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Mitch McConnell: A thug and shakedown artist
Capital Hill Blue
October 16, 2006 (posted November 21, 2006)

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell is a thug who shakes down political contributors and strong arms government agencies into awarding contracts to his donors.

That's the conclusion of an investigation by the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader into the Kentucky Senator's activities.

Reports Editor & Publisher:

A six-month examination of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's career by the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, based on thousands of documents and scores of interviews, "shows the nexus between his actions and his donors' agendas," the paper concludes in a major report today. "He pushes the government to help cigarette makers, Las Vegas casinos, the pharmaceutical industry, credit card lenders, coal mine owners and others.

"Critics, including anti-poverty groups and labor unions, complain that McConnell has come to represent his affluent donors at the expense of Kentucky, the relatively poor state he is supposed to represent. They point, for example, to his support last year for a tough bankruptcy law, backed by New York banks that support him."

The massive report is titled "Price Tap Poltics." It features quotes referring to McConnell's allegedly "thuggish" and "shakedown" practices.

At the same time, the owners of the Lexington paper said they will return funding the newspaper received to pursue a the series of stories that looks at McConnell, a leading Republican, and his political fundraising.

Howard Weaver, vice president for news at McClatchy Co., announced that company that owns the Lexington Herald-Leader would reimburse the Center for Investigative Reporting for a $37,500 grant the newspaper received from the Center for Investigative Reporting, a California-based nonprofit that has financed or conducted groundbreaking work in television and print journalism.

"If we want one of our staff members to do a report for one of our papers, we should pay for it," Weaver said.

The four-part series was published as planned, beginning Sunday. It includes e-mails to and from McConnell's office, memos, and other documents.

In one example, from 1998, it notes that McConnell helped to kill a proposal to curb youth smoking. About four months later, he called lobbyists at R.J. Reynolds Co. and asked for $200,000 in corporate "soft money" that he could pass to Republican senators in elections. In an e-mail exchange, published today, the lobbyists settled on "doing an additional 100,000 to him immediately and then seeing what we have left at end of next week."

McConnell drew national attention for his outspoken opposition to a bipartisan campaign-finance bill that President Bush signed into law in 2002. He was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the measure, which the Supreme Court upheld in December 2003.

In a series of e-mails and phone calls to Herald-Leader editors, McConnell's top aides accused the Center for Investigative Reporting of liberal bias.

Don Stewart, McConnell's communications director, said a search of campaign contributions by members of the center's board of directors and staff members revealed donations only to Democratic candidates or affiliated groups.

The allegations of bias by the Center for Investigative Reporting surprised Dan Noyes, its acting executive director.

"We certainly have been attacked over the years, but I'm not sure I've ever seen somebody attack the story in the media before it has even appeared," he said.

The Herald-Leader story on the refund opened this way:

"Marilyn W. Thompson, then editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, faced a problem last year that is afflicting more and more newspaper editors across the country: She wanted to initiate a major reporting project but lacked sufficient resources to finance it.

"Thompson, who wanted the paper to take a deep look at Mitch McConnell, Kentucky's senior senator, came up with an answer. She would seek support from the Center for Investigative Reporting, a California-based non-profit group that has financed or conducted groundbreaking work in television and print journalism.

"The idea was approved by Thompson's bosses at Knight Ridder, which owned the Herald-Leader. The center approved a $37,500 grant, and reporter John Cheves went to work.

"But this week, with Cheves winding up a six-month examination of McConnell, and the senator's staff raising questions about the unusual grant, the Herald-Leader's new owner, McClatchy Co., came to a different conclusion."

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Original Text