The U.S. Senate’s top Republican accused President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats of trying to restrict opponents’ political speech.
In a speech today at the American Enterprise Institute, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the Obama administration has shown “an alarming willingness itself to use the powers of government to silence” political speech of groups with which it disagrees.
“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.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz didn’t respond to requests for comment on McConnell’s speech.
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.
Democrats say the measure is needed to identify the source of millions of dollars in political spending. Groups keeping their donors secret spent $138 million in the 2010 midterm elections compared with $1.3 million in the 2006 midterm vote, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions.
McConnell said the Democratic measure would require “government-compelled disclosure of contributions to all grassroots 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.
Democrats proposed the disclosure measure, which has the backing of President Barack Obama, in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010 that overturned a decades-old ban on companies using their general funds to run campaign ads supporting or opposing federal candidates.
The ruling led to the rise of political organizations known as super-PACs, which can raise unlimited money from any source. A number of super-PACs have formed to influence the 2012 presidential and congressional races.
Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the chief sponsor of the Democratic disclosure measure, in a statement today called McConnell’s speech “an exercise in twisted logic and double-speak.”
He said McConnell “has gone from being the greatest champion of disclosure to being its foremost opponent.”
The House passed the disclosure measure in 2010 when Democrats controlled the chamber. The legislation didn’t advance in the Senate, where all of the chamber’s Republicans opposed it.
Schumer held a hearing in March on a scaled-back version of the legislation and has said he may seek another vote on it before the November election.
McConnell singled out the Internal Revenue Service for criticism.
“Earlier this year, dozens of Tea Party-affiliated groups across the country learned what it was like to draw the attention of the speech police when they received a lengthy questionnaire from the IRS demanding attendance lists, meeting transcripts, and donor information,” he said.
The IRS has repeatedly denied that it selects groups for scrutiny based on their political views.
IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said March 21 the Tea Party groups had applied for nonprofit status and could have operated as nonprofits without seeking IRS approval first.
“There’s many safeguards built in so this has nothing to do with election cycles and politics,” he told a U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee. “This notion that we’re targeting anyone is off.”