Why GOP Senators Are Held Hostage to Mitch McConnell

It’s the pernicious effect of big money in politics.

As the Democratic presidential primary was heating up a few months ago, there was some chatter about things like Beto O’Rourke raising money from people who worked in the oil and gas industry as well as articles about how Joe Biden was raising a lot of money from big donors.

What was left out of those stories was that the donors in question were limited to contributing $2,800. While it might sound like a lot of money to those of us who don’t have access to that kind of disposable income, it is absurd to think that a contribution of $2,800 would influence the agenda of a politician who will be required to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in order to be competitive in a presidential race.

For an example of how big money actually works in politics, we can look at Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA). As you might recall, she unloaded millions of dollars in stock in the wake of a closed-door Senate briefing on coronavirus. About a month after the accusations of insider trading surfaced, Loeffler’s husband donated $1 million to a pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action. Now that’s what you call a “big donor.”

There is a reason why Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has fought against any attempt to pass campaign finance reform and heralded the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. I recently suggested that one of the ways he kept his troops in line to implement his strategy of total obstruction is the money he invested in the campaigns of Republican senators from his own coffers. Here is how that works.

The Senate Leadership Fund, which is run by allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is reserving $67.1 million in TV ads across six Senate states — including McConnell’s home state of Kentucky —starting the day after Labor Day and running through Election Day…

The ads were booked to run in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine and North Carolina, all states with Republican incumbents that are considered critical to the Senate majority.

The top 15 donors to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund gave between $1 and $10 million each. With that, they not only got the chance to influence his agenda, they ensured that vulnerable Republican senators will be beholden to their leader. That explains why McConnell feels no sense of urgency to provide assistance to workers affected by the coronavirus crisis, but is determined to provide immunity protections for businesses that reopen.

We can wring our hands about other aspects of campaign finance that are in need of reform. But everything else pales in comparison when it comes to the floodgates of unlimited contributions that were made possible by Citizens United.

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Nancy LeTourneau

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