As anti-establishment presidential candidates enjoy surprising strength in both parties, Hillary Clinton rolled out a campaign finance reform plan Tuesday that aims to bolster the influence of small donors against larger ones.
Clinton has spoken out against the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which dramatically loosened campaign finance laws, since the first days of her presidential campaign. But the new announcement fleshes out what Clinton would do as president.
It comes as Clinton has faced a tougher-than-expected challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders, who promises to lead a revolution against Wall Street and billionaires' influence over the political system. And even among Republicans, who have traditionally been more hostile to campaign finance reform, Donald Trump has gained traction by campaigning against the influence of money in politics.
The centerpiece of Clinton’s new plan is a program to provide small-donor matching funds to presidential and congressional candidates. The aim is to bolster the importance of low-dollar donations. For candidates to receive the matching funds, they would have to agree to lower limits on how much individual donors can contribute.
The program would be available to candidates who meet a contribution threshold and includes a cap on the matching funds. It’s similar to a proposal from Democratic Reps. John Sarbanes, Chris Van Hollen, and David Price.
“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. "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.”
As Clinton has said before, her plan notes she would only appoint Supreme Court justices who would support overturning Citizens United. And Clinton reiterated her support for constitutional amendment to overturn the court’s decision, something that would be a longshot at best.
Clinton would also enforce transparency on so-called dark money groups that engage in significant political spending, which are currently exempt from disclosing their donors.
And she’d push the Securities and Exchange Commission to make publically traded companies disclose their political spending to shareholders. Clinton would also require all federal contractors to disclose political spending.
The proposal received a warm welcome from campaign finance reform advocates. “What she has 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,” said David Donnelly, the president of the advocacy group Every Voice.
A video produced by the campaign notes that the Citizens United decision came about because the conservative non-profit with the name sued to air a documentary attacking Clinton. The message: Even though Clinton has support from large donor, she’s personally invested in fixing the current system.
But advocates have also long favored more radical plans, like public financing for elections, and some said Clinton’s plan does not go far enough. And Clinton has faced questions about two Democratic super PACs supporting her candidacy, one of which has a so-called “dark money” group subsidiary. But like other Democrats, Clinton has said she cannot unilaterally disarm until the system is changed and concluded the benefits outweigh the risks.
“While it’s encouraging to see Sec. Clinton start to lay out concrete proposals for money in politics reform, it’s important to keep in mind what she wrote last week: personnel is policy. Sec. Clinton can show she is truly serious about this vital issue – during the campaign and beyond – by putting personnel in place with a track record of advancing reform and standing up to big corporations trying to keep their chokehold over the system,” said Kurt Walters of the group Rootstrikers.
Fred Wertheimer, one of the leading campaign finance reform advocates, praised the plan and said he looked forward to seeing more. “We intend to press Hillary Clinton to spell out in detail what steps she would take, if elected, to promote her reform agenda in order to enact the reforms,” he said.
“In the end, the ultimate test on campaign finance issues for any officeholder is the specific steps they are prepared to take to promote the reforms they support in order to fix our corrupt campaign finance system.”