Big Money Mitch and the Love of Money

Due to a volatile stock market and the entire economy falling under the weight of a failing, unregulated mortgage industry, more Americans than ever believe wealthy interests have had their way in Washington for too long. Voters viscerally connect what’s wrong in Washington with campaign money. In a recent Zogby International survey, 82 percent of Americans wanted an absolute ban on contributions from “lobbyists or other representatives from those industries that are vital to the financial and national security of the country.”[1]  They’ve seen what happens when corporate lobbyists write banking regulations and they know that real change will only occur when the link between massive campaign donations and policy is broken and then replaced by a system responsive to the people and not big business.

Unfortunately, Sen. Mitch McConnell is one of the Senate’s most vociferous enemies of campaign reform. For years he led the opposition to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation, threatened business leaders who supported it,[2]  and after it passed he unsuccessfully sued the federal government to have it overturned.[3]  In June 2007, he testified against the bipartisan Fair Elections Now Act before the Senate Rules Committee, of which he is a member. It’s fair to say that he has voted against every reform possible – except that he once supported legislation to ban donations by political action committees (PACs), which at the time gave more money to Democrats.[4]  He has been called the “Darth Vader” of campaign finance reform – a nickname he relishes.[5]

McConnell would have voters believe that his opposition to reform stems from a deep and principled belief in the First Amendment, but it is clear that McConnell’s real motivation is preserving his ability to extract massive campaign donations from big business. “I am going to teach you the three things you need to build a political party,” he once explained. “Money, money, money.”[6]  Since 1989, he has raised $30,516,911, with $10,743,065 coming from PACs and $738,000 coming from lobbyists.[7]  Two-thirds of the total has come from out-of-state donors. “He’s completely dogged in his pursuit of money. That's his great love, above everything else,” said Marshall Whitman, former lobbyist for Christian Coalition.[8]

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) added, “When he asked for money, his eyes would shine like diamonds. He obviously loved it.”[9]

1. Zogby International online survey with 2,331 likely voters nationwide, 9/19/08 to 9/20/08, margin of error +/- 2.1 percentage points.
2. John Cheves, “Price Tag Politics,” The Lexington Herald-Leader, October 15, 2006.
3. McConnell vs. Federal Election Commission.
4. “Campaign Financing: Shaking it Up,” PBS News Hour, June 24, 1996.
5. Angie Cannon, “The ‘Darth Vader’ of Reform,” U.S. News and World Report, 5/19/03.
6. Cheves, October 15, 2006.
7. Campaign finance and lobbying figures are based on Campaign Money Watch analysis of data obtained from the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan organization that tracks and codes campaign finance data by industry and tracks lobbying. Campaign finance data include individual contributions ($200+) and from Political Action Committees (PACs) to campaign committees and leadership PACs. Data for the 2008 cycle were downloaded in October 2008.
8. Cheves, October 15, 2006.
9. Ibid.