Since Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell gave a major speech last week on threats to the First Amendment and free speech coming from the Left, liberals have predictably attacked him for the suggestions. Among those targeting Leader McConnell are Fred Wertheimer, former DCCC chair Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Daily Kos, Robert Reich, Ed Schultz and Norm Ornstein. In an interview with Commentary’s Alana Goodman yesterday, Leader McConnell fired back, saying, “They can [attack me] as long as they want to . . . . It actually makes my day.”
Goodman writes, “One popular argument that’s made the rounds–from Norm Ornstein’s columns to Democratic Rep. Van Hollen’s talking points–is that McConnell was in favor of donor disclosure before he was against it. . . . ‘I didn’t say I was in favor of [disclosure in that category]. I said if you’re going to go down that path, you can’t exempt everybody who favors Democrats and only cover those who tend to favor Republicans,’ he told me. ‘That’s a misconstruction, a deliberate attempt to cloud what I was saying.’ McConnell added that it’s not necessarily disclosure that Democrats are seeking, but rules that would infringe on Republican supporters while carving out exceptions for Democratic allies. ‘The so-called DISCLOSE Act conveniently carves out people most likely to be aligned with the left and only leaves covered those most likely to be aligned with the right,’ he said. ‘Leading you to conclude, I think, that they really want to intimidate one side and leave the other side free to speak.’”
In a must-read column today, Washington Examiner executive editor Mark Tapscott makes the same point. He writes, “[T]he U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ‘ruled that Congress may not ban political speech based on the identity of the speaker,’ [McConnell] said. In other words, you cannot be silenced either because of what you say or who you are.
“But there is a growing movement among liberals — found mostly but not exclusively in the Democratic Party — to use government to intimidate and silence speakers based upon their identities. The DISCLOSE Act and related proposals are their preferred tool at the moment. DISCLOSE would require grassroots advocacy groups to make public the names of their donors. Transparency in government is clearly a virtue, particularly of financial contributors to congressional and presidential candidates. But like any other good thing, transparency can be hijacked and turned into a weapon of political oppression.”
Curt Levey, Executive Director of the Committee for Justice, lays out precisely the kind of tactics some on the Left have tried to use to silence conservatives in an op-ed for Fox News: “There is a growing threat to political speech in America,” warned Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell in a speech in Washington, DC last week. “Sadly, a growing number of people on the left … appear to have concluded that they can’t win on the merits. So they’ve resorted to bullying and intimidation instead. McConnell focused on ‘an [Obama] administration that has shown an alarming willingness itself to use the powers of government to silence [conservative] groups.’ I focus here on the other half of the threat, intimidation and harassment by private groups on the left. . . . Most importantly from a constitutional perspective, groups on the left are increasingly enlisting the coercive power of government in their intimidation and harassment campaigns. When they do, they threaten the First Amendment’s guarantee that government shall not abridge the freedom of speech.”
Levy notes “The mentality of lawfare practitioners is illustrated by a Media Matters internal memo suggesting the organization ‘look into contracting with a major law firm to study any available legal actions that can be taken against Fox News … I imagine this would be difficult but the right law firm is bound to find some legal ground.’ . . . Lawfare’s most persistent practitioner is probably Brett Kimberlin, founder of the radical Justice Through Music Project. He has targeted conservative bloggers . . . in part, by filing over 100 harassment claims against them in various courts. . . . In addition to the courts and White House, the left is turning to various agencies in the Obama administration for help in intimidating their opponents. Angered by the American Legislative Exchange Council’s support of “Stand Your Ground” laws, left-wing groups are coordinating a campaign against ALEC, which includes an IRS complaint challenging its tax-exempt status.”
Further, Levy points to “Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), an organization handsomely funded by left-wing billionaire George Soros. . . . CREW is also urging the friendly FCC to revoke 27 broadcast licenses held by News Corp’s FOX Broadcasting Company. CREW cites phone hacking by News Corp in Britain, which didn’t involve FOX Broadcasting. Of course, CREW’s real concern is not ethics abroad, but ideology at home. Not content to harass Fox by using only one branch of government, CREW and its allies also sent a letter to Congressional committees demanding hearings on revocation of the licenses.”
As Goodman writes, “McConnell said it’s these attacks on private American citizens that has driven him to fight against the DISCLOSE Act and similar legislation. ‘They try to be involved in the political process and all of sudden they find themselves being chased by the IRS,’ he said. . . . ‘I mean, normal citizens are not used to this kind of behavior,” McConnell added. “I kind of have grown accustomed to it. . . .’”