Money talks. Mitch McConnell and corporate America’s First Amendment rights


Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash


“Everyone who thinks at all has noticed that our language is practically useless for describing anything that goes on inside the brain.”
– George Orwell

I thought the Huffington Post offered the most succinct analysis of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s call to corporations to stay out of politics. “Shut up and donate,” said HuffPo’s headline. The strap provided all the other context anyone might need: “Congress’ biggest defender of corporate political speech rights changes his tune.”

Quite. Best to tell it like it is. This is not a complicated story, after all.

Now that Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola are censorious about Georgia Republicans’ new law that would restrict some elements of voting, Mr McConnell and his fellow Republicans are leery of corporate free speech.

In Texas, American Airlines and Dell said they opposed two major bills to restrict voting that are being considered by the legislature. On April 2, more than 200 companies, including Dow, Twitter, HP and Paypal released a joint statement opposing “hundreds of bills threatening to make voting more difficult in dozens of states nationwide.”

Here’s Mr McConnell’s response.

“My warning to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” Mr McConnell said at a press conference on April 6, adding, “I’m not talking about political contributions.” That’s code for “Shut up and donate.”

On April 7, a day later, Mr McConnell said he didn’t speak “artfully” enough and CEOs “are certainly entitled to be involved in politics”. But he still continued to defend the Georgia legislation and advised censorious CEOS to “read the bill.”

The implications are obvious. “Shut up and donate.”

Republicans have lavished tax and regulation breaks on corporate America for decades and companies have loved them right back with generous campaign contributions. But that equation is increasingly under strain.

As with China and the Uighurs, America’s business leaders can’t not take a position on right and wrong in their own country. Like the Chinese Communist Party, America’s Republican Party doesn’t like it.

In their irate response to criticism from big business, Mr McConnell and his fellow Republicans are behaving like goons, yes, but also like the Chinese towards Swedish clothing retailer H&M. Remember what happened after H&M disavowed the use of Xinjiang cotton? While the state looked on approvingly, Baidu (the Chinese equivalent of Google) removed H&M stores from its maps and the retailer’s products disappeared from Chinese e-commerce platforms.

Just 11 years ago, Mr McConnell had challenged prohibitions on campaign expenditure by corporations. And he hailed the Supreme Courts’ Citizens United decision, which asserted that corporations had similar free speech rights to individuals. At the time, Mr McConnell had been all in favour of corporate America’s “First Amendment rights,” to quote his statement from January 21, 2010.

Now, not so much.

According to reporters who attended one of his press conferences this week, Mr McConnell indicated that corporate America would do best to express itself by donating to political campaigns rather than taking explicit political positions.

Money talks.

And some might say Mr McConnell is fluent in the language of hypocrisy.