Presidential Campaign

Clinton’s campaign finance proposal weak on details

Last Tuesday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton announced her proposal to “restore integrity to American elections.” The three-point plan focused on overturning Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, limiting secret political money and broadening electoral participation. The particulars of the plan are largely drawn from previous recommendations from a host of good government groups. Unfortunately, many important details — such as the level of matching of small donations, what vigorous enforcement of campaign finance laws actually means, and how timely disclosure of political spending would be defined — are absent from the plan.

{mosads}More importantly, the proposal seems to miss an opportunity to clarify for voters what would seem to matter most: how a Clinton presidency would govern. Rather than focus on many policy changes that would be essentially out of the hands of the next president, especially the passage of a constitutional amendment to overturn aspects of Citizens United, it would have been better to hear more about which decisions a Clinton White House would actually make.

First, the proposal laments that we do not know who is behind the secret money that has grown in the last three federal elections. Will the Clinton campaign apply this concern to its array of financial supporters, including the political organizations that do not voluntarily disclose donor names and are working to advance her name? This is a decision that Clinton would seem to have control over right now — and could impose the same rules she recommends for the future — on her campaign today.

Second, the proposal bemoans the access of the “wealthy and well-connected” to government. Will a Clinton presidency forbid those with such a history of access, including lobbyists and campaign contributors, from serving in the administration? Establishing a policy now to award jobs based on other credentials, including knowledge of policy areas and experience in government, would greatly alter the historic practice of rewarding supporters with prime posts in government.

Third, Clinton claims that she will sign an order that requires all government contractors to disclose political spending. But once contracts are awarded, it would seem a little too late turn the lights on. From the first day after the election, during the so-called presidential transition period, an assortment of companies, interest groups and individuals seek to influence the new administration. This period, though, is not regulated by many of the sunshine laws and transparency measures that set in after the inauguration. Will the Clinton transition team adopt an even more aggressive ethical standard and transparency practices, such as President Obama’s team did in 2008?

At the end of the Clinton proposal, we are assured that “[t]his is only one part” of a larger plan. As they do for every candidate in the field, voters need to know much more about the details of how a Clinton White House would operate. This type of information will help voters evaluate what they will be getting when they go to vote in November 2016 and possibly revitalize the democracy.

Brown is an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. He is the author of Lobbying the New President: Interests in Transition (Routledge, 2012) and the just-published Tea Party Divided: The Hidden Diversity of a Maturing Movement (Praeger, 2015).

Tags 2016 Democratic primary 2016 presidential campaign Campaign finance Citizens United Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission donors Hillary Clinton

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