WASHINGTON, D.C. - In her first day of campaigning in Iowa as a official candidate, Hillary Clinton made some news by saying her campaign would be about four “big fights.” The first three were predictable and broad: building “the economy of tomorrow, not yesterday,” strengthening “families and communities, because that’s where it all starts,” and protecting the country from “threats that we see and the ones that are on the horizon." Fine bromides, all.
The fourth big fight was kind of a curveball for Hillary watchers. She said, “We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment.”
Campaign reformers, who are some of the loneliest people in Washington, hope these words live to haunt her.
Clinton has never been known as a campaign finance reformer or a transparency crusader. It has never been a big issue for her. She did vote for the reform bill known as McCain–Feingold when she was in the Senate, but there aren’t many other footprints.
We don’t know yet whether this was a throwaway line or a serious project. One would think it’s serious; otherwise it wouldn’t be worth the flack she is now taking for it on the hypocrisy front.
Clinton is in the political fundraising Hall of Fame and part of one of the great dynasties of political capital. Some have speculated that the total Hillary 2016 campaign could cost $2.5 billion, almost $20 per voter.
Hillary Clinton complaining about “unaccountable money” in politics is rare combination of the pot calling the kettle black and Captain Renault’s declaration in “Casablanca” that, “I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”
The Washington Post did later ask Clinton about campaign reform and she said, “We do have a plan. We have a plan for my plan.”
Still, she did mention a constitutional amendment and that is kind of a specific, though improbable option.
Clinton is correct, however, that any substantial reform of the way elections are financed would require a constitutional amendment – or possibly a new Supreme Court. In numerous rulings over many years, the Supreme Court has deregulated campaign finance. The court has clearly stated that virtually all limits on campaign donations and political spending are constitutionally impermissible limits of free speech – and very important free speech at that, political speech.
Simple legislation passed by Congress or by states is not enough to overrule what is now precedent, thus the need for a constitutional amendment. Sixteen states and many towns have passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment. And last year the Senate even voted on an amendment sponsored by Tom Udall, the Democrat from New Mexico, though it didn’t get through.
Republicans overtly hate the idea, especially Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who is a master anti-reformer. Most Democrats still give lip service to reform-y ideas but you’d need an MRI to know what they really think.
It’s hard to imagine that Clinton would bring up an issue that was bound to be so fraught for her if she isn’t serious. But it’s hard to imagine that she is serious about it, too. We’ll have to see what the plan for the plan is.
Want to keep up with all the latest DecodeDC stories and podcasts? Sign up for our weekly newsletter at decodedc.com/newsletter. And make sure to subscribe to the show on iTunes at itunes.com/decodedc.