By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a message to U.S. business yesterday that seems to cast him against type. The Washington Post reported:
“My warning to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said at a news conference in Kentucky on Tuesday, before adding: “I’m not talking about political contributions.”
I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with Mitch – but only about that first bit.
Throughout his career, McConnell has happily wallowed in the trough of corporate money. Obviously. One couldn’t get to be Senate Minority Leader (and previously, Majority Leader), otherwise. Per The Hill:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has lashed out at corporations involving themselves in politics this week — a development that makes it seem as if politics has entered an alternative reality.
For his entire career, McConnell has been assiduous in courting big business and has been a staunch defender of corporate interests.
He has been a stalwart opponent of campaign finance reform and, roughly a decade ago, expressed approval of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case. The court’s 2010 ruling bestowed upon corporations many of the rights to free speech enjoyed by individual citizens and loosened restrictions on political donations.
The Washington Post dug out this encomium to the 2010 Citizens United decision – which further opened the spigot of corporate political donations and is one reason American politics has achieved its current corrupt state:
“For too long, some in this country have been deprived of full participation in the political process,” he said in a statement at the time. He hailed the decision, Citizens United, as “an important step” in “restoring the First Amendment rights of these groups.”
The WaPo expanded on McConnell’s belief that corporate money in politics is far more than a necessary evil:
Even while working as an attorney in Kentucky during the 1970s, a young McConnell argued for more money in politics before a college class he taught.“The three things you need to succeed in politics and to build a political party —money, money, money,” he wrote on the chalkboard during one memorable lesson, NPR reported.
That belief followed him to Washington, where he continued to argue that it is a First Amendment right to spend money on politics. And he practiced it himself: McConnell collected millions of dollars in campaign contributions — and notably, filibustered several bills to regulate the industry.
On that last point, The Washington Post supplied more details on McConnell’s steadfast opposition to campaign finance reform::
In the Senate, he battled with John McCain, the GOP senator from Arizona, over campaign finance reform. After McCain teamed up with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) to limit “soft money” donations made through parties and committees, their bill was repeatedly filibustered by McConnell
When the Senate finally passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in 2002 with a bare-minimum tally of 60 votes, McConnell sued the Federal Election Commission to block the legislation. That lawsuit, McConnell v. FEC, upheld most parts of the law but eventually gave way to the 2010 Citizens United ruling that he fervently backed.
What’s Triggered Mitch’s Ire?
Mitch further elaborated on what behavior he now considers appropriate:
“Most of them contribute to both sides. They have political action committees. That’s fine. It’s legal. It’s appropriate. I support that,” he told reporters. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or state because you don’t like a particular law they passed. I just think it’s stupid.”
The Hill summarized the trigger for Mitch’s Ire:
But now McConnell’s ire has been sparked by major Georgia-based corporations, including Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, that have criticized new voting laws passed by the Republican legislature and signed by Gov.Brian Kemp (R).
The regulations, which pare back the number of drop boxes available for early voting and make it a misdemeanor to give water or food to people waiting in line to vote, have been compared to Jim Crow-era suppression measures by critics.
Defenders argue that the laws are being misrepresented. But that has not been enough to quell the chorus of criticism. In the most high-profile rebuke, Major League Baseball has moved its All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver.
McConnell isn’t alone among Republicans in his criticism of the backlash to Georgia’s new election law. Donald Trump released a statement saying the new law didn’t go far enough, according to Newsweek:
“Georgia’s election reform law is far too weak and soft to ensure real ballot integrity,” Trump wrote in his Tuesday statement. Trump also blasted the state for giving people “far too many days” in which to vote.
And Mitch isn’t the only born again Republican critic of corporate meddling. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the MLB decision to move the All Star Game is “absolutely ridiculous” during a Fox News interview. Addressing businesses in his own state, Abbott warned, ‘They need to stay out of politics, especially when they have no clue’,” according to The Hill.
A bit of context: the WaPo reported that corporations have stepped up their criticisms of proposed Texas election law voting restrictions:
Similar showdowns appear to be brewing elsewhere, with American Airlines criticizing a Texas bill that would prohibit extended voting hours and outlaw drive-through voting across the state, among several other major changes.
The Last Word
Over to the WaPo’s coverage of McConnell again, for the next-to-the-last word:
“From election law to environmentalism to radical social agendas to the Second Amendment, parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government,” McConnell said in a statement. “Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order.”
Serious consequences, hmm. I wonder what form those might take. And to whom would they apply? You know that old saw about not biting the hand that feeds you. Advice Mitch might do well to heed if he doesn’t want to jumpstart a full-scale reset of the norms of American politics.