Responding to a growing call to get money out of politics—and strong policy stances by her more progressive rivals—Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton announced Tuesday that should she be elected president, she would work to stem the influence of big-monied donors and overturn Citizen's United.
"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."
The full plan, which the candidate will reportedly roll out sometime later this week, calls for "the overturning of 2010’s Citizens United v FEC decision that paved the way for the creation of super PACs; the implementation of a more rigorous political spending disclosure regime; and a new public matching system for small donations to presidential and congressional campaigns," Politico reports.
Progressive advocates of campaign finance reform, who have pushed the candidates to take such positions, welcomed Clinton's announcement. However, more skeptical observers also noted that her history of big-money ties runs the risk of undermining the substance of her rhetoric.
"Clinton is in an awkward position on campaign finance," writes Los Angeles Times reporter Evan Halper. "She is calling for a reversal of the court's decision, vowing to nominate justices who would uphold limits on campaign spending. She has also said she would push for a constitutional amendment if the court will not bend."
"But," Halper adds, "the candidate herself is taking advantage of the openings the court created as well as the laxity of the Federal Election Commission to raise eye-popping amounts of cash."
As Jon Schwarz wrote at the Intercept last month:
Clinton may in her heart “believe” in publicly financed elections. But Lance Armstrong may also truly “believe” in clean, no-doping professional cycling.
And just as Armstrong did what he felt he had to to win, Clinton has declined to participate in the presidential public financing system, because it places limits on how much candidates can spend.
Indeed, in the second quarter of 2015, Clinton's campaign raised nearly $50 million—more than any other Democrat or Republican contender. And Priorities USA Action, the primary Super PAC backing her bid, raised $15.6 million in the first half of 2015.
In comparison, Senator Bernie Sanders, Clinton's top competitor for the Democratic nomination, has from the outset of his campaign refused to accept support from Super PACs. Vox's Jonathan Allen argues that the surprising success of Sanders' campaign has pushed Clinton to take such a strong stance on campaign finance reform.
Clinton's announcement also comes about a week after another Democratic rival, former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley signed a pledge by campaign finance advocacy group Democracy Matters to support publicly financed elections—a promise which Sanders has also signed, but the frontrunner has yet to make. Further, O'Malley has made it one of the 15 goals of his campaign to institute publicly financed congressional campaigns within five years.
In a statement following the announcement, Kurt Walters, campaign manager of the money in politics reform organization Rootstrikers, commended the proposal. However, he noted that the former Sectary of State, known for her strong ties to Wall Street, must follow through by surrounding herself with people who also want to advance an agenda of getting money out of politics.
"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," Walters said. "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."
And David Donnelly, president and CEO of open democracy group Every Voice, said that her plan makes it clear that 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 voters."
Donnelly added, "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."