Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined the Super PAC circus last week when she met with top donors to Priorities USA to help raise huge contributions for the individual-candidate Super PAC supporting her presidential campaign.
In doing so, she joined Jeb Bush and the other presidential candidates who are raising unlimited contributions for the Super PACs they plan to operate as soft money arms of their campaigns.
Individual-candidate Super PACs exist to allow candidates and their donors to circumvent the candidate contribution limits enacted to prevent corruption. They are the most dangerous entities in our political system today.
In announcing her campaign for president last month, Clinton stated that fixing the campaign finance system would be one of the four pillars of her campaign.
We have been on this train before with past presidential candidates. It never reached the station, never even came close.
In 1992, presidential candidate Bill Clinton said that if he was elected President, campaign finance reform would be one of his top priorities. It never happened.
Congressional leaders passed campaign finance reform bills in the House and Senate in 1993. A new law could have been enacted in 1994 if President Clinton had lifted a finger to help. He never did.
In 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama said he was "firmly committed to reforming the [presidential public financing] system as president, so that it's viable in today's campaign climate."
He never pursued the reform.
Obama's "firm commitment" to reform presidential public financing came in 2008 at the same time he was abandoning a commitment to use the public financing system for his general election campaign. When he walked away, Obama became the first president since President Nixon to run a general election campaign financed wholly with private money.
Hillary Clinton's recent commitment to campaign finance reform came about the same time that serious questions were being raised about foreign contributions to, and potential conflicts of interest with, the Clinton Foundation.
If Clinton wants her reform commitment to be taken seriously as a top priority, she will have to do much more to convince citizens that it will actually become a top priority if she is elected. Candidate Clinton needs to spell out the specific campaign finance reforms she will advocate and the specific steps she will take to make reform a "pillar" of a Clinton administration.
In addition to her support for a constitutional amendment, there are essential legislative reforms that can be accomplished without constitutional change and that will test Clinton's commitment to "fixing" the system.
The legislative reforms include new laws to:
• Create a small donor, public matching funds system for presidential and congressional races;
• Close the "secret money" loopholes for outside groups making expenditures in federal elections;
• Shut down individual-candidate Super PACs and strengthen the rules prohibiting coordination between candidates and outside spenders; and
• Establish a real enforcement system to replace the dysfunctional FEC.
For example, regarding the Super PAC driven presidential system, a New York Times editorial (May 8, 2015) stated, "Mrs. Clinton should endorse the Empower Act, a proposal in Congress that would repair and update the presidential public financing system that served the nation well for a generation after the corruption of Watergate"
And a Los Angeles Times editorial (May 10, 2015) stated, "[T]he only realistic way to rein in super PACs is for Congress to act. A bill sponsored by Reps. David Price (D-N.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) would put teeth into the ban on coordination, and effectively shut down "alter ego" PACs."
Equally important, candidate Clinton needs to make clear the steps she will take to make enactment of her reform agenda a top priority if elected.
Candidate Clinton needs to:
• Spell out the campaign finance reform agenda she will send to Congress and that she will publicly advocate to enact in her first year in office;
• Commit to promote her reform agenda as a national priority in her inauguration speech; her first State of the Union address and in speeches and events around the country;
• Commit to convene leaders and activists from all sectors of our society in an early White House conference to build national support for her reform agenda; and
• Commit to create a White House task force that includes high level White House staff to manage and coordinate a national effort to enact her reform agenda.
The bottom line: to have a realistic chance that enacting campaign finance reform will be a top priority in a Clinton Administration, her commitment to achieving this result must be seriously tested during the presidential campaign.
Since 1992, two Presidents have made commitments during their campaigns to make campaign finance reform a priority. Once elected, both Presidents Clinton and Obama abandoned their commitments.
With our political system in shambles and our campaign finance system a playpen for millionaires and billionaires, the nation cannot afford to have history repeat itself for a third time.
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