Outside groups seek to make argument for campaign finance reform in U.S. Sen. race

10/17/2014 10:23 AM

While Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell continues to fight a battle for his re-election in a race against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, other outside groups focused on campaign finance reform are bringing another fight to him in the election year as they launch attacks against him in the state.

With the expectation that the Kentucky U.S. Senate race will be the most expensive Senate race in history and each of the candidates bringing in millions of dollars from outside the state, outside groups focused on changing the power of money in elections have set their sights on Kentucky.

McConnell’s stance on the issue of campaign finance has been the target of many throughout the election, as Grimes and other Democrats have hit him on a recording of McConnell discussing money issues at a conservative summit organized by the Koch brothers where he said the passage of a landmark piece of legislation dealing with campaign finance reform was the “worst day of his political life.”

Groups like Every Voice Action Fund have used those comments as a central part of their “Big Money Mitch” campaign launched in August with a focus on educating Kentuckians on the what they see as the problem with McConnell’s views on campaign cash.

Every Voice Action Fund Executive Director David Donnelly told Pure Politics the group is using their big dollar ad campaign to show that McConnell’s stance on campaign cash shows he is more focused on protecting special interests in Washington rather than the people of Kentucky.

The group will be spending seven figures in the state with their first ad buy costing $40,000. Donnelly said the group is comfortable with the irony of a group like his having to spend big money to run a campaign to fight the big money in campaigns.

“You have to fight fire with fire,” Donnelly told Pure Politics. “We are not shy about making our case. Most see Mitch McConnell as standing in the way of meaningful reforms and it is important to beat him.

When asked about how he feels about the groups getting into the race to hit him on his stances on how much money individuals and corporations can contribute to a candidate or PAC, McConnell said they have a right to do so but did not seem worried about their effect on the race.

“It’s a free country, everybody is going to have their fair say in the race, there are all kinds of outside groups getting in on both sides,” McConnell told Pure Politics. “Let a thousand flowers bloom, there are going to be a lot of opinions expressed.”

Campaign finance has been a major focus of McConnell’s over his nearly thirty year career in Washington as he has long been an advocate for changes to the limits on campaign contributions.

McConnell has argued contributing money is political expression protected under the First Amendment. And the senator applauded the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in April to strike down part of the campaign contribution limits where the court ruled the aggregate limits that cap the total amount of money an individual can give to political campaigns, PACs and parties are unconstitutional.

From the Pure Politics article on the ruling in April:

The ruling doesn’t affect limits to individual candidates or party organizations. Donors still have caps on how much they can give to individual candidates for the U.S. House or U.S. Senate — $5,200 for the primary and general election this year — and up to $32,400 to a national party and up to $10,000 for a state party. In light of the ruling, high-powered donors can now give to as many of those groups or candidates as they want without worrying about hitting that aggregate limit of $123,200.

Other campaign finance watchdog groups argued that striking down that aggregate cap opens the door to corruption and is a step toward allowing unlimited campaign contributions to any group or candidate.

McConnell applauded the court’s decision and sought to clarify the language for those on the other side of the issue.

“Let me be clear for all those who would criticize the decision: It does not permit one more dime to be given to an individual candidate or a party — it just respects the Constitutional rights of individuals to decide how many to support,” McConnell said in a statement.

The “Big Money Mitch” ad campaign is not the first time Donnelly’s group has been involved in the race. Every Voice Action Fund also launched a six figure ad buy last year in the state using Godzilla to illustrate their point that bigger isn’t better when it comes to campaign contributions.

Donnelly told Pure Politics they are not hitting Grimes because she supports limits on campaign contributions. The Grimes campaign sent this statement to Pure Politics following the Supreme Court Ruling on aggregate limits:

“Alison Lundergan Grimes is encouraged the Supreme Court has not accepted Mitch McConnell’s radical wish for removal of all contribution limits, which would put politics up for sale even more. Our democracy is too important to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.”

Another group getting involved in the race is taking a different approach to the issue of campaign finance reform as they have introduced a fake candidate into the race to get their point across that amount of money entering races like this one are corrupting the political system.

The group, represent.Us, has been raising money to introduce their satirical candidate “Honest Gil Fulbright” to the voters through ads, merchandise and a bus with the candidates face on it which they take to campaign events.

Represent.Us is using the actor to get people engaged in the issue by using comical ads to illustrating the issue of money in campaigns. The group is also hitting both candidates on where their money is coming from, posting graphs to their website showing that the majority of contributions for both McConnell and Grimes are coming from out of state.

In an August interview with Pure Politics, represent.Us Program Director Joshua Graham Lynn said they are using Fulbright’s candidacy to change the model of campaign finance by raising awareness of the issue of dark money in politics.

See one of the Fulright ads here:

Both of the groups getting involved are also pushing for multiple pieces of legislation focused on reigning in the ways money is used in elections.

About Pure Politics

Pure Politics airs Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. ET and again at 11:30 p.m. ET in all of cn|2's Kentucky markets. The program features political analysis and news, as well as interviews with officials, candidates, policy makers and political observers.

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