WASHINGTON -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) support for looser campaign finance laws is coming under fire in a large advertising campaign in his home state as he prepares to argue in the Supreme Court to eliminate all limits on campaign contributions.
Public Campaign Action Fund, a campaign finance reform advocacy group, and USAction, a progressive grassroots advocacy group, are purchasing air time in three Kentucky media markets beginning Friday and running through Oct. 13. The ads aim to challenge McConnell to explain his opposition to campaign finance restrictions.
"The ad is intended to get a response out of McConnell about why he thinks unlimited campaign contributions are the way to go," said Public Campaign Action Fund executive director David Donnelly.
McConnell's lawyer has been allowed time to argue before the Supreme Court for the elimination of campaign contribution limits on Oct. 8 in the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission case.
The McCutcheon case challenges the aggregate limit on contributions by an individual donor. For the 2014 election, an individual donor may give $123,200 in total to candidates, parties and political action committees -- a limit the McCutcheon case threatens to overturn.
McConnell's argument before the Supreme Court will challenge the court's longtime distinction between campaign contributions and campaign spending. The court ruled in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo case that campaign spending restrictions violate First Amendment free speech rights. But the court found that limits on campaign contributions are constitutional. Contribution limits have been upheld in every major campaign finance case since.
Donnelly said campaign finance reform groups may have failed to adequately stir public interest before the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited campaign contributions. He said McConnell's role in the McCutcheon case is a chance to bring attention to the issue.
"We need to sound the alarm earlier, and engaging in a debate with Sen. McConnell is probably the best way to raise the stakes on this," Donnelly said.
The ads are not designed to take sides in McConnell's reelection. McConnell faces a GOP primary challenge from Matt Bevin. Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is the leading Democratic candidate in the general election.
Still, Donnelly said McConnell's campaign finance views are likely to become a campaign issue.
"I can't imagine how it won't be," Donnelly said. "Arguing before the high court that we should have no campaign limits whatsoever. Someone predicted the race will be $100 million. What will it be with no limits? It's just outrageous."