The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans defend corporate speech — unless it supports voting rights

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks during a Senate Rules Committee hearing on H.R. 1 on March 24. (Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is second to none in protecting First Amendment rights of corporations — at least when the subject is money. McConnell, a longtime opponent of limits on campaign donations as a form of speech, has often defended unlimited dark money in lofty terms.

In 2012, The Post reported on a speech he gave to the American Enterprise Institute:

“It is critically important for all conservatives — and indeed all Americans — to stand up and unite in defense of the freedom to organize around the causes we believe in, and against any effort that would constrain our ability to do so,” McConnell said in the speech at AEI, a Washington group that says it supports free enterprise.
McConnell, long an opponent of restrictions on political contributions, cited a Democratic proposal to require corporations and unions to disclose their spending on political advertising.
He said it would require “government-compelled disclosure of contributions to all grass-roots groups, which is far more dangerous than its proponents are willing to admit.”
“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,” McConnell said.

McConnell has even filed multiple amicus curiae briefs in campaign cases insisting the rights of free speech and association implicit in corporate campaign donations are “fundamental” and “of central importance.”

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But when it comes to actual speech from corporations — specifically, speech denouncing Republicans’ voter suppression efforts — McConnell becomes irate.

McConnell, in a written statement on Monday, deemed the exercise of such First Amendment rights as “bullying.” “It’s jaw-dropping to see powerful American institutions not just permit themselves to be bullied, but join in the bullying themselves. … Our private sector must stop taking cues from the Outrage-Industrial Complex. Americans do not need or want big business to amplify disinformation or react to every manufactured controversy with frantic left-wing signaling.” He is dismayed by consistent advocacy plainly protected by the First Amendment: “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.” Worse, he threatens retribution: “Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order.”

McConnell is hardly alone. After Major League Baseball announced it will move its All-Star Game from Georgia, Republicans vowed revenge. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), another strident defender of corporate free speech, now sings a different tune:

Hmmm. Corporations can punish political opponents by giving campaign donations to their friends, but not in adopting business practices they believe are in their own interest?

Republicans at the state level have also gotten into the retaliation act. In Georgia, Delta Air Lines issued a statement opposing a package of voting rules that, among other things, imposes new barriers to voting by mail, eliminates mobile voting centers, puts a cap on the number of drop boxes and shortens the time to return absentee ballots. Republicans retaliated. Forbes reported last week: “Georgia Republicans voted to strip Delta Air Lines of a jet fuel tax break worth tens of millions of dollars Wednesday after the company u-turned to unequivocally condemn the state’s widely-criticized voting restrictions, joining a growing list of executives who have criticized the new restrictions amid a debate over boycotting Georgia’s biggest companies.”

Remember: Republicans sought to suppress voting by invoking the Big Lie of voter fraud and “irregularities,” which was repeatedly debunked in more than 60 court cases brought against election results. Now, when businesses oppose those efforts and exercise their First Amendment rights, which Republicans ordinarily consider “fundamental” and worthy of protection, they seek to use the power of the government to punish those whose speech they dislike. It seems they do not like the First Amendment any more than the 14th or the 15th when it comes to robust access to the ballot for voters they suspect will support their opponents. Their march to bully-boy authoritarianism continues as they prove once again that they are no friends of multiracial, robust democracy.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Arizona Republicans’ desperate crusade to find nonexistent voter fraud

Greg Sargent: The eruption of fake GOP outrage at MLB is actually very clarifying

Kathleen Parker: What are Georgia Republicans afraid of?

Jennifer Rubin: There may be something better than a boycott to protest Georgia’s voting law