GOP leader fires back at newspaper over First Amendment protections

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has fired a salvo at The Washington Post after two of its columnists wrote that he has been inconsistent on First Amendment issues.

McConnell, who considers himself an ardent defender of First Amendment freedoms, pushed back in an op-ed published in The Post Saturday.

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The battle started June 17 when editorial page editor Fred Hiatt wrote that Republican leaders have changed their position on campaign finance disclosure because the flood of anonymous money to campaigns helps their party.

He cited McConnell’s statement on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in 2000 that “Republicans are in favor of disclosure” and a lot of disclosure at that: “Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

Now Republican lawmakers oppose the Democrats’ Disclose Act, which would require groups spending millions of dollars to influence campaigns to reveal their biggest donors.

“What’s changed? Sadly, only one thing, and it’s not the merits of the argument. The playing field has tilted toward Republicans, and they’re in no hurry to tilt it back,” Hiatt wrote.

Two days later, Post columnist Ruth Marcus, weighing the arguments for amending the constitution to limit independent expenditures, noted that McConnell once supported such an amendment.

She quoted McConnell’s argument: “These are constitutional problems … demanding constitutional answers.”

The Post columns were published shortly after McConnell delivered a major speech at the American Enterprise Institute urging conservatives to do all in their power to protect the First Amendment’s speech protections.

McConnell scolded The Post Saturday for questioning his motives and overlooking what he sees as the serious threat government intimidation poses to free speech.

“Unfortunately, many journalists have been less concerned about a president using his powers to silence critics than in drawing false inferences about the motives of those blowing the whistle,” he wrote.

“Post columnist Ruth Marcus went back to 1987, to my introduction of a constitutional amendment to allow limits on self-funding millionaires as evidence of my supposed hypocrisy,” he added.

McConnell said he quickly realized he was wrong to propose such an amendment and publicly testified against the idea nine months after proposing it.

“Not only have I voted against this idea every time it’s come up but I have also led the opposition,” he wrote.

McConnell argued that he has not changed his position on disclosure.

“Some, including Hiatt, have pointed to a 12-year-old quote in which I expressed support for disclosure not just for politicians and parties but maybe even for certain outside groups. This supposedly proved that I now oppose disclosure measures I used to support,” he wrote.

McConnell said Hiatt omitted concerns he raised at the time about the possibility of donors to controversial advocacy groups receiving harassment.

“My concern remains what it was in 2000: Selective disclosure would be used to harass people who have participated in the political process or to scare others from doing so,” McConnell wrote.