Mitch McConnell Demonstrates His Contempt for Democracy

It hasn’t even been a month and already it is clear that the new Democratic majority in the House came out swinging. That includes the fact that their first piece of legislation (H.R. 1) contains democratic reforms to campaign finance, ethics and voting rights.

While the country asks #WheresMitch when it comes to ending the government shutdown, apparently the Senate Majority Leader has been spending his time writing an op-ed for the Washington Post that is aimed at attacking that bill, calling it a “Democrat Politician Protection Act.”

As the one politician who is most responsible for the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, throughout his piece, McConnell replaces the word “money” with the word “speech.”

Apparently the Democrats define “democracy” as giving Washington a clearer view of whom to intimidate and leaving citizens more vulnerable to public harassment over private views. Under this bill, you’d keep your right to free association as long as your private associations were broadcast to everyone. You’d keep your right to speak freely so long as you notified a distant bureaucracy likely run by the same people you criticized. The bill goes so far as to suggest that the Constitution needs an amendment to override First Amendment protections.

That is the twisted McConnell version of what’s in the bill. Here is the truth:

H.R. 1 takes on [the Citizens United] era of big-donor dominance by cracking down on coordination between super PACs and campaigns, forcing super PACs and dark-money groups who run political ads to reveal donors who give more than $10,000, and calling for an end to the practice of laundering big donations between different non-profit groups to shield the true source of the funds.

In other words, the only association you’d have to worry about keeping private is the one where you gave over $10,000 to a super PAC. The people actually threatened by that are the eleven who have pumped more than $1 billion into super PACs since their creation in 2010. If you equate your First Amendment speech rights with the ability to give tens of thousands (or even millions) of dollars to a political super PAC anonymously, then yes, the Democrats want to overturn that protection.

What I found the most telling about McConnell’s piece was the way he talked about the provisions that would make election day a federal holiday and give federal workers paid time off for serving as election judges.

Democrats would also like you to pay for generous new benefits for federal bureaucrats. Their bill proposes making Election Day a new paid holiday for government workers and six additional days’ paid vacation for federal bureaucrats to work the polls during any election. This is the Democrats’ plan to “restore democracy”: extra taxpayer-funded vacation for bureaucrats to hover around while Americans cast their ballots.

To McConnell, all federal employees are “bureaucrats” and making election day a paid holiday is nothing more than a “generous new benefit” for them, not an attempt to appeal to the private sector to make it a national holiday. Those who volunteer their time to monitor election sites are simply “hovering around” while Americans cast their ballots. The Senate Majority Leader couldn’t be more clear about how he views what most of us consider the most sacred right in our democracy. His words drip with contempt.

It should come as no surprise that, with those kinds of views, McConnell is equally dismissive of this legislation’s provisions aimed at securing the right to vote. He spouts right-wing conspiracy theories that are designed to suggest voter fraud and promote the case for purging voter rolls.

It has always been clear to anyone who has written about this bill that it stood no chance of passing a Senate controlled by Mitch McConnell. The bill’s main author, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) also acknowledged that fact and responded with this:

But even Sarbanes admits the quick vote is just a first step. Republicans, who control the Senate, are unlikely to pass the bill and President Trump is unlikely to sign it. “Give us the gavel in the Senate in 2020 and we’ll pass it in the Senate,” Sarbanes said. “Give us a pen in the Oval Office and we’ll sign those kinds of reforms into law.”

Much as he has handled calls for a Senate vote to re-open the government, McConnell could have simply ignored this bill with the assurance that it would never see the light of day on his watch. That’s why it is interesting to note that he felt the need to write this op-ed filled with lies and dripping with contempt for our democratic processes.

McConnell knows that nothing threatens his hold on power more than a fully functioning democracy. Beyond that, he knows that if voters are informed about what Democrats want to do to restore our democracy, they’ll be much more likely to hand them control of the Senate and the presidency. In other words, the Senate Majority Leader is very well aware of the power of the provisions included in H.R. 1. It is kryptonite to the strategies he and other Republicans have employed to hold onto power as they find themselves increasingly in the minority.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.