Perhaps no one has a more expansive view of how the First Amendment protects campaign speech and donations than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
So it's no surprise that the Kentucky Republican would respond to news that President Barack Obama is mulling an executive action on campaign expenditures by reminding reporters that since it is Jan. 20, "a year from today he will be gone."
The New York Times reported Tuesday on the possibility of an executive action requiring contractors to disclose more about their political activities.
McConnell: Obama’s Executive Actions ‘Wilsonian’
"It just makes you shake your head," McConnell said. "My goodness, I mean does the president not have any respect for the process? I say to groups periodically he reminds me of Woodrow Wilson. If you're not an expert on Woodrow Wilson, let me tell you. He was the president who believed the Congress was too powerful and that the founders of our country got it wrong."
"He believed in sort of unlimited executive authority. Goodness gracious, by that standard Barack Obama is really Wilsonian, as if there are just no boundaries beyond which he cannot push."
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz declined to make any specific announcements Wednesday aboard Air Force One.
"The president took some steps when he first took the oath of office back in 2009 to limit special interest influence peddling in Washington," Schultz said. "But the President also viewed — the most robust action we could take on this is an action that Congress failed to take when they considered a piece of legislation called the DISCLOSE Act. That would have increased transparency and done a lot to further this goal. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans banded together to block that."
In this particular battle, McConnell may find common ground with Sen. John McCain. The Republican from Arizona has sparred with the current majority leader on campaign finance questions, with McConnell leading the charge against the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
But asked if there should be White House action on campaign finance, McCain said, "of course not."
"It wouldn't matter if I totally supported it, he shouldn’t act by executive order," McCain said. "All of us take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. What he does is he gives ammunition to the opponents, and then they have great difficulty when it comes time to sit down and work on things. If he’s going to use an executive order, it's probably going to have to go right to the courts."
While reminding the traveling press corps that he is not a lawyer, Schultz said, "I can tell you that any executive action that would be vetted through our system and announced by the president would be on solid legal footing."
McConnell said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was leading efforts on the issue and that she had said what the administration is reportedly considering would not comply with existing law.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, wasn't surprised that Republicans would object so vehemently to the potential executive action.
"The party that’s not in the White House always hates it," McCaskill said. "It's as predictable as the sun coming up."
In a letter to Obama released Jan. 7, a group of 29 Senate Democratic caucus members led by Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Ron Wyden of Oregon called for an order requiring federal contractors to disclose more about their political spending.
"This type of disclosure is a modest step that would expose an especially troubling type of secret money: campaign contributions that have the potential to influence government contracting practices," the senators wrote. "As corporations spend more money on politics, it is vital to the integrity of the federal contracting system for the public to be able to see that their tax dollars are being allocated by merit and not to those seeking to engage in 'pay to play' practices."
John T. Bennett contributed to this report.
Contact Lesniewski at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski.
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