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September 10, 2013

Take Me to Your Leader

Facts, Rumors and Political Innuendo

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next month in the case of McCutcheon vs. FEC, which some say could be the next Citizens United decision, opening the spigot for even more campaign money flooding federal elections.

And much like previous campaign finance cases before the court, Sen. Mitch McConnell will once again play a prominent role. Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court granted McConnell’s request to give an oral argument to the court via his lawyer during the hearing on Oct. 8.

McCutcheon — a wealthy Alabama donor, joined by the National Republican Committee and McConnell — argues that the aggregate contribution limits from individuals to federal candidates, party committees and PACs is an unconstitutional limit on free speech. Currently, individuals are limited to giving $123,200 over each two-year federal election cycle, an amount four times the median income in Kentucky. However, the plaintiffs want to allow individuals to be able to conceivably write a check for more than $1 million to a party committee, which could then be distributed to hundreds of candidates and committees.

But McConnell’s brief submitted to the court goes one step further, arguing that there should be no limits whatsoever to what an individual can directly give a federal candidate or committee, once again backing one of his main convictions throughout his Senate career, that money equals speech.

David Donnelly — executive director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to improving campaign finance laws — tells LEO that a win for the plaintiffs would give wealthy individuals even more undue influence on policy makers, shut regular people out of the political process, and ultimately open the gates for more corruption.

“We’re talking about a handful of people in the country that this affects, in terms of their ability to give more, but it impacts the rest of us in our ability to get drowned out by all of that money,” says Donnelly.

Donnelly is also wary that the Supreme Court could opt to side with McConnell’s more radical view of ending all individual limits — just as the court unexpectedly overreached in the Citizens United decision to allow unlimited corporate contributions for independent campaign expenditures — a fear shared by Congressman John Yarmuth.

“Given the Citizens United decision, I’m very fearful that individual limits won’t survive this court,” says Yarmuth. “The logic of Citizens United is that there are no limits that are valid, whether they are to a candidate or independent expenditure.”

Donnelly – who says McConnell is “planting a giant ‘For Sale’ sign on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol – is hopeful that the court won’t side with the plaintiffs, but says that the voters of Kentucky can take a “corrective measure” on McConnell for such an attempt.

“One way to do that is to hold McConnell accountable for these radical positions he’s espousing in Washington but not willing to talk about in Kentucky,” Donnelly says.

McConnell’s Senate office did not return LEO’s request for comment on McCutcheon, and we wouldn’t expect the senator to tout this on the campaign trail, either.

***

State Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, shocked the local and state political world by abruptly announcing she would not seek another term and instead run for a lowly Metro Council seat in the 19th district next year, which is being vacated by Councilman Jerry Miller as he runs for state House.

Asked why she was seeking what many would characterize as a less powerful position, Denton answered, “I don’t consider it a demotion. To me, it’s a great opportunity to have a much more focused impact on the people in my area.”

Local Republican insiders speculated other possible motives to LEO for Denton’s move, ranging from dissatisfaction with the Senate after her failed challenge against David Williams for his Senate president position, to the increase in salary and pension benefits she’ll receive with the move.

Asked what her difference in salary would be, Denton said that senators with her stature make anywhere from high $30,000s to high $40,000s — similar to the roughly $44,000 salary for Metro Council members — saying “that’s pretty much a wash.”

Legislative Research Commission records show that Denton received $15,609, $22,168 and $14,187 for her state senator duties in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively.

On Tuesday, Rep. Julie Raque Adams announced her intention to run for Denton’s vacant seat, for which she’ll be the strong frontrunner. Though former councilman and almost-mayor Hal Heiner lives in the same district, all indications are that Heiner is firmly focused on a bigger prize: the 2015 GOP nomination for governor.

***

Metro Council president Jim King announced at the Louisville Arena Authority board meeting on Monday that he would propose a Council ordinance this week to decrease the size of the Yum! Center TIF district from six square miles to two. Sales tax increases from the district are supposed to fund most of the debt payments from the construction of the downtown arena, but they have woefully underperformed so far.

King says a study commissioned by the state shows that lagging revenue from the 2-6-mile radius is dragging down total returns, with the new boundaries expected to increase TIF revenue by approximately $1 million.

However, the TIF district will need much more than that additional amount to meet projected TIF revenue. King hopes the yearly TIF revenue figures released this month will be $5 million, just over half the original 2008 projection for the year. The projection of more than $20 million in TIF revenue for 2018 shows that this figure would have to quadruple in just five years.

All of which brings to mind this quote from Arena Authority mastermind Jim Host to LEO’s Sarah Kelley in 2008 when she questioned the TIF district’s abnormally large size: “All we did was take the existing legislation and use it to the maximum. Why wouldn’t we?”

It turns out he was wrong about a host of things.

***

Sen. Mitch McConnell visited Northern Kentucky University last Friday to deliver a lecture on the career of the man he helped force into retirement in 2009: former U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning.

Many expected Bunning — who first told LEO last month that he is undecided on who he’ll support in McConnell’s GOP Senate primary next year — to forgive, forget and endorse McConnell at the gathering when the lecture was first announced. Before McConnell spoke, former Bunning staffer Rick Robinson told LEO that if this happened, “Hell would freeze over.”

McConnell gave effusive praise to Bunning’s willingness to stand by his principles, repeatedly noting that Bunning’s trademark was “standing alone” against angry opponents, whether on the mound as pitcher or as a senator — adding his penchant for “throwing chin music.” McConnell said that Bunning “inspired loyalty” among his colleagues and was “a Hall of Famer in life,” as well as baseball.

After the speech, Bunning sarcastically muttered, “Kind of flowery, wasn’t it?” while passing reporters. He later declined to take questions, saying, “I don’t have to talk to the press anymore. It’s so nice, you can’t believe it.”

There was no endorsement, hell didn’t freeze over, and Bunning continues to stand alone.

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