US Sen Mitch McConnell: corruption on two legs
Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr., a Republican U.S. senator from Kentucky, could well be the greatest argument for campaign finance reform on two legs. As it is, the Kentuckian is reform’s most vociferous enemy.
Mr. McConnell, 64, is the Senate’s majority whip, making him the chamber’s second highest-ranking Republican. We haven’t met Mr. McConnell, but we assume he is smart and capable.
But his particular genius, it seems, lies in fund-raising. A six-month investigation by McClatchy Newspapers recently concluded that Mr. McConnell has raised almost $220 million since his election to the Senate 22 years ago, much of it from special interests: casinos, cigarette makers, the drug industry, the mining industry and others.
Not coincidentally, Mr. McConnell’s agenda is closely aligned with the agendas of special interests. McClatchy reports that Mr. McConnell offered to amend legislation on the floor of the Senate at the direction of the tobacco lobby. Attorneys for the industry also helped to draft a bill, filed by Mr. McConnell, that would have protected tobacco companies from lawsuits. They even helped draft his correspondence to the White House in opposition to smoking-prevention programs.
Mr. McConnell argues his agenda is not driven by special interests. Instead, he says, it’s his agenda, shaped by a conservative and pro-business philosophy, that attracts industry. And while critics say Mr. McConnell is sacrificing the interests of Kentucky to wealthy donors, his defenders say the money has given Mr. McConnell the clout to channel millions of federal dollars to his district.
Mr. McConnell’s clout is undeniable. Most of the money he has raised has gone to support the campaigns of GOP colleagues; they, in turn, have rewarded Mr. McConnell by supporting his ascendance in the Senate. With Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee about to retire (and if Republicans retain the Senate), Mr. McConnell is poised to move into the top job as majority leader.
So far as we know, Mr. McConnell hasn’t done anything illegal. But does anyone believe that the welfare of this country and its people should be dictated by the tobacco lobby?
Mr. McConnell’s story is part of a larger, unsavory truth. The cost of political campaigning has gotten out of hand. More than ever, it seems, you have to be super-rich or super-connected to gain national office.
That can’t make for a very healthy culture in Washington, D.C. Take this month’s conviction of Ohio Republican Robert W. Ney. After six terms in the House, Mr. Ney was considered to have a promising future in that chamber’s leadership. Today, at the age of 52, he faces prison, his career and reputation in ruins. All because of the lure of campaign funds, luxury travel and other perks proffered by former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Nor does it make for good public policy. In a culture where money is king, the debate tends to get framed by those who can afford a place at the table.