Big Money Mitch and Privatizing Social Security

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With the economic downturn putting pressure on individual stock portfolios, the reliability of a Social Security check is becoming ever more important to the more than 500,000 retired Kentucky residents who depend on it to pay for rent, food and medical care. In 2003, the average Kentucky retiree received $10,441 a year, or $870 a month, in Social Security benefits – a significant amount that in many cases makes up the totality of his or her income. [1]

In recent years, Congress has considered plans to privatize Social Security by investing retirement savings in the stock market. Such a scheme is controversial because, had it been in effect today, many seniors about to retire would have seen a significant part of their savings vanish – something that would certainly result in tragedy. Yet Sen. Mitch McConnell has been one of the leading advocates of privatization, calling it "an extraordinarily good investment" [2] and voting repeatedly in favor of "private accounts." [3]

A close look at McConnell's campaign finance data reveals why McConnell may be so energetic in pushing to privatize the retirement savings of Kentucky's workforce. Private accounts would have to be managed by investment professionals, and securities and investment interests have given McConnell $1,494,712 throughout his political career. [4] In the 2008 cycle alone, they have given him $644,786, twice as much as he received in 2006 ($311,438) and almost three times as much as in 2002 ($239,811) – his last election year, when contributions generally peak. If McConnell and others succeed in privatizing Social Security, this will have been a very lucrative investment – for McConnell's donors, not his constituents.

1. “Social Security: Kentucky Quick Facts,” AARP, 2005.
2. NBC, “Meet the Press,” March 6, 2005.
3. Roll Call 56, April 1, 1998; Roll Call 68, March 16, 2006.
4. 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.