Editorial: McConnell makes convenient about-face on campaign finance disclosure

Convenient about-face on disclosure

June 19, 2012 

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell

"There is no evidence that high campaign costs prevent effective, principled candidates from serving their constituents or force them to kowtow to big contributors," U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell wrote in a 1987 column condemning public financing of political campaigns.

"Any politician who is tempted to sacrifice duties or principles to get more money doesn't belong in office. The post-Watergate disclosure laws are designed to flush out such politicians, and bring them to harsh justice at the ballot box. It is wrong to bail these politicians out with taxpayers' money, or otherwise insulate them from the post-Watergate anti-corruption reforms."

Time after time in the 20 years after this commentary appeared in the Herald-Leader, McConnell reiterated his support for public disclosure of campaign contributions.

"Public disclosure of campaign contributions and spending should be expedited so voters can judge for themselves what is appropriate," he wrote in a 1997 column also published by the Herald-Leader.

However, speaking to the conservative American Enterprise Institute Friday, just two days before the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, Senate Minority Leader McConnell denounced "government-compelled disclosure of contributions to all grass-roots groups" as "nothing less than an effort by the government itself to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third-party allies," according to The Washington Post's coverage of the speech.

What changed? The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision. Now that corporations (and other organizations) are people, too, and can spend unlimited amounts of money on political causes, McConnell wants to shield the super PACs his boardroom buddies are creating from disclosure rules proposed by congressional Democrats.

A Senate vote on a disclosure bill could be called before the November election, forcing some of McConnell's colleagues to cast an embarrassing vote against a cause they, too, have championed for years. Don't worry about McConnell, though; a flip-flop of political convenience has never embarrassed him.

In Friday's speech, McConnell urged conservatives to remain united on this issue and to resist any election-year pressures to make concessions.

We hope those pressures grow until they prove irresistible and lead to disclosure rules for the super PACs. Anyone who cherishes the democratic process and doesn't want it corrupted by corporate cabals should. Voters need this information so they can dispense some "harsh justice at the ballot box," as McConnell so eloquently wrote 25 years ago.

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