McConnell Outlines Strategy on Campaign Finance Regulation

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) acknowledged Feb. 16 at the Conservative Political Action Conference that he has abandoned his decade-long filibuster against campaign finance reform legislation.  But McConnell said the “McCain-Feingold bill” (S27) still could be stopped by a veto from President Bush. The reason for such a veto, he indicated, would be the measure’s failure to include a “paycheck protection” provision to limit unions’ political power.  “Let’s keep up the fight against McCain-Feingold,” McConnell told a cheering crowd “We can stop it if you’ll be energized and go after it.”

McConnell signaled that he has not softened his opposition to the campaign finance regulation bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.). The bill, set to be debated in the Senate this month, would ban unregulated “soft money” contributions to political parties and restrict so-called issue ads that refer to candidates in the weeks before an election.

McConnell acknowledged that the 2000 elections cut the number of regulation opponents, making a filibuster impossible. Instead, McConnell said,  his forces would employ a new strategy, including offering “lots of amendments” on the Senate floor. He admitted though that amendments he supports, such as paycheck protection, are “not likely to pass.”  The last line of defense would be a veto by the Bush White House. McConnell indicated he would argue that a regulation bill that does not limit unions should not be signed.  “I’m hopeful that the administration would not allow such a thing to become law,” he said.

McConnell said conservatives oppose limits on issue-advocacy organizations seeking to influence elections  on First Amendment grounds.  However, McConnell said, there was “one great abuse” that must be curbed — the ability of unions to use their members’ dues for political purposes. He said unions “scoop up money from members” and give 100% of it to support Democratic candidates. Conservatives believe that a paycheck-protection provision would cut union money from rank-and-file members, who they claim do not support the liberal political agenda of the union hierarchy.

Paycheck protection is a shorthand term used by supporters of a proposal to require unions members to give permission to allow their dues to be used for political purposes. Union officials note that federal law already allows their members to opt out of political activities if they choose to do so.

McConnell’s comments came on the heels of an announcement by the AFL-CIO that it, too, opposes some major aspects of the “McCain-Feingold bill.” It indicated it would fight any attempt to add a paycheck-protection amendment. But it said it also objects to provisions in the bill as introduced, which would ban corporate- and union-sponsored issue ads in a preelection period and place new restrictions on “coordination” among candidates, political parties, and outside groups. [BNA 2/20/01]

Utah Legislature Passes Paycheck Protection
The Utah legislature today put its stamp of approval on a comprehensive paycheck protection measure similar to, but tougher than, California Proposition 226, narrowly defeated in 1998.  The Utah measure, the “Voluntary Contributions Act,” like 226, requires up front written consent before money is deducted from a private sector worker’s paycheck for political purposes. It is stronger than 226 insofar as it outright prohibits public employers in the state from making payroll deductions for political purposes under any circumstances, thus getting government out of being the political bag man for public sector unions altogether. Governor Michael Leavitt (R) has publicly indicated he would sign the bill.  In a sign of strength for conservatives, the powerful Utah Education Ass’n “threw in the towel” in their effort to defeat the measure even before it got to the Senate floor, according to a report in the Deseret News.  The union instead promises to fight the measure in court.  Similar laws in Michigan, Washington State, and Idaho have withstood legal challenge.[Am. Tax Reform, 2/15/01]