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Topic: DISCLOSE Act

NY Times’s False Attack on McCain

The New York Times carries an article today echoing congressional Democrats’ complaint that John McCain refuses to enable them to name, shame, and attempt to destroy the careers of Republican donors while shielding Democratic interest groups from scrutiny. That would be the DISCLOSE Act, which would force conservative grassroots to disclose publicly their political activity. Such groups and individuals have already been subjected to IRS shenanigans, death threats, and the occasional act of violence.

Democrats see no problem with this, as I detailed here. But McCain won’t help them get bipartisan support. So the Times sprang into action today, calling McCain a water-carrier for the Republican Party and suggesting he is a hypocrite on campaign finance. Of course that is not the case, as McCain has publicly lambasted the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling striking down campaign finance regulations that McCain likes. But aside from getting all its facts wrong, the Times article also gets personal:

Many of Mr. McCain’s other interests align neatly with the big issues of the day, particularly the debate over the role of the United States in conflicts in the Middle East — in which he has largely been a staunch critic of the Obama administration — and the planned Pentagon cuts.

The pattern is similar to that of other unsuccessful presidential candidates, like Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who publicly sulked for a few years before becoming a major player on Afghanistan and other issues.

“I just think a lot of it has to do with the agenda,” Mr. McCain said of his re-emergence, in an impromptu interview with several reporters. “After I lost, I knew that the best way to get over it was to get active.” (Mr. McCain, who disputed some coverage of him by The New York Times during the 2008 campaign, has a policy of not speaking directly to reporters from The Times.)

Let’s take this from that last note. The Times wants readers to think McCain is sour over a generalized perception that the Times was biased against him in 2008. The Times doesn’t say what actually happened, because it was a low point not just for the egregiously unethical Times but for modern journalism in general, bringing shame to the paper from liberals as well as conservatives.

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The New York Times carries an article today echoing congressional Democrats’ complaint that John McCain refuses to enable them to name, shame, and attempt to destroy the careers of Republican donors while shielding Democratic interest groups from scrutiny. That would be the DISCLOSE Act, which would force conservative grassroots to disclose publicly their political activity. Such groups and individuals have already been subjected to IRS shenanigans, death threats, and the occasional act of violence.

Democrats see no problem with this, as I detailed here. But McCain won’t help them get bipartisan support. So the Times sprang into action today, calling McCain a water-carrier for the Republican Party and suggesting he is a hypocrite on campaign finance. Of course that is not the case, as McCain has publicly lambasted the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling striking down campaign finance regulations that McCain likes. But aside from getting all its facts wrong, the Times article also gets personal:

Many of Mr. McCain’s other interests align neatly with the big issues of the day, particularly the debate over the role of the United States in conflicts in the Middle East — in which he has largely been a staunch critic of the Obama administration — and the planned Pentagon cuts.

The pattern is similar to that of other unsuccessful presidential candidates, like Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who publicly sulked for a few years before becoming a major player on Afghanistan and other issues.

“I just think a lot of it has to do with the agenda,” Mr. McCain said of his re-emergence, in an impromptu interview with several reporters. “After I lost, I knew that the best way to get over it was to get active.” (Mr. McCain, who disputed some coverage of him by The New York Times during the 2008 campaign, has a policy of not speaking directly to reporters from The Times.)

Let’s take this from that last note. The Times wants readers to think McCain is sour over a generalized perception that the Times was biased against him in 2008. The Times doesn’t say what actually happened, because it was a low point not just for the egregiously unethical Times but for modern journalism in general, bringing shame to the paper from liberals as well as conservatives.

It was the Times’s unsupported allegations referencing McCain’s relationship with a lobbyist that the Times insinuated had become an affair. It was unsubstantiated, and the public generally recoiled in horror at the Times. Liberal bias is one thing, but not in anyone’s recent memory had a major newspaper published an unsubstantiated story to destroy the family of a respected politician simply because he was running against the Times’s preferred candidate.

Times editor Bill Keller took a lot of heat for the story. Did he backtrack and apologize? Nope. Here’s his response when he was asked about McCain’s criticism of the paper for running the story: “My first tendency when they do that is to find the toughest McCain story we’ve got and put it on the front page.”

Destroy McCain, Keller said. So now that the Times’s editor had announced a personal vendetta against McCain for disputing the coverage, McCain had the understandable reaction of avoiding the Times and talking to newspapers that hadn’t threatened to use whatever it had against him to destroy his career.

Now, on to the suggestion that McCain is somehow walking in John Kerry’s path by taking a vocal role in foreign affairs, it would appear that the Times reporter is mostly unfamiliar with John McCain. McCain, you’ll recall, has something of a background in military issues. After his heroics in Vietnam, he took that desire to serve his country to the Congress, where he has been easily the senator most engaged in foreign policy. (He was also right about the Iraq surge when his Democratic colleagues were abandoning the effort and sliming American servicemen and women.)

What is Kerry’s legacy on matters of war and peace? Well, most recently it was his far-too-cozy relationship with Bashar al-Assad, as Assad was gearing up to slaughter the Syrian population. This is Kerry’s audition for secretary of state in a hypothetical second Obama term. I don’t think the Times means this as a compliment to Kerry. More likely it’s part and parcel of the paper’s efforts to insult McCain, and those at the Times probably thought there was nothing more insulting than comparing him to John Kerry.

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Top Dem Leaves DISCLOSE Act Vigil

After Senate Republicans blocked the DISCLOSE Act from a vote yesterday, Senate Democrats held a “midnight vigil” to support the donor disclosure legislation. The lead sponsor of the bill, Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, felt so strongly about fundraising transparency that he stayed at the debate all night long.

Kidding! He actually slipped out for awhile to attend a nearby fundraiser for a health care reform group. BuzzFeed reports:

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the lead sponsor on the DISCLOSE Act – which would force outside political organizations to disclose donations of more than $10,000 – briefly left a “midnight vigil” on the Senate floor to attend a fundraiser for a health care reform group.

Whitehouse and Sen. Chuck Schumer had set up a series of votes and debates on their DISCLOSE Act — all of which were not expected to help the bill’s chances of passage in the near term — in an effort to hammer Republicans over their opposition to further transparency in campaign finance laws.

Whitehouse didn’t go far – the event was held at Johnny’s Half Shell, a tony bar located less than a quarter mile from the Senate chamber that is a popular venue for fundraisers by politicians, lobbyists, political groups, and non-profits like the Alliance, an educational group that does not take positions on legislation, including ObamaCare, and which backs “affordable, quality health care and long-term care for all Americans.”

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After Senate Republicans blocked the DISCLOSE Act from a vote yesterday, Senate Democrats held a “midnight vigil” to support the donor disclosure legislation. The lead sponsor of the bill, Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, felt so strongly about fundraising transparency that he stayed at the debate all night long.

Kidding! He actually slipped out for awhile to attend a nearby fundraiser for a health care reform group. BuzzFeed reports:

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the lead sponsor on the DISCLOSE Act – which would force outside political organizations to disclose donations of more than $10,000 – briefly left a “midnight vigil” on the Senate floor to attend a fundraiser for a health care reform group.

Whitehouse and Sen. Chuck Schumer had set up a series of votes and debates on their DISCLOSE Act — all of which were not expected to help the bill’s chances of passage in the near term — in an effort to hammer Republicans over their opposition to further transparency in campaign finance laws.

Whitehouse didn’t go far – the event was held at Johnny’s Half Shell, a tony bar located less than a quarter mile from the Senate chamber that is a popular venue for fundraisers by politicians, lobbyists, political groups, and non-profits like the Alliance, an educational group that does not take positions on legislation, including ObamaCare, and which backs “affordable, quality health care and long-term care for all Americans.”

“Apparently the only thing more important for Sheldon Whitehouse than his all-night debate on the evils of money in politics was a fundraiser,” a Senate Republican aide emails.

The health care reform group that held the fundraiser is a nonprofit, so it wouldn’t be targeted by the DISCLOSE Act legislation anyway. The bill mainly targets super PACs, which, not coincidentally, have been used effectively by conservatives in recent elections. Still, Whitehouse could have at least waited until the day after his midnight vigil against political spending to attend any Washington fundraisers — if only to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy.

Once again, it appears the DISCLOSE Act is about restricting First Amendment rights and undermining conservative groups rather than expanding “transparency.”

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DISCLOSE Act Shields Labor Unions

How’s this story for further proof that the real point of the DISCLOSE Act is not transparency, but kneecapping conservative groups while protecting labor unions from disclosure burdens? The Free Beacon’s CJ Ciaramella reports that Senate Democrats dropped a key provision from the DISCLOSE Act requiring political groups to disclose their names in the advertisements they fund:

“The ‘stand by your ad’ provision was dropped in response to objections we’ve heard from folks on the other side of the aisle,” the spokesman said. “It’s now targeted specifically at requiring disclosure.”

However, a senior Republican aide told the Free Beacon the provision was dropped due to union pressure.

The “stand by your ad” provision would have required the CEO or equivalent position of an organization buying electioneering ads—AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, for example—to endorse them, similar to the endorsements required at the end of ads purchased by political campaigns.

“The Trumkas of the world aren’t exactly the warm, fuzzy personalities you want appearing at the end of your ad,” the aide said.

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How’s this story for further proof that the real point of the DISCLOSE Act is not transparency, but kneecapping conservative groups while protecting labor unions from disclosure burdens? The Free Beacon’s CJ Ciaramella reports that Senate Democrats dropped a key provision from the DISCLOSE Act requiring political groups to disclose their names in the advertisements they fund:

“The ‘stand by your ad’ provision was dropped in response to objections we’ve heard from folks on the other side of the aisle,” the spokesman said. “It’s now targeted specifically at requiring disclosure.”

However, a senior Republican aide told the Free Beacon the provision was dropped due to union pressure.

The “stand by your ad” provision would have required the CEO or equivalent position of an organization buying electioneering ads—AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, for example—to endorse them, similar to the endorsements required at the end of ads purchased by political campaigns.

“The Trumkas of the world aren’t exactly the warm, fuzzy personalities you want appearing at the end of your ad,” the aide said.

The Senate votes on the DISCLOSE Act today, and the main provision remaining would require political groups to disclose contributions that are more than $10,000. Of course, public sector unions take most of their money in (often mandatory) dues, which means they would largely fly under the radar on that requirement.

Again, the DISCLOSE Act is not about political disclosure and transparency, which are both important and laudable goals. It’s about stifling free speech. The ACLU, not exactly a pro-corporate group, has raised alarms about the legislation for the last few years. In a March letter (via the Free Beacon), the organization urged members of Congress to vote against the DISCLOSE Act:

We acknowledge that the sponsors of the DISCLOSE Act seek the laudable goal of fair and participatory federal elections. We also appreciate the drafters’ efforts to address the ACLU’s concerns with previous campaign disclosure legislation.  And, we do support numerous campaign disclosure and fair election measures that promote and inform the electorate, including disclosures of corporate political spending to shareholders and rules that provide low-cost airtime to all political candidates.

However, we believe this legislation ultimately fails in its attempts to improve the integrity of our campaigns in any substantial way, while significantly harming the speech and associational rights of Americans. We urge you to oppose S. 2219 when it is considered before the committee.

The ACLU is right, for the following reasons:

  1. If you’re fortunate enough to own a newspaper or a television channel, you can use the platform to support or oppose candidates and legislation. Why shouldn’t private citizens who don’t own newspapers be allowed to  do the same by investing in their own media platforms — i.e. TV commercials, films, or print ads?
  2. If this is protected speech, then what right does the government have to limit it?
  3. If this is protected speech, why shouldn’t donors have anonymous speech rights?

Those in the media who support this misguided legislation because it purports to encourage disclosure might want to reconsider. Transparency in elections shouldn’t be bought at the price of free speech.

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McConnell Defends Record Consistency

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a defiant message for liberal critics who’ve been blasting his stance on political spending and free speech: “They can [attack me] as long as they want to,” the senator told me in an interview this morning. “It actually makes my day.”

Since McConnell’s impassioned defense of the First Amendment at the American Enterprise Institute last Friday, liberal pundits and reporters have jumped on supposed inconsistencies in his record, dredged up 25-year-old statements, and accused him of selling out to various corporate interests.

One popular argument that’s made the rounds–from Norm Ornstein’s columns to Democratic Rep. Van Hollen’s talking points–is that McConnell was in favor of donor disclosure before he was against it. McConnell’s critics cite his 2010 interview with NBC’s Tim Russert, in which the senator said the following:

“We need to have real disclosure. And so what we ought to do is broaden the disclosure to include at least labor unions and tax-exempt business associations and trial lawyers so that you include the major political players in America. Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a defiant message for liberal critics who’ve been blasting his stance on political spending and free speech: “They can [attack me] as long as they want to,” the senator told me in an interview this morning. “It actually makes my day.”

Since McConnell’s impassioned defense of the First Amendment at the American Enterprise Institute last Friday, liberal pundits and reporters have jumped on supposed inconsistencies in his record, dredged up 25-year-old statements, and accused him of selling out to various corporate interests.

One popular argument that’s made the rounds–from Norm Ornstein’s columns to Democratic Rep. Van Hollen’s talking points–is that McConnell was in favor of donor disclosure before he was against it. McConnell’s critics cite his 2010 interview with NBC’s Tim Russert, in which the senator said the following:

“We need to have real disclosure. And so what we ought to do is broaden the disclosure to include at least labor unions and tax-exempt business associations and trial lawyers so that you include the major political players in America. Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

McConnell said the quote has been distorted by his critics, and his actual point was that the Democrat-supported campaign finance bill unfairly targeted Republican donors.

“I didn’t say I was in favor of [disclosure in that category]. I said if you’re going to go down that path, you can’t exempt everybody who favors Democrats and only cover those who tend to favor Republicans,” he told me. “That’s a misconstruction, a deliberate attempt to cloud what I was saying.”

McConnell added that it’s not necessarily disclosure that Democrats are seeking, but rules that would infringe on Republican supporters while carving out exceptions for Democratic allies.

“The so-called DISCLOSE Act conveniently carves out people most likely to be aligned with the left and only leaves covered those most likely to be aligned with the right,” he said. “Leading you to conclude, I think, that they really want to intimidate one side and leave the other side free to speak.”

And you can tell how critical this fight is to both sides by the number of crossbows aimed at McConnell this week. The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus dug back to 1987 — two years into McConnell’s first Senate term and the same year a new cartoon called The Simpsons fist appeared on the Tracy Ullman show — to uncover a quote from McConnell supporting limits on independent expenditures:

As it happens, 25 years ago this week a senator from Kentucky well versed in campaign-finance issues proposed a constitutional amendment to allow limits on independent expenditures.

“These are constitutional problems,” the senator said, “demanding constitutional answers.”

That was Republican Mitch McConnell, arch foe of campaign-finance regulation — or, as he would put it, staunch defender of the First Amendment.

The senator brushes this off as a quarter-century-old mistake, and maintains that his record been consistent for decades.

“I confess I made an error, but I corrected it in pretty short order, within six months of that mistake,” said McConnell. “But I think 25 years of being entirely consistent probably would rank me better than a lot of people I know in this line of work.”

McConnell also didn’t seem surprised by the pains some critics are going through to raise questions about his motives.

“All the Post was left with was trying to destroy my credibility, and it’s noteworthy that they had to go back a quarter of a century to find anything that’s been remotely inconsistent on this issue,” he said.

These political boxing matches obviously aren’t new for McConnell, and in a way, he seems to relish them.

“Look, I’ve been called Darth Vader. I’ve got a whole wall in my office full of cartoons attacking me on this issue,” he told me. “They’d love to shut me up, but I’m more used to their criticism than regular American citizens.”

McConnell said it’s these attacks on private American citizens that has driven him to fight against the DISCLOSE Act and similar legislation.

“They try to be involved in the political process and all of sudden they find themselves being chased by the IRS,” he said. “Or what happened in the case of this one fellow who contributed to Mitt Romney’s super PAC, having his divorce records gone through by somebody from the Obama campaign.”

“I mean, normal citizens are not used to this kind of behavior,” McConnell added. “I kind of have grown accustomed to it. I don’t particularly like it, but that’s the price of being in my line of work.”

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Mocking Conservative Victims of Violence

The cynicism of the Washington, D.C., press toward national politics has become so profound that when a politician gives a detailed speech about a serious issue with immediate ramifications, the journalists splashing around in the kiddy pool of Beltway conventional wisdom don’t know how to react. Such was the case on Friday when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a thorough indictment of the Democratic Party’s attempts to bully, punish, and silence its political opponents.

The speech, delivered at the American Enterprise Institute, was more than 4,000 words long, yet Politico’s write-up of it found the one word it wanted–Koch–and repeated it over and over as if that was the point of the speech. Yet Politico isn’t the only outlet that assumes any time a Republican defends free speech he is covering for moneyed interests. Fred Hiatt’s latest column in the Washington Post is a disturbing example of what free speech advocates are up against when it comes to a national media obsessed with smearing conservatives instead of doing its job.

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The cynicism of the Washington, D.C., press toward national politics has become so profound that when a politician gives a detailed speech about a serious issue with immediate ramifications, the journalists splashing around in the kiddy pool of Beltway conventional wisdom don’t know how to react. Such was the case on Friday when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a thorough indictment of the Democratic Party’s attempts to bully, punish, and silence its political opponents.

The speech, delivered at the American Enterprise Institute, was more than 4,000 words long, yet Politico’s write-up of it found the one word it wanted–Koch–and repeated it over and over as if that was the point of the speech. Yet Politico isn’t the only outlet that assumes any time a Republican defends free speech he is covering for moneyed interests. Fred Hiatt’s latest column in the Washington Post is a disturbing example of what free speech advocates are up against when it comes to a national media obsessed with smearing conservatives instead of doing its job.

McConnell said he favors donor disclosure for those who give to candidates and parties–a position he has held consistently. He also said everyone should have to play by the same rules with regard to disclosure, rather than allow those in power to exempt their donors while singling out those of their opponents. But Hiatt, attempting to peer into the dark Republican soul of his imagined adversaries, has divined what McConnell and the Republicans really want:

They want unlimited contributions, in secret.

“Republicans are in favor of disclosure,” Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in 2000 on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” making clear he was including issue advocacy — campaign ads with a thin veil of policy — as well as candidate spending. “Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

That first sentence is undone by McConnell’s own speech. But what about that second part–is that the Beltway’s favorite piece of evidence, the smoking gun of hypocrisy?

No, of course not. Hiatt wants Republicans to drop their opposition to the DISCLOSE Act, which would protect liberal interest groups while removing protections from conservative groups. Here’s McConnell in his own words:

This is the Democrats’ legislative response to Citizens United, in which the Supreme Court correctly ruled that Congress may not ban political speech based on the identity of the speaker. The DISCLOSE Act aims to get around this ruling by compelling certain targeted groups to disclose the names of their donors, while excluding others, such as unions, from doing the same….

Because if disclosure is forced upon some but not all, it’s not an act of good government, it’s a political weapon. And that’s precisely what those who are pushing this legislation have in mind. 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. And that should concern every one of us.

Hiatt says nothing has changed except an influx of money to the GOP, suggesting that McConnell has been bought off by, I don’t know, the infamous Free Speech Lobby? But then Hiatt moves on to defending the indefensible. Part of McConnell’s speech was calling attention to the strategy of liberal groups, sometimes aided by government agencies such as the IRS, of intimidating donors to conservative grassroots causes.

Hiatt, in the most shameful sentence of a shameful column, writes off these intimidation tactics as conservatives merely “being called mean names by liberals.” But McConnell reminded his audience that conservatives have received death threats (I know private citizens personally who have been subjected to this), had their private information made public, had their children harassed by liberal bloggers, and have been the victims of a new liberal tactic called SWATting, in which a liberal blogger or activist will make a fake 9-1-1 call reporting a murder at the house of his target, to which law enforcement (often SWAT teams) will show up with guns out ready for a firefight.

Hiatt presumably does not need the danger of this explained to him, nor would he need a primer on why death threats are not merely “mean things” people say. He just doesn’t care. But he should at least stop dismissing acts of violence and mocking the victims.

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