Mitch McConnell: At the Koch Brothers Donor Summit: "Is this working?...
...I know it’s been a long day, but also a very inspiring day. And I want to start by thanking you, Charles and David, for the important work you’re doing. I don’t know where we’d be without you, and I want to thank you all for rallying to the cause. What I’m going to do--we’re at the end of the day, I hope this won’t be just a monologue, and if you’re interested in interjecting, please feel free. What I’m talking about with you today is the one freedom without which we can’t do anything.
Let me take you back to the 70s. I was a very bored young lawyer out of law school. I took at least one course for the first time at the University of Louisville. It was called "Political Parties and Elections". It just happened to be about the time of the Watergate scandal. In the wake of the Watergate scandal, we had the first really seriously comprehensive "campaign finance reform" bill. It was just one more effort by the political left, going back to the beginning of the 20th century, to get a hold of the process by which one gets elected.
It sort of petered out at the end of the Progressive Era in the 20s--the great prosperity. No one was thinking about things like that [in the 1960s], and then the President [Nixon] ended the [Vietnam] War. But then when Watergate came along. And the left realized this was an opportunity to get their hands on the electoral process: in other words, to try to control the process by which you get into government. Their feeling was that if you controlled the process by which you got into government, the kind of people who got elected would then be only beholden to the government.
William F. Buckley’s brother, Jim Buckley, was serving in the Senate for only one term. It was a bit of an accident. He got elected in 1970 to the Senate in New York on the conservative ticket. It was a three-way race. And Jim Buckley, and coming from good stock, decided to file a [campaign finance reform] lawsuit. The famous case decided in early 1976 was Buckley v. Valeo. The decision was a bit of a mixed bag. But I thought that the most important part of the decision, which was really (inaudible), was the Court said it was impermissible for the government to silence the voices of some Americans in order to try to enhance the voices of others under the First Amendment. If you think about it, if the government can pick the winners and losers in political speech, whoever’s running the government at that particular time has an extraordinary advantage.
The other aspects of the decision were somewhat questionable. But that core ruling was that it was impermissible under the First Amendment for the government to quiet the voices of some in order to enhance the voices of others. Well, the left didn’t like that lawsuit very much. They liked parts of it. But the bulk of it they didn’t like.
Moving along into the 80s, they made another run at it. The goal for Common Cause and those on the left was the following legislation was supposedly “voluntary.” The Supreme Court put it on hold, so they would come up with these schemes that made it look like it was voluntary when it wasn’t. But the goal was to cap spending--to call it "voluntary", but cap spending, and have taxpayers pay for the money spent on elections--to quantify how much you could speak and to have the taxpayers pick up the tab for it, and then call it voluntary, but put mechanisms in there that would make Republicans say: "I don’t want to do it".
We had filibuster after filibuster, which in my first term in the Senate I was leading. And then it came back again in the first two years of Clinton. The bill would pass the House. The bill would pass the Senate. And then it would go to conference. And I was so determined, I came up with a new filibuster. That’s all I’d ever done before: filibuster and go into conference. We had to do it all night long. Under (inaudible) procedure every senator had an hour, and if you didn’t show up right on time you were out of luck. Everybody rallied together. This was about two months before the great fall election of 1994. Everybody rallied together. We went around the clock. Everybody showed up on time. And I thought: "Well, maybe we’re finally through with this nonsense."
I was particularly pleased when President Bush got elected, and we had a Republican House and a Republican Senate. I thought surely we won’t have to deal with an issue like this. The worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law in the early part of his first Administration (inaudible).
We went to court. I was represented by somebody I know you know, David, Floyd Abrams, who represented the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case. Probably the most famous First Amendment lawyer in America was my lawyer. He said people at New York cocktail parties would come up to him and say what is this guy like. They couldn’t believe he was collaborating with us. They had no idea he was on our side, but alas, we lost five to four.
So what really then changed the Court was President Bush’s appointment of John Roberts. The most important was Sam Alito because we lost the McCain-Feingold case five to four because of Sandra Day O’Connor. The majority was all liberal. Then she retired, and Sam Alito replaced her, and we now have the best Supreme Court in anybody’s memory on the issue of First Amendment political speech. And this Court has basically said--you, you remember the president wagging his finger at the Supreme Court over the Citizens United case? Do you all remember that a few years ago? They were sitting right there on the front row. The State of the Union is the one time the whole government is in one place (inaudible) Citizens United case.
What did the case decide? Well, as you all know, corporations that own a newspaper or a television station (inaudible), they’re free to say whatever they want to say about anybody at any time. But if you were a corporation that didn’t own a newspaper or didn’t own a television station, you couldn’t. So all Citizens United did was to level the playing field for corporate speech. In other words, no longer did corporations have to own a newspaper or a television station in order to say whatever they wanted. It simply leveled the playing field. And we’ve had a series of cases since then that I’ve filed amicus briefs in and had lawyers arguing in. We now have, I think, the most free and open system we’ve had in modern times.
The Supreme Court allowed all of you to participate in the process in a variety of different ways. You can give to the candidate of your choice. You can give to Americans for Prosperity, or something else--a variety of different ways to push back against the party of government. It has nothing to do with overly political speech. The fact of the matter is the Democrats are the party of government. We are the party of the private sector. They have a government solution for every single thing. And the government has wanted more over the years and to have the government itself picking up the tab for political campaigns and pushing the private sector all the way out. But they’ve got a problem because the Supreme Court opened up the process, and we now have the opportunity (inaudible) to push back to try to stop this movement that’s been on (inaudible) the last six years.
Now, that’s where we are today. I’m really proud of this Supreme Court and the way they’ve been dealing with the issue of First Amendment political speech. It’s only five to four, and I pray for the health of the five. (Inaudible). So those are some of my random thoughts. And what I’d like to do here, if I could have you all get into the (inaudible) and I could let the floor open to see who might want to, want to talk.
KEVIN GENTRY: Microphone is on. Thank you very much, Senator McConnell. We appreciate you (inaudible). (Applause.) And so, come up. We would like to — there we go — right there in the back. If you’ll introduce yourself.
CHERYL: Yes, I’m Cheryl (inaudible). I wanted to know, I, I just recently read that with changing rules of engaging in war, you cannot engage in war (inaudible) wasn’t meant for you. Can you comment on that?
MITCH MCCONNELL: I’m not sure I know –
CHERYL: Well, before we could give more people help, and now, I, I mean, (inaudible) if we felt, um, that, uh, uh, we — if we felt that we were threatened in some way, and now we can’t engage in war unless we’re actually attacked, would you say?
MITCH MCCONNELL: Uh –
CHERYL: You don’t know anything about that?
MITCH MCCONNELL: No, I don’t. You know, if we’re attacked, uh, certainly I don’t think there’s anything inappropriate (inaudible).
SPEAKER: Is there anything from the Obama Administration that states you can’t engage in war?
MITCH MCCONNELL: I think they choose not to do much of anything over there.
SPEAKER: (Inaudible) in Iraq now (inaudible).
MITCH MCCONNELL: Yeah, I’ll have to take a look at it. What I can tell you with regard to this Administration’s foreign policy is, can you think of a single place in the world where we’re in better shape now than we were when he took office? I mean, he took power in 2009, and, you know, (inaudible) American exceptionalism. And we really ought to talk to each other more frequently instead of (inaudible).
And so we’re, uh, in tough cases about everywhere in the world. As a result, citizens from all (inaudible) have more questions in foreign policy than (inaudible) because they don’t have to deal with senators and members of, uh, Congress. But uh, it, it isn’t enough, so (inaudible) try to pull through. Not to mention, it’s pretty hard to think of anything they didn’t mess up here at home. I don’t know if you all know (inaudible) all my life. (Laughter.)
KEVIN GENTRY: Thank you, Cheryl. Over here. You’ve got a question for him. You’re going to come over here.
DAVID KOCH: Yeah, David Koch here. Thank, thank you for being here. (Inaudible) I wanted to comment on free speech. Yesterday, I read a — I read a quote in the New York Times, um, that uh, uh, (inaudible) these Koch brothers, what we’re up to. And, uh, I understand that the senators are considering actually passing a bill — they’re saying women are not as our Constitution says (inaudible) Koch brothers. (Inaudible) temporary, yeah.
MITCH MCCONNELL: That’s correct. (Inaudible) Sam Alito left that out. That’s the most current. Having, having struck out at the Supreme Court, David, they now want to amend the Constitution. They want to amend the First Amendment for the first time since the Bill of Rights was passed. These people think they’re smarter than James Madison. (Laughter.)
And the reason they want to amend the First Amendment is to give the Congress the authority to do what courts are not going to allow them to do, to determine who gets to speak and how much. In other words to grant authority to Congress that the Court would not allow, so they could (inaudible) amend the Constitution. We had a vote on that 15 years ago, and even Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold voted against it. This time I think they’ve all (inaudible). But clearly the constitutional amendment has to pass the House and the Senate by two-thirds and be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.
This is an act of true radicalism. It shows how far they’re willing to go to quiet the voices of, of their critics. (Inaudible) that’s been talked about during this conference – you know, the IRS, the SEC, and the FEC. They’re on a full-tilt assault to use the power of the government to go after their critics. So here they want to formalize it by actually carving a hole in the First Amendment for the first time since it was passed, to give the Congress the authority to determine who gets to speak and who doesn’t (inaudible). This just underscores the level of radicalism that the majority of the (inaudible) say endanger them. They, they are frightened of, of their critics. They don’t want to join the tradition in open discourse. They want to use the power of the government to quiet the voices of their critics (inaudible). But they’re going to continue to push the envelope (inaudible) all across the Federal government.
All of you are feeling it in the regulatory environment which has been talked about here a lot the last couple of days (inaudible) the regulators and this Administration. Are you making a profit? You have to know this (inaudible). These people need to be stopped, and believe me, something that I thought to do (inaudible) what is spent (inaudible) independent coordination? (Laughter.) (Applause.)
KEVIN GENTRY: You know, you can (inaudible), but only if they do.
MITCH MCCONNELL: On offense it makes a big difference. And I do think that as a result of the way the Administration (inaudible) all over the country, enough people are on the cusp of doing the only thing that can be done in 2014. (Inaudible) January 27. The only thing that can be done in 2014 is to take the Senate, and I think we can do that.
KEVIN GENTRY: And two more questions (inaudible). Go ahead. Go ahead.
MALE SPEAKER: Uh, (inaudible) family from Arkansas. Following up on that, going on the offense. Uh, could you just name the top, uh, three to five key areas that you believe will be the significant advantage (inaudible)?
MITCH MCCONNELL: Good question. Remember, he’s still in the White House, and the (inaudible) game is still important. But at the least we can do the following things (inaudible). Number one, how do you set the agenda and (inaudible) Harry Reid? The principal advantage of the majority is to establish a caucus. Number two, if we have a House and Senate that agree, we can have the votes. That can be done with 51 votes. (Applause.)
MITCH MCCONNELL: Most things in the Senate require 60, but not the votes, and the President doesn’t sign the votes. So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board (inaudible). All across the Federal government, we’re going to go after it.
Now look, I don’t want to over promise here, but even still we (inaudible). But this is a battle, and we (inaudible). We are going to push back against this regulatory overreach. It’s the reason why this is so important (inaudible). So I think that’s the single most important thing we can do that doesn’t require getting to 60 votes in the Senate (inaudible). But that we can do for sure, and we will. And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage (inaudible) — cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment –- that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh. These people believe in all the wrong things.
I’ll close with this (inaudible). If we want to get the country going again, we need to quit doing what we’ve been doing. Was it Einstein that said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result? You know, quit the borrowing, the spending, the taxing, and the over regulation. If we would all develop an entrepreneurial approach, we’d be able to lift this country up and send us in a new direction, just like all of you have done. Thank you so much for the opportunity to be here. (Applause.)