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McConnell at the bridge

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has long been a supporter of the First Amendment rights of citizens in the face of what goes under the name of campaign finance reform. He knows what he is talking about and he has been a stalwart on the subject. Tomorrow he will be giving a major address at the American Enterprise Institute on “Growing Threats to the First Amendment” at 11:15 a.m. (Eastern). The speech will be live streamed at the link. Despite Senator McConnell’s understated and gentlemanly style, I believe that in substance the speech will be something of a barnburner.

Senator McConnell made himself available for a brief telephone interview with me this evening to preview the speech. Senator McConnell has been on the case — the First Amendment case against campaign finance regulation — for so long. I asked why. “I worried that if government could write the rules, it could control who got into office,” he said.

At the moment, the threats Senator McConnell sees on the horizon emanate principally from the Obama administration and the Obama reelection campaign. Senator McConnell characterized Obama several times as engaged in a Nixonian effort to silence critics, to intimidate political opponents, to clear the field for himself and his allies. In his address at AEI tomorrow Senator McConnell said he will recite “the litany of efforts” he sees the Obama crew having undertaken. He means to send up an alarm about what is happening.

I asked Senator McConnell if he understood the frame of mind that led the left to support flag burning, nude dancing and other activities at some remove from the concern at the core of the First Amendment with the protection of political speech. “They want to control everything,” he said. “They want the federal government to have the power to silence their critics.”

One of the current guises in which the assault on speech rights travels today is the so-called DISCLOSE Act, a pet of Senator Schumer (which tells you just about everything you need to know about it). “Remember that contributions to our political campaigns are already subject to disclosure,” he said. “What they want to do is go digging through the records of outside groups.” For those in search of a motif, Senator McConnell added: “This is a heavy-handed, Nixonian administration.” Senator McConnell cited the Court’s opinion in NAACP v. Alabama and Justice Thomas’s partial dissent from the Court’s opinion in Citizens United as articulating the threat that such compelled disclosure entails.

Wanting to snag a newsworthy quote off-topic, I asked Senator McConnell if we needed to worry about the possible passage of the Law of the Sea Treaty. “I don’t support it, of course,” he said, “and I don’t think it will pass.” That leaves me free to worry about the attacks on our First Amendment speech rights that Senator McConnell will be discussing in his AEI address tomorrow.

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