(CNN) - Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell bluntly warned Republican senators in a private meeting not to sign on to a bill from Sen. Josh Hawley aimed at limiting corporate money bankrolling high-powered outside groups, telling them that many of them won their seats thanks to the powerful super PAC the Kentucky Republican has long controlled.
According to multiple sources familiar with the Tuesday lunch meeting, McConnell warned GOP senators that they could face “incoming” from the “center-right” if they signed onto Hawley’s bill. He also read off a list of senators who won their races amid heavy financial support from the Senate Leadership Fund, an outside group tied to the GOP leader that spends big on TV ads in battleground Senate races. On that list of senators: Hawley himself, according to sources familiar with the matter.
McConnell has long been a chief opponent of tighter campaign finance restrictions. But there’s also no love lost between McConnell and Hawley, who has long criticized the GOP leader and has repeatedly called for new leadership atop their conference. Just on Tuesday, Hawley told CNN that it was “mistake” for McConnell to be “standing with” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, in their push to tie Ukraine aid to an Israel funding package.
Hawley’s new bill, called the Ending Corporate Influence on Elections Act, is aimed at reversing the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that loosened campaign finance laws – an effort that aligns the conservative Missouri Republican with many Democrats. Hawley’s bill would ban publicly traded corporations from making independent expenditures and political advertisements – and ban those publicly traded companies from giving money to super PACs.
In an interview, Hawley defended his bill and said that corporate influence should be limited in elections.
“I think that’s wrong,” Hawley told CNN. “I think it’s wrong as an original matter. I think it’s warping our politics, and I see no reason for conservatives to defend it. It’s wrong as a matter of the original meaning of the Constitution. It is bad for our elections. It’s bad for our voters. And I just think on principle, we ought to be concerned.”
According to a list of senators obtained by CNN, McConnell singled out a number of lawmakers who benefited from his outside group over the last three cycles: Mike Braun of Indiana, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Susan Collins of Maine, Steve Daines of Montana, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Katie Britt of Alabama, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Eric Schmitt of Missouri, Ted Budd of North Carolina, JD Vance of Ohio and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
In 2018, Hawley benefited from more than $20 million from McConnell’s group.
McConnell’s office declined to comment.
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