In 2000, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Republicans are in favor of disclosure.”
Apparently, not anymore.
Senator McConnell has been twisting his own logic recently to lambast political opponents for advocating a position he once held: the need to lift the veil on secret money in our elections.
McConnell gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on Friday, purportedly defending the First Amendment from those who would attack it (read: Democrats).
Yet the aim of Sen. McConnell’s address wasn’t to protect the courage of everyday citizens to speak in the political process. The goal, rather, was to protect the massive flood of secret, unlimited contributions from corporations and wealthy individuals that have made this election season the most money-soaked in recent memory.
Senator McConnell was emphatic, for example, in his defense of the poor, maligned billionaire Koch brothers, who have made an industry of funneling colossal, unaccountable cash into the political system:
Charles and David Koch have become household names, not for the tens of thousands of people they employ, not for their generosity to charity, and not for building up one of the most successful private corporations on the planet; but because of their forceful and unapologetic promotion and defense of capitalism.
In the wake of the disastrous Citizens United decision, groups like the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS are able to receive and spend limitless contributions from sources that can remain entirely secret. And Sen. McConnell wants to make sure it stays that way.
And why do Senator McConnell and the rest of the far right want to keep donors secret? Because secrecy is their ticket to political victory.
While many on the right have traditionally favored full disclosure of donors to political causes, they have been strikingly silent now that the big checks have started to fill the coffers on their side of the aisle.
In an important Washington Post op-ed, Fred Hiatt dissected McConnell’s nonsensical arguments in favor of big-money secrecy in election spending:
Sen. Mitch (“Republicans are in favor of disclosure”) McConnell offered several explanations and a whole school of red herrings Friday in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, but the essence was this: Now the First Amendment guarantees not only unlimited donations but unlimited secret donations, too. Otherwise, he argued, freedom of association is threatened.
But the DISCLOSE Act doesn’t threaten freedom of association. It would allow the NAACP, if it wanted to engage in election activities, to set up a separate bank account to fund them. The names of anyone giving more than $10,000 to that account would be disclosed; anyone giving to support the rest of the organization’s mission would be, as always, protected.
McConnell complained that the bill wouldn’t affect unions. But the bill doesn’t discriminate; it’s just that unions don’t get their money in secret installments of $100,000 or $1 million.
And McConnell fretted that disclosure of “independent” expenditures would subject conservative donors to harassment. Yet he still claims to support disclosure of donations to campaigns, which presumably opens the same risks of being called mean names by liberals.
Indeed, Sen. McConnell’s sly rhetoric on the issue of disclosure serves only as mere obfuscation to bolster the groups supporting his own party in this election.
Disclosure, while not a silver bullet against the effects of Citizens United, is desperately needed right now to unveil the corporate interests trying to buy Americans’ votes.
That’s why Progressives United has joined with Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (author of the Senate version of the DISCLOSE Act) and Jeff Merkley to ask Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to enforce existing law and expose shady groups funneling secret political cash while masquerading as tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations. Join with over 70,000 of your fellow progressives and sign our petition today.