Today, the U.S. House passed legislation to repeal the presidential financing system. As we noted this morning—it was a pure political stunt, further pushing our elections into the hands of an elite class of wealthy donors.
Not to be outdone by those upstarts in the lower chamber, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) introduced his companion legislation to end this Watergate-era reform that has helped candidates from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton. It’s no surprise. McConnell has been opposed to almost everything regarding campaign finance for years.
He also has a history of doing favors for some big campaign donors. Today seemed like a good time to reach into our vault to pull up some of our favorites.
- In 2007, Sen. McConnell lined up $23.6 million in earmarks for British defense contractor BAE systems. At the time, the company was under investigation by DOJ for a variety of bad things. From 2002 to 2008, McConnell received $60,000 in campaign cash from BAE’s political action committee and employees. (Epilogue: The company was fined $400 million in 2010 because it “knowingly failed to ensure compliance with legal prohibitions on foreign bribery.” This was right around the time McConnell was fighting the DISCLOSE Act, legislation that would require companies like BAE to disclosure their spending on independent expenditures.)
- A few years ago, Sen. McConnell lined up an $8.3 million earmark for a client of lobbyist Hunter Bates. Bates just happened to be a former staffer to McConnell and also one of his bundlers. The earmark was to send Chinese-made mp3 players to Afghani tribesman. The people in charge of sending them? Kentucky businessmen (and McConnell donors.).
- Sen. McConnell’s efforts as Senate Majority Whip were crucial in 2005 when the U.S. Senate passed the Bankruptcy Abuse Protection Act, legislation roundly criticized by consumer groups. McConnell received hundreds of thousands of campaign cash from the credit card and commercial banking industry leading up to and after the bill passed.
- In 1999, the Center for Economic Development, a respected group of business leaders, decided to endorse the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. McConnell became incensed, firing off letters to several members urging them to withdrawal from the organization. Charles Kolb, president of CED at the time, said, “His letters sounded like a heavy-handed threat—‘Continue to do business with these guys, and you won’t do business with us.’” A pretty brazen act for a guy that hides behind the First Amendment to defend his opposition to common sense reforms.
And finally, one of my favorite “Mitch McConnell likes to give favors to donors” stories happened when he was being deposed for the lawsuit he filed against the McCain-Feingold law. The whole transcript is worth a read. Basically, John Bonifaz (the lawyer) was trying to get McConnell to list off all the nurses, teachers, and coal miners he knew that had given $1,000 to his campaign. He had some trouble. The line of questioning ended with:
Bonifaz: Do you know any corporate executives who have given you $1,000 or more?
McConnell: As I said, I don't -- I don't look at the income level or the occupation.
Bonifaz: Senator, you understand you're under oath?
McConnell: I do.
Bonifaz: Do you know any corporate executives who have ever given you $1,000 or more?
McConnell: I know a number of people who've given me $1,000 or more in a whole variety of different occupations.
Bonifaz: Do you know if any of them are corporate executives?
McConnell: Some of them are corporate executives; some of them are other things.
Other things, like hedge fund managers, insurance company executives, etc.
There are more stories, but you get the point. Moving to repeal the presidential financing bill (instead of modernizing it) isn’t about cutting costs. Cosponsors could save more money by cutting back on their own pork. Supporters want to give big corporate donors even more power in Washington--a bad sign just three weeks in to the 112th Congress.