McConnell works to freeze support for Dem campaign finance effort

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMemorial Day weekend deals latest economic blow to travel industry Senate Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Planned Parenthood loans On The Money: Jobless rate exceeds 20 percent in three states | Senate goes on break without passing small business loan fix | Biden pledges to not raise taxes on those making under 0K MORE (R-Ky.) is pulling out all the stops to make sure not a single Republican senator backs the campaign finance and ethics reform bill that House Democrats are set to pass on Friday.

McConnell, a longtime opponent of campaign finance reform who battled the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Memo: Activists press Biden on VP choice Biden takes page from Trump with public auditions for VP slot Why Trump, GOP are running into trouble in Arizona MORE (R-Ariz.) over the issue, made clear in December that the House proposal would never see floor time in the Senate.

He’s continued to pummel the legislation, sending a stern warning to any GOP colleague who may be thinking about supporting it. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“This is an issue that I’ve dealt with for decades,” McConnell said at a press conference with Senate and House GOP colleagues on Wednesday. “This is a terrible proposal, it will not get any floor time in the Senate.

“For myself, I don’t see anything in here salvageable,” he added. “This is a solution in search of a problem. What it really is is a bill designed to make it more likely Democrats win more often.”

A senior Republican aide described McConnell as making a “full tilt” effort to quash the House bill. White House counsel Don McGahn spoke to the Senate GOP conference Wednesday to explain why it would be a mistake for any Republican to support it.

Despite the GOP leader’s efforts, Senate Democrats feel confident they can pick off some members of his conference.

“There are pieces of it that many senators and House members have been working on for a long time, whether it’s making voting easier, whether it’s taking the dark money and big money out of politics, or whether it’s government ethics, there are a number of senators who have almost identical parts of their bills in this bill,” Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallDHS watchdog to investigate COVID-19 cases in ICE detention facilities Hispanic Caucus makes major ad buy for New Mexico Democratic candidate for House Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added legal protections MORE (D-N.M.) said of the House legislation, known as H.R. 1. 

Udall plans to introduce a companion Senate bill next week.

He says it will be “very difficult” for McConnell to keep his GOP conference unified “based on the history of how Republicans have responded individually to a lot of these issues.” 

Two possible swing players in the Senate, Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerPass the Primary Care Enhancement Act The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden seeks to tamp down controversy over remarks about black support OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues MORE (R-Colo.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Surgeon General stresses need to invest much more in public health infrastructure, during and after COVID-19; Fauci hopeful vaccine could be deployed in December Republicans push for help for renewable energy, fossil fuel industries Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (R-Maine), declined to comment Thursday on the House bill. 

Udall thinks his GOP colleagues, several of whom face tough reelection races next year, are nervous about the deluge of outside money that is about to pour into their home states. 

“The more those dark money numbers grow, the more people see these attacks. If you’ve been in a campaign where you’ve had tens of millions of dollars spent in dark money against you —you talk to Republican members, and they say this isn’t right,” Udall said.  

One component of the House bill, the Honest Ads Act, requires social media companies such as Facebook to disclose who is paying for political ads on its platform.

That language reflects a bill introduced in the last Congress by Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharIt's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Congress must fill the leadership void The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump spotted wearing a face mask MORE (D-Minn.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerGrenell says intelligence community working to declassify Flynn-Kislyak transcripts McConnell gives two vulnerable senators a boost with vote on outdoor recreation bill The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mnuchin sees 'strong likelihood' of another relief package; Warner says some businesses 'may not come back' at The Hill's Advancing America's Economy summit MORE (D-Va.). It attracted the support of McCain.

Another piece of the bill, the Disclose Act, resembles legislation that Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRepublicans push for help for renewable energy, fossil fuel industries The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin: More COVID-19 congressional action ahead Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (R-Alaska) sponsored with Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHouse to consider amendment blocking warrantless web browsing surveillance COVID-19 increases importance of implementing reforms to organ donation system Senators offer bill to prevent relief payments from being seized by private debt collectors MORE (D-Ore.) in 2013, the Follow the Money Act. It would have required the Federal Election Commission to establish a real-time reporting system for contributions to candidates' campaigns and independent spending efforts.  

Murkowksi did not vote when the Disclose Act failed to overcome a 60-vote procedural hurdle in September of 2010 and July of 2012, but she spoke “kindly” about the bill, according to Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Judiciary Committee calls for national safety guidelines amid liability hearing Democrats ask for investigation of DOJ decision to drop Flynn case McConnell under mounting GOP pressure to boost state aid MORE (D-R.I.), one of its backers. 

Asked Thursday if she could support legislation to require more disclosure of donors to independent political spending groups, Murkowski replied, “I have in the past said that these are issues that are ripe for review.”

“Is it appropriate for more disclosure, generally, and quicker? Yes,” she added. 

A third component of the House-passed reform bill would attempt to slow the flow of foreign money into elections by cracking down on the use of shell corporations to hide political spending from overseas sources. That idea has support from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate confirms Ratcliffe to be Trump's spy chief Abrams announces endorsements in 7 Senate races Schumer dubs GOP 'conspiracy caucus' amid Obama-era probes MORE (R-S.C.). 

“We’re going to have a hearing about how foreign entities, the dark money stuff,” influence elections, Graham said Thursday.

“It’s so easy to set up a corporation in America and funnel money through it to affect a campaign,” he added, noting that Whitehouse “has got legislation about making sure that these shell corporations are harder to set up.” 

“It’s just a matter of time and it’s probably already happened where some foreign entity has used our system against us,” Graham added. 

Another key piece of H.R. 1 would support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), the landmark Supreme Court ruling that overturned campaign finance restrictions on corporations and labor unions, enabling outside groups to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to influence federal races. 

Historically, a constitutional amendment to give Congress authority over campaign finance law without interference from the courts has enjoyed Republican support. 

McConnell is trying to keep his colleagues in line by arguing that Republicans should use the House bill as ammo against Democrats in the 2020 elections. 

“I believe we can actually win elections against people who vote for this turkey,” he said Wednesday. 

He highlighted its most controversial elements, such as public financing for presidential and congressional candidates that would have the federal government provide matching funds from voluntary donors. 

He also cited a proposal to restructure the FEC into a five-member commission that would be controlled by the president’s party. 

McConnell has a long record opposing campaign finance efforts. He took the lead in the Senate opposing the McCain-Feingold campaign reform push of 2001 and 2002, which resulted in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act and banned national political parties from raising and spending unlimited funds known as soft money. 

He also served as the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that attempted to overturn that law, McConnell v. FEC, which the Supreme Court upheld in 2003. 

The House bill also includes several ethics and election reform components, such as a requirement that the president and vice president disclose years of their tax returns and to enhance election security by requiring the director of national intelligence to report on attempts of foreign interference.