WASHINGTON -- Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will roll out a full plan this week detailing how she would work to stem the influence of big money in politics.
The plan goes far beyond Clinton’s already stated support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. That ruling opened the door to unlimited spending by corporations, unions and -- following a subsequent lower court ruling -- wealthy individuals spending on elections.
Clinton’s embrace of a broad reform platform comes as she faces a challenge from her closest competitor, the socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose campaign is largely predicated on addressing income inequality and the role that money in politics plays to perpetuate it. At the same time, campaign finance reform groups have been publicly pressuring candidates to lay out reform plans beyond support for a difficult-to-attain constitutional amendment.
"We have to end the flood of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political system, and drowning out the voices of too many everyday Americans,” Clinton said in a statement released by her campaign. “Our democracy should be about expanding the franchise, not charging an entrance fee. It starts with overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and continues with structural reform to our campaign finance system so there’s real sunshine and increased participation.”
Clinton’s proposals include a handful of actions she could influence immediately if she won the White House. She promised to issue an executive order requiring all government contractors to disclose their campaign contributions, including to outside groups that currently do not disclose donors. She said she also would advocate for the Securities and Exchange Commission to issue a rule requiring all publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending, including undisclosed outside spending, to their shareholders.
Proposals requiring congressional approval include support for enacting a small donor matching system of public financing for presidential and congressional elections along the lines of legislation sponsored by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and David Price (D-N.C.). Clinton would also press for the passage of disclosure legislation in Congress that would require nonprofits spending money on elections to reveal their donors.
She also reiterated her support for a constitutional amendment to undo the Citizens United decision, and said she would appoint justices who would side with the court’s liberal faction on issues of campaign finance and voting rights.
The proposals were some of the more sought-after policies that campaign finance reform groups have pressed since the court’s 2010 decision.
“With the release of this strong, bold plan, Hillary Clinton recognizes that in order to create government of, by, and for the people — not just the wealthy campaign funders — it’s crucial to amplify the voices of regular Americans,” David Donnelly, president and CEO of the campaign finance reform group Every Voice, said in a statement. “What she’s proposed is both good policy and good politics. That’s why Clinton should actively campaign on this platform and push these solutions to the center of the debate in the days, weeks, and months to come.”
But reform supporters have often been let down by lofty campaign finance reform proposals made by presidential candidates during campaigns. Legislation that changes how politicians run and fund their campaigns is notoriously difficult to pass, and doing everything to win elections or pass legislation often takes precedence over changing the rules of the game.
President Barack Obama famously campaigned to change the way business was done in Washington, but then leaned heavily on the pharmaceutical industry lobby to pass his landmark health care law. He also repeatedly stated his opposition to the role of money in politics, but has been criticized for refusing public funds in his 2008 general election campaign. His decision effectively ended the 30-year run of publicly financed presidential elections.
Obama also promised not to raise money for unlimited money super PACs after Citizens United; he then appeared at an event in 2012 that his campaign claimed was a donor event, but not a fundraiser. The president later raised money for two super PACs supporting House and Senate Democrats ahead of the 2014 elections.
And then there was President Bill Clinton. In 1992, Clinton promised to reform the way parties raised “soft money” -- unlimited party contributions meant to be used for party building activities, but were routinely used for campaigns -- and to sign the legislation his opponent President George H.W. Bush had vetoed to create a congressional public financing system.
"George Bush recently vetoed the 1992 Campaign Finance Reform Bill in order to protect the special interests that support him," Clinton’s campaign manifesto said at the time. "We will … end the unlimited soft-money contributions."
Clinton instead went on to raise large sums of “soft money” to support his 1996 re-election campaign. Reform legislation did not pass until 2002. By that point the presidential candidates of both parties -- Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush -- had voiced support for reform.