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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > CEOs Take Surprizing Stand on Campaign Finance Reform

The brazen, bullying Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is at it again.

Only this time he is trying to intimidate a group of big business executives who are urging Congress to enact one important campaign finance reform — banning the unlimited “soft money” contributions to political parties.

In an ocean of election money corruption and deepening public cynicism, a group of corporate executives known as the Committee for Economic Development took a stand against a widening loophole that is being filled by a Niagara of money from corporations. Under existing law, corporations and unions cannot give money directly to candidates for public office, but they are not prohibited from giving money to their political parties.

This is a unique and commendable position by some leaders of major companies, especially since their lobbyists are always on Capitol Hill demanding various sorts of special privileges. These business leaders issued a report on the campaign finance laws in March deploring the corruptive impact on our democracy of the hundreds of millions of dollars pouring into political parties. While the report also recommended increasing the limits on individual contributions to $3,000 from $1,000, its authors did come down hard on “soft money” slush funds.

CED President Charles Kolb said: “We’re tired of being hit up and shaken down. Politics ought to be about something besides hitting up companies for more and more money.”

The Committee’s report also concluded: “The suspicion of corruption deepens public cynicism and diminishes public confidence in Government. More important, these activities raise the likelihood of actual corruption.”

The sleazy campaign fundraising game — as practiced by the major parties — is a marriage between the bribers (the givers) and the extorters (the takers). Sen. McConnell, as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is known in Washington circles as a very aggressive “demand” politician when it comes to shaking the money tree.

Through years of giving big business whatever it wants — be it tax holidays, immunity from lawsuits, corporate welfare handouts, or non-enforcement of the laws designed to rein in business abuses, he provided a mutually beneficial quid pro quo.

So it was not surprising to learn that Senator McConnell was upset. He wrote a threatening letter to 10 business executives suggesting that they resign from the CED to delegitimate the CED’s advocacy of what he called “anti-business” speech controls. When business executives receive a letter like that, they sense a subtext that the author may take it out on them on matters dear to their interests on Capitol Hill.

Nonetheless, three leaders of the reform group replied to the Senator, saying they had no intention of backing down “on an issue they believe threatens the vitality of our participatory democracy.”

Then they added acidly: “We find it ironic that you are such a fervent defender of First Amendment freedoms but seem intent to stifle our efforts to express publicly our concerns about a campaign finance system that many feel is out of control.”

Well, well, well. This is a rare burst of business statesmanship from the private sector and one that intends to keep growing. “What we’ve been doing as a group of business leaders is obviously beginning to have an impact,” declared Edward A. Kangas, chief executive of the giant accounting firm Deloitte and Touche. He told the New York Times that their goal was to have 300 executives endorse their campaign finance proposal by late autumn.

Clearly, there is strength in numbers, and the larger the number, the less likely that the McConnells of the Senate and House of Representatives will seek retaliation.

The Times mentioned what many insiders knew — namely that two billionaires, Warren E. Buffett and Jerome Kohlberg, have been talking up reform for a long time with their colleagues in the informal get-togethers where social becomes political.

Who knows? Maybe the American people will be witnessing the emergence of a dramatic collision between some political extorters and those who played the game of influencing politicians with showers of money and are now partially fed up. Maybe, just maybe, this struggle, if reported in more depth and with greater frequency, will tip the scales in favor of favorable votes on the campaign reform bills heading for a vote this month and next on the Senate and House floors.

For more information on this battle, got to

Related sites: — Committee for Economic Development — Senator Mitch McConnell’s Senate home page.