Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 6, 2016

Reid, McConnell to Testify at Campaign Finance First Amendment Hearing

 (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Next week’s Senate Judiciary hearing on campaign finance and the First Amendment will be getting some extra firepower.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are expected to make a highly unusual appearance, testifying before the Judiciary Committee next week on the issue of political donations and freedom of speech.

The committee announced Saturday that the Nevada Democrat and Kentucky Republican are scheduled to testify on the same panel at Tuesday’s hearing to consider a Constitutional amendment regarding the applicability of the First Amendment’s protections of free speech to campaign spending.

That McConnell would seek to testify should come as no surprise. He’s long been a leading advocate of unmitigated political speech, including money. He once led a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission seeking to nullify the campaign finance overhaul law known as McCain-Feingold.

The most important victory for McConnell’s side of the debate came in the McCutcheon v. FEC decision, in which the Supreme Court stuck down aggregate limits on campaign contributions. Individual contribution limits for individual candidates remain in place, at least for now. The McCutcheon decision followed the January 2010 opinion in Citizens United that removed limits on many independent expenditures.

While McConnell has cheered recent Supreme Court rulings tossing restrictions on political spending, Reid and fellow Democrats have jeered, mounting a new push to amend the Constitution to allow for the sort of campaign finance restrictions that the Supreme Court has invalidated on First Amendment grounds.

“The Court has repeatedly used the First Amendment – not to protect the voices of all Americans, but as an instrument to amplify the voices of billionaires and corporations,” Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement. “Those voices are not the only ones who the Founding Fathers intended the First Amendment to protect. They meant for the First Amendment to protect the voices of all Americans. I look forward to next week’s discussion on this important issue.”

Reid has consistently bashed the efforts wealthy Republicans and conservatives, particularly Charles and David Koch and their affiliated conservative political causes, and there’s no reason to think he will not continue on Tuesday. The hearing is set to take place in a large Hart Office Building hearing room that is particularly friendly to television.

A second panel of witnesses is also on the Judiciary Committee’s agenda, featuring North Carolina State Sen. Floyd B. McKissick Jr., as well as prominent attorney Floyd Abrams and American University law professor Jamie Raskin.

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