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Politics

McConnell Now Decries Corporate Politicking He Once Championed

Updated on

McConnell Now Decries Corporate Politicking He Once Championed

  • Senate minority leader responds to Georgia voting law backlash
  • McConnell has long pushed for unlimited corporate donations

Mitch McConnell is telling U.S. chief executives to stay out of politics in response to the corporate backlash against a new GOP Georgia voting law -- a shift for the Senate Republican leader who has long encouraged corporate political activity in the form of donations.

McConnell joined other Republicans this week in criticizing corporations, including two Georgia-based companies, Delta Air Lines Inc. and the Coca-Cola Co., for objecting to the state’s new election law that Democrats say restricts voting. He and Republicans also have criticized Major League Baseball for moving its All-Star Game from Georgia to Colorado in response to the law’s passage.

“My advice to the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said at a news conference on Monday. “Don’t pick sides in these big fights.”

But he added, “I’m not talking about political contributions.”

Speaking at another press conference in Kentucky Tuesday, McConnell said it was “quite stupid” for corporations to “jump in the middle of a highly controversial issue.”

But he made a distinction between public statements and political giving. He said he objects to companies “taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like that and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law they passed.”

Earlier: Atlanta’s All-Star Loss Shows Economic Fallout From Ballot Fight

However, backing candidates with contributions means supporting their positions on issues, and McConnell has long championed the right of corporations to make unlimited donations to candidates. In 2002, he was the lead plaintiff in McConnell v. FEC, a lawsuit challenging provisions of a campaign finance law known as McCain-Feingold, including its ban of so-called soft money.

Before that law was enacted, political committees like the Republican National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee could take donations in unlimited amounts from corporations.

While parties couldn’t use the money to tell voters to elect or defeat a specific candidate, they were allowed to spend it on issue advertisements critical of an candidate’s record or policies and other activities. Between 1991 and 2002, the parties raised more than $1 billion in soft money from organizations, including corporations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Supreme Court upheld the ban in 2003.

Corporate Donations

McConnell himself received more than $4 million in individual contributions from corporate CEOs during his recent re-election campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. A super political action committee closely aligned with him, the Senate Leadership Fund, raised more than $36 million from corporate treasuries in the 2020 election cycle, Federal Election Commission filings show.

“It is a totally mixed message and completely disingenuous for him to now deride corporate political involvement,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that studies campaign finance.

McConnell’s office declined to comment further on the senator’s remarks.

Georgia Republicans drew significant backlash when they enacted a law last month after former President Donald Trump and his allies falsely claimed that rampant fraud allowed President Joe Biden to carry the state last year. Democrats also accuse Republicans of seeking to depress turnout after Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won Georgia’s two Senate seats in January, giving their party control of the chamber.

The new Georgia law increases voter ID requirements, and lets any Georgian challenge the voting eligibility of an unlimited number of voters, among other provisions. The law also gives the GOP-controlled Legislature control over the state elections board and gives that board the ability to replace local officials in what had been bipartisan election offices.

Democrats say the law will restrict voting access, especially among minorities. The law’s supporters and McConnell say corporations are responding to misinformation fed by Democrats, such as Biden asserting that the law ends voting hours early when it doesn’t.

Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations and a former South Carolina governor, also weighed in on the debate. “Big corporations are the new liberal mob,” she said on Twitter. “First they came after Georgia; now they’re coming after Texas. We can fight back with the power of our voices -- and our wallets -- to show them we mean business.”

‘Corporations are People, Too’

Republicans argued in favor of Citizens United, a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that independent spending on elections by corporations was protected by the First Amendment, opening the door to unlimited spending by super PACs. Then-GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney famously said, “Corporations are people, too.”

McConnell, however, said companies were now “dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government.” He warned that corporations “will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order.”

On campaign finance issues, McConnell has long been the point man for Republicans. In 1991, he discussed on C-Span his opposition to a bill that would have allowed for voluntary caps on spending by Senate campaigns in exchange for federal subsidies for ad buys and mailings. He said such proposals always have a partisan intent.

”It’s axiomatic that he who can write the rules of the game can win the game,” he said. “The temptation on this issue for both sides is to try to craft a set of rules that allows them to win more often.”

— With assistance by Steven T. Dennis, and Daniel Flatley

(Updates with response of law’s supporters, Haley tweet, starting in 15th paragraph.)