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McConnell Has No Trouble With Corporate Speech—as Long as It Takes the Form of Bribery

There has never been a politician more consistently cynical than Mitch McConnell. He’s the guy who wrote about how moved he was to witness the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965—as a young aide to Kentucky Senator John Sherman Cooper—and then blocked efforts to restore the Voting Rights Act after it was eviscerated by his conservative allies on the US Supreme Court. He’s the guy who blocked President Obama’s 2016 nomination of Merrick Garland to serve on the Supreme Court because, he said, the Senate shouldn’t confirm new justices in election years—and then rushed through the confirmation of right-wing Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the election year of 2020. And, of course, he’s the guy who this year condemned President Trump’s incitement of insurrection right after leading Senate Republicans in blocking accountability for, that’s right, President Trump’s incitement of insurrection.

But the most jaw-droppingly cynical move McConnell has ever made came this week, when the Senate minority leader dragged himself up to the bully pulpit to tell corporate CEOs to keep quiet about political issues—unless they’re bribing him to do their bidding.

The senator’s surreal show of hypocrisy came after Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Major League Baseball, and other multinational firms denounced the assault by Georgia Republican officials on voting rights in what has become the country’s most contentious swing state.

“My advice to the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics. Don’t pick sides in these big fights,” complained McConnell, summoning up his most menacing mumble.

Warning that Big Business support for democracy could usher in an era of “woke alternative government,” McConnell grumbled that multinational corporations might become “a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order.”

McConnell’s fretting about revolutionary CEOs was laughable on its face.

But what provoked guffaws was the notion that the senator from Kentucky really wanted CEOs to “stay out of politics.”

No one in the history of American electioneering—with the possible exception of Mark Hanna, who organized the robber barons of the Gilded Age to support the plutocratic presidential bid of Republican William McKinley over that of Democratic populist William Jennings Bryan in 1896—has worked as hard as Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr. to get CEOs into politics.

As The Washington Post explained a quarter-century ago, when McConnell was leading the fight against the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation, “He loves money, perhaps more than any other politician on Capitol Hill. He likes to raise it and he likes to spend it. It’s what made him the father of the modern-day Republican Party in Kentucky, and it’s what he sees as the key to expanding influence for the GOP in Washington.” Over the ensuing years, McConnell made himself the champion of no-holds-barred quid pro quo politics. When billionaires, investors, and CEOs opened their checkbooks, the most transactional member of the Senate was all ears.

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