mitch mcconnell

In New Op-ed, McConnell Attacks Campaign Finance Reform and Voting Rights

Mitch McConnell, proprietor of the U.S. Senate, the graveyard of reform legislation. Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Never let it be said that Mitch McConnell can be shamed into silence or introspection. In response to H.R. 1, House Democrats’ new package of campaign finance and voting rights reforms, the saturnine Senate leader issued a Washington Post op-ed that reads a lot like a series of spell-checked Donald Trump tweets, guffawing his way through an extended attack. McConnell, of course, intends to bury H.R. 1 in the Senate without a hearing or a vote. Here are some low-lights:

It should be called the Democrat Politician Protection Act … Why else would the bill scrap the neutrality of the Federal Elections Commission and set it up for a partisan takeover? Since Watergate, the commission has been a six-member body so neither party can use it to punish political opponents.

Perhaps because the Republicans on the six-member FEC have paralyzed its ability to discharge its responsibilities, as a recent chairman of the FEC bitterly observed:

[A] controlling bloc of three Republican commissioners who are ideologically opposed to the F.E.C.’s purpose regularly ignores violations or drastically reduces penalties. The resulting paralysis has allowed over $800 million in “dark money” to infect our elections since Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums to elect or defeat candidates.

McConnell, of course, is one of the most absolutist of opponents to any kind of campaign finance regulation, even of the sort the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has allowed. So it’s not surprising that he goes on to treat Democratic proposals for reviving campaign finance regulation and providing voluntary public financing — or even donor transparency — as somehow illegitimate:

Under this bill, you’d keep your right to free association as long as your private associations were broadcast to everyone [that’s disclosure of “dark money” sources]. You’d keep your right to speak freely so long as you notified a distant bureaucracy likely run by the same people you criticized [that’s reporting political spending by tax-subsidized non-profits]. The bill goes so far as to suggest that the Constitution needs an amendment to override First Amendment protections [that means overturning Citizens United, which did not precede enactment of the First Amendment].

Granted, these are highly technical issues that most voters don’t know that much about, so McConnell can get away with this highly mendacious approach. That’s less true of his brazen attacks on efforts to make it easier for citizens to vote.

Democrats would also like you to pay for generous new benefits for federal bureaucrats. Their bill proposes making Election Day a new paid holiday for government workers and six additional days’ paid vacation for federal bureaucrats to work the polls during any election. This is the Democrats’ plan to “restore democracy”: extra taxpayer-funded vacation for bureaucrats to hover around while Americans cast their ballots.

Making Election Day a national holiday, which, perforce, would have to begin with those under the federal government’s direct purview (“federal bureaucrats”), would finally end the long, discriminatory tradition of work-day voting. McConnell’s little innuendo about “bureaucrats” who are going to “hover around” the polls is an accusation of voter intimidation without any foundation in fact, or perhaps a projection based on the GOP’s own history of voter intimidation. But here’s my favorite McConnellism:

[T]he legislation dedicates hundreds of pages to federalizing the electoral process. It would make states mimic the practices that recently caused California to incorrectly register 23,000 ineligible voters. It would make it harder for states to fix inaccurate data in their voter rolls. Yet the legislation declines to address the sketchy “ballot harvesting” that upended the result in North Carolina’s 9th District — perhaps because the practice is perfectly legal in California, where Democrats made huge gains in 2018.

What a mouthful of lies and half-truths! The first two sentences allude to the Republican myth that their party lost all those California U.S. House seats because of the state’s loosey-goosey voting laws. In effect, what California’s done is to make it easier for eligible voters to register and cast ballots, and to ensure their ballots are counted, even if that means election night partial returns (that happened to have favored Republicans in a few close races) turn out to be inaccurate. Yes, that should be the standard for voting rights nationally, which means abundant early voting opportunities and automatic voter registration instead of endless potholes between citizens and the voting booth. The business about fixing “inaccurate data” means states would no longer be able to systematically purge disproportionately young and minority voters who miss an election or two in the sketchy precedent sent by champion vote-suppressor Brian Kemp of Georgia.

McConnell’s line about “ballot harvesting” — improper collection of mail ballots by third parties who modify or trash them — is particularly rich. It is not “perfectly legal” in California: it’s a crime that can earn you three years in the hoosegow. And the only clear example of “ballot harvesting” in action has been by Republican operatives in North Carolina, which is why there’s still no House member representing its 9th congressional district.

The wily Kentuckian did not get around to addressing the anti-corruption provisions of H.R. 1, such as tighter regulation of foreign lobbyists and the requirement that the President and Vice President (and candidates for those offices) release 10 years of tax returns. Mitch’s White-House master might not be amused with those subjects coming up. And I’m sure he wanted to keep the president laughing.

McConnell Scorns Campaign Reform and Voting Rights