McConnell is not the only hypocrite here, although he wins the title of Hypocrite-in-Chief. When the DISCLOSE Act came up in the Senate in the aftermath of Citizens United, it passed the House and got 59 votes in the Senate — but died on a filibuster because not a single Republican, including those who had supported campaign reform, was willing to support it.
Now a stripped-down version is coming up — simply requiring disclosure of the name of anyone who gives more than $10,000 to a group to influence elections. There is no excuse for anyone who has voiced support for disclosure — even if they have not expressed the support as expansively as McConnell did in 2007, when he said, “I think what we ought to do is we ought to have full disclosure, full disclosure of all the money that we raise and how it is spent” — to vote against this bill.
McConnell’s anti-disclosure stance has extended beyond his opposition to this bill. He is the driving force behind the failure of the Federal Election Commission, despite repeated rebukes by the courts, to enforce the laws on the books and court rulings about disclosure. Far more often than not, it is the three Republicans virtually handpicked by McConnell who have stymied the FEC from doing its job.
Once, after I wrote a column criticizing FEC Commissioner Donald McGahn, McConnell wrote a pious rejoinder, saying that his oath was to enforce not just the laws passed by Congress but the rulings of the Supreme Court — except, apparently, when he doesn’t like what the court has written. Thus, McGahn and his posse have repeatedly flouted the 8-1 Supreme Court position on disclosure.
The DISCLOSE Act is a modest step to bring us the kind of system that McConnell used to lionize. It will likely fail on a filibuster. And that should at least open up the way for another action by President Barack Obama, using his recess appointment authority to replace McGahn and four other commissioners whose terms have expired to bring back a commission that will do its job and counter the real Nixonian actions, evasion of disclosure.
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.