McConnell’s Criticisms of H.R. 1

It’s not interesting that Mitch McConnell isn’t a fan of H.R. 1. He was the lead plaintiff against the last major campaign finance reforms that Congress passed. So of course he isn’t going to like H.R. 1’s heightened disclosure requirements, its efforts to unmask dark money, its public financing for congressional campaigns, and so on. These are exactly the kinds of measures that McConnell has railed against for his entire career.

What is interesting about McConnell’s op-ed is his complete inability to support his claim that H.R. 1 is a Democratic power grab—the “Democrat Politician Protection Act,” as the column’s headline puts it. McConnell’s lead example is that H.R. 1 would shrink the FEC from six commissioners to five. But this change wouldn’t benefit Democrats; it would help whichever party happens to control the presidency, and so is able to appoint three of the five commissioners. If Trump is reelected in 2020, the FEC would be “weaponized” in favor of Republicans (though no more so than any other independent agency with an odd number of members).

McConnell’s other examples of covert Democratic intent are H.R. 1’s new disclosure rules, its multiple-match public financing system, and its restrictions on voter purges. Again, though, there’s no explanation why these provisions are secretly partisan. If disclosure really “intimidates” donors and makes them “vulnerable to public harassment,” then Democrats—who gave about fifty percent more than Republicans in the 2018 election—have more to fear. Similarly, public financing makes elections more competitive, but it doesn’t have any partisan valence. And voter purges can erroneously remove Republicans from the rolls as easily as Democrats.

The other interesting thing about McConnell’s op-ed is what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t even mention many of the proposals at the heart of H.R. 1: registering voters automatically, expanding early voting, building a record for a new VRA coverage formula, requiring independent redistricting commissions, improving election security, tightening ethics rules, and so on. I highly doubt that McConnell actually backs these ideas; he certainly hasn’t brought any of them to the Senate floor. But it’s telling that he can’t bring himself to publicly attack them. Evidently, most of H.R. 1 is so appealing—so plainly right—that even McConnell can’t explicitly denounce it.

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