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McConnell's Lost Battle Bears His Name, Memory
Lexington, KY, Herald-Leader ^ | 12-28-03 | Hulse, Carl, and Justice, Glen

Posted on 12/28/2003 2:41:13 PM PST by Theodore R.

Posted on Sun, Dec. 28, 2003


WASHINGTON - Sen. Mitch McConnell was such a determined opponent of the new campaign finance law that when the fight moved from Congress to the courts, he made certain the decisive case was titled McConnell v. FEC.

Now, with the Supreme Court validating the campaign spending restrictions enforced by the Federal Election Commission in a ruling earlier this month, Kentucky's senior U.S. senator will remain strongly identified with the cause, but on the losing side.

That twist is not lost on advocates of fund-raising and spending restrictions, who realize the term "McConnell" will very likely stand for the case as much as for the lawmaker.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21 and a longtime adversary of McConnell's, said: "I am going to talk for years now about how 'McConnell' stands for the proposition that campaign finance laws protect against the appearance of corruption and do not restrict protected free speech."

While he may be disappointed by the defeat, McConnell, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said he had no regrets about his crusade against proposals that he said infringed on the First Amendment. "This is something I believe deeply in," McConnell said.

Some proponents of the law, championed by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell D. Feingold, D-Wis., called McConnell "Darth Vader" and "Public Enemy No. 1."

"He wore it as a badge of honor," said Sen. Robert F. Bennett, R-Utah, a chief ally.

In his role, McConnell was not only expressing his own view but carrying the ball for fellow senators who shared his antipathy for the campaign finance changes but were less willing to get out in front on the politically tricky issue.

That work, as well as other tasks he has undertaken as the Senate majority whip, could pay dividends later because McConnell is viewed as a probable candidate to try to succeed Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee as Republican leader. Frist has indicated he does not intend to seek re-election in 2006, setting the stage for a contest to succeed him as Republican leader.

"When you look down the road, he seems to be the guy," said one senior Republican Senate official, though he said others were certain to seek the post. "He is very good at working behind the scenes to help members."

That is an apt way of describing McConnell, 61, who has long been viewed as a tough inside player in Congress and in Kentucky, where he has been instrumental in building the Republican Party. First elected in 1984, he is also a force in Washington at large, given that he is half of a power couple by virtue of his marriage to Elaine L. Chao, the labor secretary.

McConnell, who is smart and not shy about letting it show, is considered by many colleagues to be among the most savvy tacticians in the Senate and a relentless opponent -- a trait that may have sprung from his battle with polio as a youngster.

Last year, he was elected by his Republican colleagues to be the No. 2 to Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Republican Leader. When Lott ran into a political buzz saw over comments about Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, it eventually fell to McConnell to deliver the news to Lott that it was time to step aside.

Top Senate aides say McConnell had been a valuable assistant to Frist, using his own years in the Senate to fill in the gaps for the less experienced majority leader. He has also handled some of the dirty work, defending Frist against Democrats who accused him of mismanagement and dueling with the Democratic leadership on the floor.

McConnell was sidelined for a period earlier this year by heart surgery but seems to have rebounded.

He has also sought to alter his own image, abandoning his longtime opposition to federal restrictions on tobacco advertising in exchange for a proposal to aid tobacco growers.

Yet campaign finance has been his signature issue, but as far as the McCain-Feingold law is concerned, McConnell acknowledges that fight is lost.

"The Supreme Court has spoken," he said. "They are the last word."

The outcome for McConnell drew sympathy from former Sen. James L. Buckley of New York, a conservative whose name graced a previous campaign finance ruling, Buckley v. Valeo. That 1976 decision struck down part of the Watergate-era restrictions.

"The Supreme Court treated me much more kindly," Buckley said. "He tried to do his duty as a senator and a citizen. He failed, but he should take pride in the effort."

Though he lost at the Supreme Court, advocates of the law credit McConnell with putting up a battle. They said he was simply overwhelmed by a shift in public, legislative and legal opinion on the issue.

McConnell disputes the idea that the law will reduce the flow of money into politics, and he said one of the chief consequences would be to weaken the national political parties and give more clout to independent organizations.

"There won't be any less speech or money spent," McConnell said. "Dramatically more will be spent, just in a different way."

And while he has no concrete plans concerning campaign finance, he has no doubt the issue will resurface even as some people try to rehabilitate the system for public financing of presidential campaigns.

"The issue is never over," McConnell said. "You are talking about the ability of people to speak in a free society, and political speech, which is at the core of the First Amendment. People want to have their say."

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government; US: Kentucky
KEYWORDS: campaignfinance; cfr; darthvader; elainechao; feingold; firstamendment; fredwertheimer; freespeech; frist; ky; mccain; mccainfeingold; mcconnell; polio; robertbennett; supremecourt; thurmond; trentlott

1 posted on 12/28/2003 2:41:15 PM PST by Theodore R.
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To: Theodore R.
I'm old enough to remember when and why campaign finance laws started. In the '60s and '70s the Democratic party was becoming so crazy that nobody with enough brains to run a business was giving money to the Democrats while the Republicans were still getting money. This was ibnterpreted as an injustice and a threat to democracy, so laws were passed capping the amount of individual contributions to bother parties, knowing it would primarily affect Republicans.
2 posted on 12/28/2003 2:51:54 PM PST by RLK
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To: Theodore R.
"The issue is never over," McConnell said. "You are talking about the ability of people to speak in a free society, and political speech, which is at the core of the First Amendment. People want to have their say."

Someday, this atrocious legislation and despicable decision will be given the burial it so richly deserves.

And who is to blame for this abridgement of the First Amendment? A Republican House. A Republican Senate. A Republican President. And a Republican appointee to SCOTUS.

3 posted on 12/28/2003 2:53:52 PM PST by okie01 ( Congress isn't for the morally halt and the mentally lame.)
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Comment #4 Removed by Moderator

To: Specter50
I believe that McConnell refused to help the Republican woman Linda Smith, who opposed Murray, because Mrs. Smith's husband had been a Pat Buchanan supporter and because Mrs. Smith supported some version of "campaign finance" reform. Maybe though McConnell was just writing off WA State as unwinnable for Republicans.
5 posted on 12/28/2003 5:50:11 PM PST by Theodore R. (When will they ever learn?)
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To: Theodore R.
"The issue is never over," McConnell said. "You are talking about the ability of people to speak in a free society, and political speech, which is at the core of the First Amendment. People want to have their say."
If the First Amendment doesn't mean what it says, newspapers can be hauled into the dock and forced to actually be objective rather than merely claiming to be objective. Triple damages under civil RICO.

Yeah, right. CFR merely codified that journalism is the Establishment.

6 posted on 12/28/2003 8:54:14 PM PST by conservatism_IS_compassion (Belief in your own objectivity is the essence of subjectivity.)
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To: okie01
A Republican House.

Yes, but most Republicans opposed it, and the leadership refused to even bring it up for a vote. The signature drive by the Democrats forced it to the floor.

A Republican Senate.

Again, most of the Republicans voted against it, but aside from that, Tom Daschle is most certainly NOT a Republican. A Republican President.

That's accurate, unfortunately.

And a Republican appointee to SCOTUS.

Actually 3...but all of the dissenters were Republicans. That cannot be said for the majority opinion.

7 posted on 12/28/2003 9:16:09 PM PST by Republican Wildcat
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To: Specter50
She didn't want it, she opposed the use of "Soft Money." She eventually changed her mind and McConnell stepped in, but that gave Murray a good venue for branding Smith as a hypocrite.
8 posted on 12/28/2003 9:19:42 PM PST by Republican Wildcat
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