Big Money Mitch was “Thuggish”

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Mitch McConnell has a history of siding with big business over the interests of his constituents. But as an incident from 1999 illustrates, this isn’t a consequence of McConnell’s ideology, but rather of his relentless pursuit of campaign money. As this case shows, loyalty to McConnell is defined by a willingness of a business executive to write him a check, and if you who resist – even if you’re a powerful business leader – you get shut out.

In 1999, a group of corporate donors organized as the Committee on Economic Development decided they had had enough of writing massive campaign checks and decided to endorse the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation. According to one of their leaders, an executive with the accounting firm Deloitte Touche, the group was tired of receiving fundraising calls from members like McConnell reminding them of pending legislation that would hurt their company. The implication was that a donation was expected. The McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, the CED members believed, would eliminate this form of “shakedown.”[1]

McConnell was incensed and fired off a series of angry letters to CED members demanding that they resign their positions. "I would think that public withdrawal from this organization would be a reasonable response," he wrote in one letter. The CED, for its part, took the letters as further evidence of the need for wholesale reform. "It was thuggish," said Charles E.M. Kolb, the CED's president. "His letters sounded like a heavy-handed threat – 'Continue to do business with these guys, and you won't do business with us' – but it backfired," Kolb said. "It became a strong piece of evidence as to what's wrong with the system. It was Exhibit A."

[1] John Cheves, “Price Tag Politics,” The Lexington Herald Leader, October 15, 2006.