(CNN) – Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell bluntly warned Republican senators in a private meeting not to sign a bill from Sen. Josh Hawley to limit money funding for big-power outside groups companies, telling them that many of them won their seats thanks to the powerful super PAC that the Kentucky Republican has long controlled.
According to several sources familiar with Tuesday’s lunch, McConnell warned Republican senators that they could face “arrivals” from the “center-right” if they signed Hawley’s bill. He also read a list of senators who won their elections with significant financial support from the Senate Leadership Fund, an outside group linked to the GOP leader that spends heavily on television ads in battleground Senate races . On that list of senators: Hawley himself, according to sources familiar with the matter.
McConnell has long been a leading 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 at the top of their conference. On Tuesday, Hawley told CNN that it was a “mistake” for McConnell to “stand with” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, in his push to bind the aid to Ukraine for an Israeli financing program.
Hawley’s new bill, called the Ending Corporate Influence on Elections Act, aims to overturn the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that loosened campaign finance laws — an effort that aligns the conservative Republican with Missouri with many Democrats. Hawley’s bill would prohibit publicly traded companies from making independent expenditures and political ads — and would prohibit those publicly traded companies from donating money to super PACs.
In an interview, Hawley defended his bill and said corporate influence should be limited in elections.
“I think it’s wrong,” Hawley told CNN. “I think it was a mistake to begin with. I think it distorts our politics and I see no reason for conservatives to defend it. This is an error in view of the original meaning of the Constitution. This is bad for our elections. This is bad for our voters. And I just think, as a matter of principle, we should be concerned.
According to a list of senators obtained by CNN, McConnell singled out a number of lawmakers who have benefited from his outside group over the past 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 the McConnell group.
McConnell’s office declined to comment.