Former FEC Chair Brad Smith published an op-ed today in the National Review today entitled: “The First Amendment Is Lucky to Have Mitch McConnell.” That is both a great headline and an accurate salute to the Republican Senate Leader at a time when Democrats have declared war on the First Amendment through the Corrupt Politicians Act (H.R.1/S.1). That said, a key part of Senator McConnell’s leadership on the First Amendment is not partisan:
Surprisingly few elected officials are willing to come to the defense of campaigns and other organized efforts to effect change. Americans celebrate their freedoms to speak and organize into groups, but once an organization achieves success, support for its rights tends to give way to concerns about “influence.” It’s rare to find politicians who support equally the freedom to speak of the NRA and the Brady Campaign, the League of Conservation Voters and the Chamber of Commerce, or pro-life groups and Planned Parenthood.
For over a quarter century, Mitch McConnell has stood as the Senate’s most consistent, articulate, and dogged defender of the First Amendment rights these organizations rely on. Way back in 1994, he engineered the defeat of a bill to fund campaigns with Americans’ tax dollars, a policy that remains at the top of the progressive agenda today and that reappears in S. 1. He has frustrated bad ideas from the right, too, such as in 2006, when he was one of only three Senate Republicans to oppose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution permitting the criminalization of flag-burning. That amendment fell just one vote short.
The irony is that while McConnell fights on a bipartisan basis for the First Amendment, Democrats are fighting to make speech and elections more partisan. As McConnell said on May 10:
Democrats’ S. 1 is a partisan effort to take over our elections: Partisan control of the FEC. Partisan rules for states. Public funds sent to partisan campaigns.— Leader McConnell (@LeaderMcConnell) May 13, 2021
There is nothing bipartisan about it. S. 1 would shatter confidence in our democracy. pic.twitter.com/YRfMBCXPXo
At the markup hearing for S.1, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer showed up, gave a partisan speech, made accusations about racism, and left. McConnell stayed at the hearing and tried to legislate. He made many great rhetorical points including: "Wouldn’t it better to fund other things like fighting the opioid academic over politicians?"
Democrats’ election takeover bill would literally hand public money to political campaigns. I proposed an amendment to instead send that money to fight the opioid epidemic and fentanyl that kill Americans. Democrats blocked it and voted to send the cash to politicians instead. pic.twitter.com/2oQsHVPaU0— Leader McConnell (@LeaderMcConnell) May 11, 2021
Freedom of political speech should be a unifying cause in America, but as anyone who has defended it for a living knows, it’s a lot harder where the rubber meets the road. Every speaker is unpopular with someone, and some speakers are unpopular with just about everyone. At a time when free speech is under a seemingly relentless assault, America is fortunate to have a Senate leader who can take the heat and stick to the principles of the First Amendment.
Thank you Senator McConnell!