Hillary Clinton Just Unveiled a New Plan to Overhaul Campaign Finance Laws

Hillary Clinton Just Unveiled a New Plan to Overhaul Campaign Finance Laws
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Hillary Clinton on Tuesday offered up her most detailed plans yet to remake campaign finance law, a major sticking point among liberal Democrats hungry for a more pointed agenda from the national frontrunner.

The former secretary of state's reform package arrives alongside reform candidate and Harvard professor Larry Lessig, who entered the primary race Sunday for the sole purpose of passing a bill that would mandate public financing for all federal campaigns. Clinton's proposals do not push nearly as far — candidates would have to opt in to its most progressive measure — but the plan represents a meaningful shift in the terms of the debate.

"Our democracy should be about expanding the franchise, not charging an entrance fee," Clinton said in a statement provided by the campaign. "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."

A three-part plan: That increase in "participation" would come in the form of federal matching funds for small donations to presidential and congressional campaigns. But the new program comes with some significant caveats: "Candidates who opt to participate in the program must agree to a substantially lower limit on how much money they can receive from any individual donor," the campaign says in an outline of the pitch. There would also be a cap on those matching funds, in order to "ensure fiscal sustainability."

Under the proposal, both independent groups and campaigns would be required to make more robust disclosures about the sources of their funding. Most notably, Clinton says she will "promote" efforts by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the federal government's beleaguered Wall Street watchdog, to require publicly traded corporations to disclose their political expenditures to shareholders. 

As part of her "sunshine" promise, federal contractors — the private companies paid with taxpayer money to carry out public projects — would be required to "disclose all political spending," by executive order if necessary.

Clinton's plan also repeats familiar calls for the quixotic pursuit of a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and a promise to nominate justices "who value the right to vote over the right of billionaires to buy elections."

Can she sell it? Clinton, who is backed by one of the super PACs made possible by the Citizens United ruling, is also the top traditional fundraiser in the Democratic field. In the second quarter of 2015, the first in which she was a candidate, her campaign pulled in more than $45 million in 81 days, or more than $500,000 every 24 hours. 

Despite her deep ties to big money contributors, Clinton is attempting to cast her lot with the more liberal primary field. In early August, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a Senate bill calling for publicly financed campaigns by declaring the current system "corrupt" and a conduit to "legalized bribery." Martin O'Malley, the former Maryland governor, has promised to deliver similar reforms within five years of being elected. 

The Clinton campaign is tying Tuesday's proposals to a larger set of electoral reforms first rolled out in early June, when she criticized Republicans who had passed or supported increasingly restrictive voting laws, like those requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls. Clinton wants to spike those laws and beef up the rolls by passing a law requiring "every citizen in every state in the union [to] be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18 — unless they actively choose to opt out."