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McConnell: Obama a free-speech ‘bully’

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A year after he warned that President Obama was pursuing a broad government overreach that threatened free speech, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the recent scandal with the IRS shows how far the White House has gone in a "coordinated effort to stifle speech."

And Mr. McConnell declared battle against public labor unions, calling for cutting off some of their money by ending the automatic checkoff that siphons part of union members' wages into unions' treasuries.

In a hefty speech delivered to the American Enterprise Institute, Mr. McConnell tied Mr. Obama's 2010 finger-wagging State of the Union address, when he criticized the Supreme Court for granting corporations political speech rights, to the recent IRS scandals, saying they were all a pattern of trying to intimidate political opponents into silence.

"Now we know what happens when government gets its hands on this kind of information, when it's able to isolate its opponents. And whether you're a pro-Israel group, or a tea party group in Louisville, they can make your life miserable," Mr. McConnell said. "Even worse for democracy, they can force you off the political playing field, which is really what they want, and precisely what we cannot allow."

Mr. McConnell was speaking to the American Enterprise Institute — the same place where, a year ago, he warned that he saw a threat to the First Amendment from Mr. Obama's push to enact new campaign finance rules to clamp down after the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, which said corporations could spend money on political advertising, though they still cannot donate directly to candidates.

The Kentucky Republican said the revelation that the IRS was targeting conservative groups for special scrutiny in their tax-exempt status applications shows an even deeper plot.

"What they really wanted was a hook that enabled them to stir up outrage about conservative groups, so they could get their hands on the names of the folks who supported them — and then go after them. Citizens United provided that hook," he said.

Mr. McConnell said that explained the probing questions from the IRS to conservative groups asking about their volunteers' names, resumes for group officers and political plans of group members.

House Republicans have been investigating the IRS targeting and have been searching for a connection between Washington and the Cincinnati office that did the scrutinizing.

But Mr. McConnell said there's no need to wait "for a hand-signed memo from President Obama to Lois Lerner." Mr. Obama's public comments targeting political opponents such as conservative group Americans for Prosperity made clear to the IRS what it should target, he said.

The speech also amounted to a declaration of battle against public employee unions, who Mr. McConnell said are distorting democracy by siphoning taxpayer money through the "checkoff" provision. That federal rule allows for union dues to be deducted automatically from paychecks, which guarantees unions a source of funds.

Mr. McConnell said in the case of unions for public employees, that means taxpayers are funding activities of unions, which he said has resulted in those unions lobbying for unsustainable public pensions.

"On the federal level, the first thing we should do is stop the automatic transfer of union dues from employee salaries at the taxpayer's expense. If the unions want their dues, it should be incumbent on them, not us, to pay for it," he said.

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