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McConnell backs away from warning businesses to stay out of politics

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRomney blasts end of filibuster, expansion of SCOTUS McConnell, GOP slam Biden's executive order on SCOTUS Overnight Defense: Biden proposes 3B defense budget | Criticism comes in from left and right | Pentagon moves toward new screening for extremists MORE (R-Ky.) on Wednesday backed off his stern warning that companies such as Major League Baseball, Delta and Coca-Cola should stay out of high-profile political fights after they criticized Georgia’s new election law.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are. My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill,” McConnell said Wednesday at a press conference in Paducah, Kentucky.

The GOP leader softened his tough talk from earlier in the week, when he warned that companies would face "serious consequences" if they become "a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country."

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He warned that "businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box." 

“I found it completely discouraging to find a bunch of corporate CEOs getting in the middle of politics,” McConnell said Monday at a press conference in his home state. “My advice to the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics. Don’t pick sides in these big fights.”

He doubled down on his warning to corporate America on Tuesday when he said “it’s quite stupid” for major companies “to jump in the middle of a highly controversial issue.” 

He warned that companies risked losing business, pointing out that “Republicans drink Coca-Cola too, and we fly, and we like baseball.”

He said criticism of the new Georgia election law is “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.” 

McConnell’s warning to companies to “stay out of politics” prompted a double take by members of the media who cover McConnell and proponents of campaign finance reform because the GOP leader has raised millions of dollars from corporate PACs and donors during his long career.

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And he’s led the fight against restrictions on corporate political spending for years.   

“It’s absurd. It’s Sen. McConnell believing he can say completely contradictory things and get away with it. He has spent years defending and seeking funds from corporate executives, from corporate PACs. He led the challenge to the ban on soft money, which included corporate money,” said Fred Wertheimer, the founder and president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit organization that seeks to limit the influence of money in politics.

Reporters pressed McConnell on Tuesday in Kentucky about how his warning to corporate CEOs to stay out of politics squared with asking corporate PACs for political contributions. 

He clarified Tuesday that he did not have a problem with companies spending money on behalf of candidates and political parties, which immediately opened him to charges of hypocrisy. 

"I'm not talking about political contributions," he said. "Most of them contribute to both sides. They have political action committees. That's fine. It's legal. It's appropriate. I support that."

McConnell said he was talking about companies such as Major League Baseball pulling business from Georgia to punish it for passing a new election law that Republicans claim isn’t more restrictive than laws in New York and Delaware, two Democratic-leaning states.

"I'm talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don't like a particular law that passed. I just think it's stupid," McConnell said Tuesday.

Democrats quickly pounced on the issue.

Democratic strategist Brad Bannon posted to Facebook a doctored photo of McConnell with his face plastered with corporate logos under the caption “The #MoscowMitch message to corporate America is to shut up but keep sending the checks.” 

McConnell on Wednesday backed off his declaration that CEOs should stay out of politics to explain that his main beef with Delta, Coca-Cola and other companies is that they injected themselves into the debate over the Georgia law without having a sound enough understanding of the issue.

"My complaint about the CEOs is they ought to read the damn bill. They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation of that given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way," he said Wednesday.

"And what did it cost them? Looks like it cost them the All-Star Game, and Major League Baseball made the same mistake. They didn’t read the bill," he added. 

McConnell has repeatedly pointed to a recent analysis in The Washington Post that found that President BidenJoe BidenBiden taps California workplace safety leader to head up OSHA Romney blasts end of filibuster, expansion of SCOTUS US mulling cash payments to help curb migration MORE had “falsely” claimed the Georgia law ended voting hours early. The Post gave Biden “Four Pinocchios” because the new law only clarifies that counties must keep early voting locations open from at least 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and allows them to stay open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on early voting days.

A New York Times analysis, however, identified 16 provisions in the law that it said would limit ballot access, potentially confuse voters and give more power to Republican lawmakers.