Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Friday that the U.S. Supreme Court has moved into “a better place” in the last decade when it comes to protecting the First Amendment from legislative efforts to reform campaign financing.
"I think we’re making progress. The court is allowing us to move in the direction of taking a number of these shackles off," McConnell told a crowd of about 200 at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.
In a 30-minute address, McConnell praised the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision as the latest sign of a change in the Supreme Court. But he quoted the opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas in that case several times, agreeing with Thomas that the majority ruling did not go far enough to prevent harassment of private citizens who participate in the political process.
And McConnell accused Democrats of threatening political speech—what the Constitution’s framers deemed the highest form of speech that needs absolute protection,"particularly at those moments of national decision we call elections."
He cited the DISCLOSE Act, saying that it aims to get around the Citizens United ruling by "compelling certain targeted groups to disclose the names of their donors, while excluding others, such as unions, from doing the same."
"This is nothing less than an effort by the government itself to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third-party allies," McConnell said. "And that should concern every one of us."
McConnell said of the most important things Republicans did in the past few years was to block passage of the DISCLOSE Act. In the wide-ranging speech, he heavily criticized the Obama administration and all efforts to reverse Citizen’s United, including the possibility of attempting to change the First Amendment.
"Democrats in the House and Senate recently proposed the so-called 'People’s Rights Amendment,' which basically repeals the First Amendment," McConnell said. "And just this week, citing Citizens United, the President’s top political advisor, David Axelrod, told an audience in Manhattan that, 'When we win, we will use whatever tools are out there, including a constitutional amendment, to turn [it] back.'
"Amending the First Amendment for the first time in history would be the ultimate act of radicalism," McConnell said.
McConnell, the lead plaintiff in a 2003 lawsuit that first challenged the McCain-Feingold campaign financing reform act, says he’s filed six amicus briefs in subsequent court battles, with a seventh in the works.
"And having been in this fight for a long time, I can tell you this: when you’ve got an administration that’s willing to throw core constitutional protections out the window for the sake of an election, we’re in very dangerous territory indeed," McConnell said.