But a little over a decade later, McConnell has another message for businesses: Unless it involves money, they better stay quiet.
“My warning to the U.S. business community is to stay out of politics,” McConnell told a news conference in Kentucky on Tuesday before adding, “I’m not talking about political contributions.”
Similar showdowns appear to be brewing elsewhere, with American Airlines criticizing a Texas bill banning extended voting time and banning transit throughout the state among several other major changes.
McConnell has long supported corporate political participation, but on Tuesday he joined the Republican indictment for attacking companies for commenting on the voting law by distinguishing between donations and company statements.
“Most of them contribute to both sides. They have political action committees. It is fine. It’s legal. It’s appropriate. I support it, “he told reporters. “I’m talking about taking a stand on a very burning issue like this and punishing a society or a state because you do not like a particular law they passed. I just think it’s stupid. ”
In a statement earlier this week, he argued that Georgia’s voting legislation would actually make it easier to access the ballots and issued a warning to companies condemning the changes: If they continue to oppose Republicans and participate in “economic extortion, ”McConnell said, they would be exposed to unspecified consequences.
“From electoral law to environmentalism to radical social agendas to the Second Amendment, parts of the private sector continue to behave like an awakened parallel government,” McConnell said in a statement. “Businesses will have serious consequences if they become a means of left-wing populations hijacking our country outside the constitutional order.”
In the past, McConnell has often spoken quite differently about the role of big business in democracy, as NPR noted in a recent episode of its podcast “Embedded.”
Even while working as a lawyer in Kentucky in the 1970s, a young McConnell argued for more money in politics before a college class he taught.
This belief followed him to Washington, where he continued to argue that spending money on politics is a first right of change. And he practiced it himself: McConnell raised millions of dollars in campaign contributions – and in particular filibustered several bills to regulate the industry.
In the Senate, he fought with John McCain, the GOP senator from Arizona, over the reform of campaign funding. After McCain teamed up with Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) To limit donations of “soft money” through parties and committees, their bill was repeatedly filibustered by McConnell.
When the Senate finally passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in 2002 with an absolute minimum of 60 votes, McConnell sued the Federal Electoral Commission for blocking the legislation. The lawsuit McConnell v. FEC, maintained most parts of the law, but eventually gave way to 2010 Citizens United and decided that he eagerly supported himself.
As some Georgia-based companies now talk about the state’s law on voting, McConnell warned that he was not the only one disturbed by their political statements. Just as companies can put their money behind their policies, loyal members of his party could do the same, he said.
“Republicans also drink Coca-Cola, and we fly, and we like baseball,” he said. “It annoys a hell of a lot of Republican fans.”
Reis Thebault and John Wagner contributed to this report.