McConnell: Disclosure Of Political Spending Is Government-Supported Harassment And Intimidation

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

In a speech today to the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took the stunning view that attempts to let voters know who is paying for political messages amounts to a “political weapon” aimed at intimidating political critics.

Though Justice Anthony Kennedy’s controversial 5-4 majority opinion Citizens United case specifically endorsed the idea of campaign finance disclosure, calling it “the less-restrictive alternative to more comprehensive speech regulations,” McConnell embraced the partial-dissent of Justice Clarence Thomas — which argued that even that was unconstitutional.

McConnell told the group:

MCCONNELL: Now, to most people the idea of disclosure sounds perfectly reasonable. and throughout my career I, too, have consistently called for full and timely disclosure for all contributions to candidates and parties. Candidates and to parties. But what we’re talking about here is entirely different. What this bill calls for is government-compelled disclosure of contributions to all grassroots groups, which is far more dangerous than its proponents are willing to admit. Because disclosure is forced upon some but not all, it’s not an act of good government. It’s a political weapon. And that’s precisely what those who are pushing this legislation have in mind. This is nothing less than an effort by the government itself to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third-party allies, and that should concern every one of us. Those pushing the DISCLOSE Act have a simple view: if the Supreme Court is no longer willing to limit the speech of those who oppose their agenda, we’ll find other ways to do it.

Watch the video:

McConnell’s attack on the DISCLOSE Act is disingenuous. The bill would do nothing to force any “grassroots group” to disclose its donations unless it spends $10,000 or more on campaign-related disbursements during an election cycle. And as long as they keep a separate “segregated account” for their political expenditures, those groups would only have to disclose the source of the money being used for campaign spending.

And though McConnell attempts to draw a distinction between full disclosure of direct contributions to candidates and parties and disclosure of outside groups, his point makes little sense. The whole point of disclosure is allowing voters to know who is speaking and to evaluate the credibility of that person or interest. If disclosure were only about harassment and intimidation of political opponents, surely disclosure of donations to political candidates is just as likely to lead to such harassment of donors. And, of course, we have existing laws that make bonafide harassment a crime.

If McConnell really believes disclosure is nothing more than a political weapon, by logical extension his career-long backing of “full and timely disclosure for all contributions to candidates and parties,” must amount to an effort to expose his own critics to the same sort of harassment and intimidation.