Mitch McConnell's squirrelly scheme: How the GOPer is trying to upend campaign finance law

The incoming Senate majority leader continues his long-running crusade against campaign finance regulations

Published December 2, 2014 2:08PM (EST)

Mitch McConnell                                        (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Mitch McConnell (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

During his days as a moderate Rockefeller Republican, Mitch McConnell was a fervent advocate for stricter campaign finance laws. But as on issues like labor and reproductive rights, McConnell eventually reversed course -- so much so that he's acquired a well-deserved reputation as the Beltway's fiercest foe of campaign finance regulations. In 2003, McConnell took his anti-reform crusade all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in an unsuccessful bid to overturn the 2002 McCain-Feingold reform law. Now poised to become Senate majority leader next month, McConnell hasn't given up his fight against campaign finance reform -- and he's not above employing shadowy tactics to get his way.

McConnell's latest anti-reform ploy involves attaching a so-called policy rider to a vital omnibus appropriations bill. The Republican's rider would essentially end limits on coordinated campaign spending by candidates for federal office and party committees.

The Huffington Post's Paul Blumenthal explains:

Currently, coordinated spending by candidates and political parties is limited based on a series of formulas for different offices. For example, the total amount presidential candidates may coordinate with political parties is calculated as the national voting-age population multiplied by two cents -- a figure that is adjusted for the cost of living each election cycle.

The McConnell rider would allow parties to consult with candidate campaigns on advertising or other electoral advocacy without having the resulting spending count towards their coordinated limit, so long as the spending is not "controlled by, or made at the direction of" the candidate. The change would create a loophole essentially making the coordinated limits moot.

Reform advocates are holding out hope that Senate Democrats, who retain the Senate majority for five more weeks, won't allow McConnell to insert the rider into the omnibus bill during the lame-duck session. But there's no doubt that a Senate led by McConnell will attempt to scuttle campaign finance reform; Fred Wertheimer of the reform group Democracy 21 told Blumenthal last month that he expects the GOP majority to defund the Internal Revenue Service's effort to issue new regulations concerning political activity by nonprofit organizations.

In last month's midterms, McConnell trounced Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in the country's most expensive Senate race.

By Luke Brinker

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