Reforms wait as Democrat’s allies target GOP with super PACs, ‘dark money’
Hillary Clinton fashions herself as the ultimate general in a war against big-money politics.
“You’re not going to find anybody more committed to aggressive campaign finance reform than me,” Clinton said following the New Hampshire primary.
But the Democratic presidential front-runner stands poised to bludgeon her general election opponent with Republicans’ favorite political superweapon: the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which earlier this decade launched a new era of unbridled fundraising.
Clinton’s massive campaign machine is built of the very stuff — super PACs, secret cash, unlimited contributions — she says she’ll attack upon winning the White House.
Indeed, a Center for Public Integrity investigation reveals that Clinton’s own election efforts are largely immune from her reformist platform. While Clinton rails against “unaccountable money” that is “corrupting our political system,” corporations, unions and nonprofits bankrolled by unknown donors have already poured millions of dollars into a network of Clinton-boosting political organizations. That’s on top of the tens of millions an elite club of Democratic megadonors, including billionaires George Soros and Haim Saban, have contributed.
Far from denouncing their support, Clinton has embraced it, personally wooing potential super PAC donors and dispatching former President Bill Clinton and campaign manager John Podesta on similar missions.
Several of the big-money groups crucial to the Clinton-for-president effort are led or advised by one man, Clinton scourge-turned-disciple David Brock, who’s also seized control of — and defanged, former staffers say — a prominent, nonpartisan watchdog group that helped lay groundwork for what’s become the Clinton email server scandal. Each of the groups plays a specific role, from advertising to opposition research, in bolstering the Hillary for America campaign committee Clinton herself leads.
Clinton’s campaign argues it “cannot afford to unilaterally disarm” and quit the big-money game. That, they say, is because powerful conservative interests, most notably the secretive outfits backed by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, plan to support the Republican presidential nominee with hundreds of millions of dollars. Republican front-runner Donald Trump, himself a billionaire, is burning his own wealth as campaign fuel.
“When she is elected president, Hillary Clinton will make it a priority to restore a government of, by and for the people,” spokesman Josh Schwerin told the Center for Public Integrity.
Not satisfactory, say some prominent liberals, whose reactions range from underwhelmed to apoplectic.
They cite Bernie Sanders as proof a Democratic presidential candidate can contend in elections mostly on the strength of small-dollar donations — and without cultivating support from super PACs and billionaires.
Clinton’s supposedly reform-minded campaign, they continue, has instead tolerated, if not encouraged, a Democratic operation akin to what the Koch brothers have wrought.
“It’d be like tobacco companies coming out and saying they wanted to fight against lung cancer,” said Dylan Ratigan, the former MSNBC television host and author of New York Times bestseller Greedy Bastards, who hasn’t yet endorsed a presidential candidate. “In a way, the Koch brothers have more credibility than Clinton on election money issues — they’re at least upfront about how they want to use money to buy politics.”
A Center for Public Integrity/Ipsos poll conducted in late February indicates many potential general election voters are likewise concerned about how serious Clinton is about remaking the nation’s
campaign system —a monumental challenge under any circumstance, but a goal supported by the vast majority of Americans.
Half of all poll respondents overall — and nearly four in 10 self-identified Democrats — said Clinton is relying on super PACs and big money too much. That compares to 18 percent overall who said Clinton is relying on them the “right amount” and 5 percent who said “too little.”
And when asked, “If elected president, which of the following would do the most to reform the campaign finance system and make it less reliant on big money?” Clinton trailed both Sanders and Trump among respondents.