WASHINGTON -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that President George W. Bush "made a mistake" when he signed campaign finance reform into law in 2002, a moment that he described as "a low point."
During an American Enterprise Institute event, McConnell gave a speech about First Amendment rights and took questions from a handful of people. Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, got one of those questions.
"What went wrong with the Bush administration when it decided to sign McCain-Feingold rather than veto it?" Norquist asked. "You had enough votes in the Senate to sustain a veto, but that didn't happen."
The McCain-Feingold Act, formally known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, revised some of the legal limits on expenditures and barred unregulated contributions -- a.k.a. "soft money" -- to national political parties.
McConnell called it "a great disappointment" that Bush signed the bill into law.
"I was a strong supporter of President Bush, as you know, and I think he made a mistake," he said. "It was kind of a low point for me because we had tried to defeat the bill in the Senate. We were unsuccessful. And it ended up being signed by the president of my own party."
"It was not a happy day," he added.
The Senate minority leader was also asked, by another attendee, for advice on how to convince Americans that corporations are people, too. He largely ducked the question.
"I'd be the first to admit this is not an issue on the minds of most voters," McConnell said. "But it ought to be in the minds of folks like you all who are really interested in the detail of it all."
He did say, though, that the 2008 Citizens United case was "extremely important" because it leveled the playing field for corporations. The landmark Supreme Court ruling held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. The ruling gutted portions of the McCain-Feingold law.
"Corporations, just like individuals -- all corporations, not just those that own the Washington Post or The New York Times -- should be free to express themselves," McConnell said. "Who's afraid here? Let's all have a big conversation about the future of the country. You make your best arguments, I'll make my best arguments. Butt out, government."
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