations are people, too, in the eyes of the court and free to spend at will on political causes, McConnell doesn't want his buddies in the nation's boardrooms pestered by any disclosure rules.

So, he's leading the filibuster that so far has blocked passage of a proposal to require corporations, unions and most other independent organizations to open up the books on their political spending.

McConnell claims the bill backed by Democrats as a response to the Supreme Court decision "is a transparent effort to rig the fall elections" in the Democrats favor.

But the opposition led by McConnell is the real transparent effort to rig the fall elections for Republicans by allowing their corporate cronies to spend at will and in relative anonymity in support of the GOP and opposition to Democrats.

As Herald-Leader staffer John Cheves reported Wednesday, coal industry moguls already are discussing how they can take advantage of the recent court ruling to defeat 6th District U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler and U.S. Senate candidate Jack Conway, both Democrats, this fall.

And yes, left unchecked, unions and other Democratic-leaning organizations will be doing the same thing, although probably with less money than corporate America can generate.

But that's all the more reason to put in place the disclosure rules now blocked by McConnell's cynical conversion of faith.

After all if "money is free speech" in American politics, as McConnell so often has argued over the years, what's wrong with letting voters see who's talking?

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