October 8, 2013

For a man who has spent his entire career preaching the gospel of lower taxes, it’s astounding how much Mitch McConnell wants your money.

Sen. McConnell’s zeal is impressive, but not surprising. He’s about to enter the most difficult election of his career — and he’s going to need every last penny.

To his right, he faces Matt Bevin — a conservative millionaire flush with the support of the tea party. To his left, he faces Alison Lundergan Grimes — a popular secretary of state with deep family ties to Kentucky. The experts currently call their race a toss-up.

So, while McConnell already has an imposing $9.5 million cash on hand, it’s not enough in a race that some predict could cost as much $100 million. And now, astonishingly, he’s turning to the Supreme Court to get it.

Today, the Supreme Court hears McCutcheon v. FEC, in which Shaun McCutcheon, a GOP activist and businessman from Alabama, is seeking to overturn the Federal Election Commission’s limit on biennial campaign contributions to federal candidates. But even that’s not good enough for McConnell — he wants the court to throw out campaign contribution limits entirely, and his lawyers have been given time during oral arguments to present this view.

That’s right. After the court eviscerated common-sense campaign finance reform through the Citizens United and Speechnow decisions, it is now hearing another case that could open the doors even wider for millionaires to influence elections.

McCutcheon himself isn’t arguing against the $5,200 limit to individual candidates, or the $32,400 limit to the national committees — but rather the $123,000 aggregate limit.

It would be a stunning blow to campaign finance reform if the court agreed. Consider that candidates can join with national and state party committees to form “joint fundraising committees,” allowing them to accept and then direct contributions however they see fit. McCutcheon would allow one donor to give one candidate a breathtaking $3.6 million for distribution.

But if McConnell’s lawyers convince the justices that McCutcheon’s appeal doesn’t go far enough, that will encourage legal challenges to all limits in the future — a devastating possibility.

Given the court’s recent campaign finance rulings, it’s no stretch to think that come 2014, anyone from Donald Trump to Sheldon Adelson will be able to cut multimillion-dollar checks to any candidate. Unlike super PAC donations, candidates would directly control this money, and donors would, in effect, control the candidates.

McCutcheon and McConnell laughably claim that they only are trying to protect the average American’s right to free speech. But only 646 donors gave the maximum to federal candidates during last year’s election cycle.

Moreover, a recent report released by campaign finance reform group Public Campaign revealed that the people who reached or got close to the aggregate limit of $117,000 in 2012 — just a little under twice the income of the average American family — are some of the wealthiest Americans from the wealthiest neighborhoods.

Instead of handing out elections to the highest bidder, McConnell and his colleagues should focus on passing legislation that empowers small donors through public matching funds. But McConnell wants to return us to the Gilded Age when rich men in smoke-filled back rooms could decide elections. And the politician this will help the most is — you guessed it — McConnell.

Over the course of his career, less than 16 percent of the McConnell’s fundraising has been from small donors. In 2012, it was 5 percent.

In fact, McConnell is well-known for relying on conservative sugar daddies to fund his political ambitions.

A day after the 2012 election, McConnell hosted his kickoff fundraiser for his 2014 campaign not at home in Kentucky, but in Washington — at the National Republican Senatorial Committee — surrounded by lobbyists who each paid $1,000 for the privilege of his charming company.

Later, in March 2012, on the very day the Senate debated and, eventually, killed, a bill to remove subsidies for big oil, McConnell received more than $131,000 from oil industry lobbyists.

Inside the Beltway, it’s widely understood that when the minority leader is done with his day of indiscriminately obstructing President Obama’s agenda, or fighting against a law that would increase transparency for political expenditures, he spends his evenings calling up his rich cronies for donations.

McConnell is such a fan of hitting up his moneyed friends for donations, that former senator Alan Simpson once said, “His eyes would shine like diamonds” when he would make the call. It’s all par for the course for the gentleman from Kentucky who once claimed that a donation to the Republican senatorial campaign committee was necessary in order to stop a North Korean nuclear strike.

But for all of the campaign cash McConnell has to show for his efforts, his constituents are not pleased — nor, for that matter, are countless other Americans who are disgusted by the toxic stew of money, media, and redistricting that have poisoned and now literally paralyzed our institutions of government.

Some 53 percent of registered Kentucky voters in an August poll had “ ‘very serious doubts’ about McConnell’s support for allowing ‘wealthy CEOs, lobbyists and special interest PACS to give unlimited amounts of money to politicians, including himself.’”

Meanwhile, McConnell’s office hasn’t sent out a single news release about his upcoming court date. And it’s not because they’ve shut down their office.

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