This makes a lot of sense. Even while having to play by the rules as currently defined, Hillary Clinton should be running hard on campaign finance. Her stated positions on it are very solid, even if she has also had to raise a lot of money from corporate donors, perhaps making her reticent to focus on this issue. But it’s a good way to reach out to a lot of voters, including Sanders supporters.
Another, more successful approach—one that Clinton has largely ignored—would be for her to actually campaign on the political money reform platform that she rolled out in September. Clinton won kudos from watchdogs when she pledged to reverse the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling, pull back the curtain on secret money in elections, and match low-dollar campaign contributions with public funds.
Clinton’s reform platform is similar to that of Bernie Sanders, but she’s done little to talk it up. When the campaign reform group Every Voice held focus groups in Cleveland earlier this year, says the group’s president David Donnelly, voters given Clinton’s political money platform without hearing who authored it invariably identified it as a Sanders plan. Moreover, Donnelly notes, once participants learned the plan was Clinton’s, they were more inclined to back her.
“She has a tremendous opportunity to seize this issue and inoculate herself against some of the worst criticisms that have been leveled against her,” says Donnelly. Progressive organizers have set out to convince Clinton to champion campaign reform more aggressively. Trump has handed Clinton an opening, by embracing the GOP donor class on the heels of his boasts that self-funding kept him above the fray. And even Sanders, for all his attacks on Wall Street—and on Clinton, for her financial sector ties—has spent little time on the stump talking about actual campaign-finance solutions.
“She’s going to have to do some sort of pivot that turns to the general election, that turns to differentiating herself from Donald Trump, and that attracts the supporters of her primary opponent,” argues Donnelly. “I think this issue hits all three. And she doesn’t have to change her position to talk about this. She just needs to talk about it.”
Clinton may be understandably gun shy. She remains under fire for the $11 million she pulled in for paid speeches to banks and other industries, and for failing to release the transcripts. Reports continue to surface—investigated, no doubt, with the help of the dozen or so conservative opposition research groups, media outlets, and political shops toiling to dig up dirt on her—of the millions raised by the Clinton Foundation from donors with ties to foreign governments. Scandals rightly or wrongly associated with the Clintons have fueled a parade of books, movies, congressional hearings, and investigations, and there are doubtless more to come.
Still, Clinton has yet to give a serious speech spelling out why, while she has mastered the campaign-finance system, the rules need to change. She could be writing op-eds, highlighting state and local campaign-finance reforms, and speaking about these issues directly to angry voters. At a minimum, she could tap a surrogate, such as House Democrat and reform champion John Sarbanes, of Maryland, to rally voter support on her behalf, says Donnelly.
Hopefully, she turns to this in the pivot to defeating the fascist.