NewsBusters Interview: Sen. McConnell Strikes Back at the New York Times

The New York Times on Sunday published an editorial highly critical of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) position on the Disclose Act.

McConnell spoke with NewsBusters Wednesday about why he thinks the Times and other liberal media outlets are in favor of this controversial anti-free speech bill.

NEWSBUSTERS: You wrote an op-ed on June 22 in which you talked about the dangers of the so-called Disclose Act? Can you briefly explain what that is and why you oppose it?

SENATE MINORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KENTUCKY): What the Left is trying to do is to intimidate donors to 501(c)(4) organizations and to uneven the playing field…These are not contributions to candidates or to parties which have been disclosed forever. This is trying to get the donor list basically of outside groups that the Administration believes are critical to them. So they've been using the agencies of the federal government, the most prominent example being the IRS, to try to go after and intimidate these groups into not exercising their first amendment rights or basically to scare the donors. It's really quite reminiscent of the Nixon administration. They've got their enemies list, and they're checking it twice.

NEWSBUSTERS: In an address you made to the American Enterprise Institute a week prior to publishing your op-ed, you said in regard to threats posed to the first amendment: “The danger comes from a political movement that’s uncomfortable with the idea of groups it doesn’t like speaking freely, and from an administration that has shown an alarming willingness itself to use the powers of government to silence these groups.” Can you elaborate? Do you believe the United States is entering into a period where the party in power is attempting to censor dissenting political views?

MCCONNELL: Well, it's not just the party in power. It's also those who enjoy an exclusive right to exercise the first amendment, right of free speech, prior to Citizens United. A good example of that is Arthur Sulzberger who owns the New York Times, which of course is a corporation, lecturing Sheldon Adelson, a self-made man - Sulzberger of course inherited his wealth! - about the first amendment. In other words, Sulzberger has a right to it, and somehow Sheldon Adelson doesn't.

What Citizens United did was resolve that issue. It's no longer an exclusive right of corporations that own media outlets to speak freely. Any corporation could. And of course, Sheldon Adelson is an individual, not a corporation, and free to spend his money independently any way he chooses to. So I think the biggest media outlet in the country, the New York Times, and many allies like the Washington Post on this issue are acting like they're upset that they don't have an exclusive right to fully express themselves under the first amendment, and now, as a result of the Supreme Court's very wise and important decision, others do as well.


NEWSBUSTERS: Why do you think disclosing donors would in any way intimidate them from actually contributing to such entities?

MCCONNELL: Well, there's an interesting case in 1958 called NAACP v. Alabama in which the Supreme Court prevented the state of Alabama from getting membership lists and donor lists of the NAACP for obvious reasons. It impacts the freedom of association. You can argue it's really kind of nobody's business who contributes to these outside groups, and the Left of course wants to cherry-pick who gets to speak and who doesn't.

For example, the Disclose Act that you mentioned earlier has a huge carve out for labor unions. In other words, they don't want to have an adverse impact on people who are allied with them, but they want to bring the hammer down on those that aren't. The item to intimidate with in this particular instance is disclosure. They've made no bones about it in introducing the Disclose Act that that's exactly what it's about. They want to intimidate their opponents and uneven the playing field. And the reason the donors, many of them – of course, those that are not concerned about disclosure can give to super PACs which fully disclose, and that's how we know who gives to them.

But many donors are afraid of the government. That's why they choose to give to a 501(c)(4) for the very reason I was mentioning earlier that they believe that this administration will bring the power of the federal government down on them.

NEWSBUSTERS: Is it safe to assume the media haven't discussed the fact that the Disclose Act exempts unions?

MCCONNELL: There may have been somebody that mentioned it, but it basically is an effort to cherry-pick who has to disclose so that it has no real impact. For example, one of the requirements of the Disclose Act is that any 501(c)(4) that was running an ad would have to have on the screen their major donors. Of course, they exempted the unions from that - they wouldn't want to have them do that. It also had to identify the leaders. That's obviously designed to quiet speech. But they have a carve out for the unions. I guess Trumka doesn't want his picture on one of these ads. So, it's just an effort by the government and by the Democrats to quiet the opposition and make it harder for the other side to get their arguments across.

NEWSBUSTERS: Do you think this is also an attempt to silence specific entities such as the Tea Party and Karl Rove’s group Crossroads GPS?

MCCONNELL: Yes. I would take you back to the speech I gave at AEI in June that you made reference to. I've a quote in there from one of the Tea Party groups in Kentucky that pretty well sums it up. I can't quote it off the top of my head, but it basically indicates that if you don't cooperate it costs you a lot of money, and if you cooperate you get hung. So, they're even after Tea Party groups. The Democrats are only interested in disclosure for the purpose of intimidation. There's no other reason for it. This is designed to put the government in a position of harassing their opponents, and of course the agency that everybody's the most concerned about is the IRS.

NEWSBUSTERS: This past Sunday, the New York Times came out swinging hard against you in an editorial titled "Why Senator McConnell Is So Nervous." In that piece, regarding the Disclose Act, the Times said: “The I.R.S. is doing its job, at long last, and that’s what has Republican leaders like Mr. McConnell so worried.” What is your response to that as well as the entire Times piece?

MCCONNELL: First of all, they're very upset about Citizens United because the New York Times no longer has an exclusive right…over everybody else to express themselves. So they've lost their exclusive, and now they're in cahoots with the Administration on things like the Disclose Act because they know it will quiet the voices of those that have different views than them.


NEWSBUSTERS: Do you think the media would be covering this issue differently if a Republican president was trying to attack liberal organizations this way?

MCCONNELL: You bet. That's why I brought up the Nixon administration. The memory everybody has of the Nixon administration is misuse of government power to go after political enemies, and that is exactly what's going on here.

NEWSBUSTERS: In that June 22 op-ed, you took the media to task for not covering this subject as they ought to and for attacking whistleblowers like yourself. Do you believe this is a result of their liberal bias, or do you think that this mostly has to do with the fact that we're in an election year, and potentially for the first time in history, an incumbent president is going to be outspent by his opponent?

MCCONNELL: Well, it does raise that suspicion. Citizens United didn't change everything. It changed the playing field for corporations, and not for individuals. I don't recall this kind of alarm about wealthy liberals being involved on the Democrat side in '04 and '08. Do you? When was the last time you saw an editorial about George Soros for example? So I think it's selective outrage. I think that's a factor. And then you add in the Citizens United case which eliminated the corporate media advantage under the first amendment, and you add into that all the competition that they're getting now from the internet, blogs and the rest, and it's pretty tough for these guys.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.