Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Leader in the U.S. Senate, spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) today. During McConnell’s speech, he recounted his decade-long effort to restore First Amendment political rights by repealing unconstitutional campaign finance restrictions.
Last Congress, McConnell led opposition to the DISCLOSE Act, which would have banned the political speech of many independent groups and businesses while imposing an onerous disclosure and disclaimer regime designed to silence grassroots organizations. This Congress, McConnell introduced S.194 in the Senate, which would repeal the presidential tax financing program (and save taxpayers $617 million, according to the Congressional Budget Office). The House passed the bill on a bipartisan vote last month.
In a two-minute rendition, McConnell reveled in his infamy among editorial writers and pro-regulation lobbyists for standing up for free speech against skewed polls and goo-goo talking points manufactured by campaign finance “reformers”:
Some of you might not remember this, but before I had my current job as Republican Leader, I had what a lot of people probably thought was a full-time job battling campaign finance reform. Now, a lot of you understand why that legislation [McCain-Feingold, a.k.a. the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act] was a bad idea, but when that debate started, getting anybody to even pay attention to it was like tryin’ to get a deaf dog off a meat truck.
Actually, I think it would be safe to say that most people cared more about static cling than campaign finance reform.
But the proponents, particularly those on the left, were very interested in the issue, and they were very organized. Every big city newspaper in America was aligned against me. And if you swing by my office sometime—and I invite you to do that—I’ve got a wall full of some pretty rough editorial cartoons to prove it. All it did was make me fight harder. I had  pretty good support within my own conference at first. But as the fight wore on, it started to crack. The other side trotted out poll after poll suggesting the public was against me. All the liberal editorial writers and good government types called me names. And then to make it worse,  a Republican president actually signed the bill—that I’d spent a decade fighting—into law.
So, did I give up? No way. I sued the government. I thought the bill was unconstitutional then. No one has ever convinced me otherwise, and I’m still fighting it in the Supreme Court today.
Why? Because the American people have a First Amendment right to participate in the political process, and no Congress can erase that right. And I will continue to fight this unconstitutional abridgement of free speech as long as it takes to see it restored in full.
A web video of Sen. McConnell’s remarks is at C-SPAN’s website. McConnell’s campaign finance comments run from 18:18 to 20:30 in the 28 minute video.
I’ll be at CPAC again Fri., Feb. 11 and Sat., Feb. 12 to talk campaign finance policy with various groups and connect with journalists from around the country. Look me up if you swing by.