Spring Break, Mitch McConnell style

By: David Donnelly, Executive Director, Public Campaign Action Fund

In 2011, when the rest of Kentucky was gearing up for March Madness, Sen. Mitch McConnell was taking a spring trip to the Caribbean. The trip was lucrative: he raised at least $45,300 from U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). So lucrative, in fact, that as University of Kentucky and University of Louisville made their march through the tournament this year, he flew back down, according to his campaign’s expense reports, and collected an additional haul of at least $17,000 from donors on the islands.

All told this election cycle, McConnell has raised $67,000 from donors living in the Virgin Islands—nearly 2,000 miles away from his Kentucky home. These donors aren’t beach bums either, but financial industry types that specialize in helping wealthy Americans exploit the USVI’s lax tax laws.

Of course, that’s just a small portion of what McConnell has raised this cycle, with $5 million in cash-on-hand at the end of the first quarter of 2012. Just 1.8 percent—or under $19,000, of his first quarter 2012 donations came in amounts of $200 or less. He's prepping a "presidential-level" campaign and is spending "hours" dialing-for-dollars every night, according to National Journal. A new super PAC called Bluegrass Votes has been created to help him win. McConnell’s campaign manager from his last re-election in 2008 heads the super PAC, which is supposed to run as an independent organization.

When Sen. McConnell talks about deregulating our campaign finance system (as he’s doing today at the American Enterprise Institute), or says disclosure will lead to intimidation (even though he once supported it), it’s really just out of political self-interest. He’ll cloak his arguments in high-minded language about the First Amendment, but what he will truly be proposing is further deliverance of our political system to the very wealthy. McConnell gets big bucks from wealthy special interests, returns that favor through earmarks or special deals, and then gets more money in return.

Sen. McConnell is the perfect reason we shouldn’t further deregulate our campaign finance system. Members of Congress willingly travel thousands of miles away to raise money from people whose livelihoods depend on Congress not regulating them.

If he wants to go to the Virgin Islands for spring break, so be it. After all, we all need a vacation. But what we may need most is a break from the corrupting influence of big money in politics.