Reprinted from Campaign For America's Future
Hillary Clinton's heated defense of the money she has raised from Wall Street and other interests won't cut it. Her protests contradict the basic case that virtually all Democrats and reformers have made for getting big money out of politics. It is vital that voters not be misled by them.
Normally, liberal politicians defend setting up super PACs, and collecting large sums from big donors, because while they pledge to curb the influence of the rich and corporations in our politics if elected, they can't "unilaterally disarm." Clinton repeats this argument, but it has less force against Bernie Sanders who not only has made the corrosive effect of big money contributions central to his campaign, but has demonstrated that it is possible to be competitive without setting up super PACs and without asking billionaires and millionaires for money. By funding his campaign with small donations raised online, Sanders has not only walked his talk, he's stripped away the easy defense of "they all do it."
In response, Clinton has put forth additional, but troublesome, arguments. She dismisses Sanders' indictment of her funding ties as an unjustified attack on her character. She demands evidence of a specific vote or act that was done in return for a contribution. And she invokes the Obama defense: President Obama collected big bucks from Wall Street and yet went on to pass the most extensive banking reforms since the Great Depression.
Not Character, Common Sense
Few Democrats doubt that big money corrupts our politics. This economy does not work for working people because the rules have been rigged to favor the few. They are rigged by politicians and officials who too often are more responsive to their donors than to the voters who put them in office.
This argument is not controversial. Academic research confirms it. Politicians in both parties bemoan the hours they spend each day soliciting rich donors or schmoozing with lobbyists at unceasing fundraisers. Virtually all Democrats argue that we have to curb big money in politics. They're united in calling for overturning Citizens United and the other Supreme Court decisions that have opened the floodgates to unlimited, often secret corporate money in our politics.
When Sanders questions Clinton about her funding from Wall Street, her speeches to big banks and other interests that brought her millions personally, and her array of super PACs, she charges Sanders with making "false character attacks." But the influence of campaign contributions isn't about character, it is about association, gratitude and access.
No Democrat doubts President Obama's character. Yet, he wrote in the "Audacity of Hope" about the "money chase": "As a consequence of my fundraising I became more like the wealthy donors I met, in the very particular sense that I spent more and more of my time above the fray, outside the world of immediate hunger, disappointment, fear, irrationality and frequent hardship of the other 99 percent of the population -- that is the people I'd entered public life to serve."
This isn't about character. The "money chase" forces politicians, including Secretary Clinton, to spend immense time soliciting for deep-pocket donations. Her contributors get access, earn gratitude, and get a hearing for whatever case they want to make. Politicians learn what subjects to avoid, and begin to echo views widely shared among the donor class. Sanders indicts Clinton's fundraising not because he believes she is particularly corrupt, but because he knows she is human.
Not Bribery, World View
In the debates, moderators and Secretary Clinton have repeatedly demanded that Sanders provide an example of a specific quid pro quo: show where she voted or acted in return for a contribution. This would be bribery, and very hard to prove even with subpoena power. Sanders's defenders often point to her flip to vote against the bankruptcy bill after getting thousands in contributions from the banking lobby, as suggested by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Clinton argues that the bill was amended to include things she liked. We're left to draw our own conclusions.
But this is simply not the point. Secretary Clinton, like most Democrats, supports overturning Citizens United. She even says this would be a litmus test for any potential Supreme Court nominee. But Citizens United reaffirms that bribery -- a quid pro quo exchange of a vote for a contribution -- is illegal. What makes Citizens United offensive is that it limits corruption to that very narrow category, and declares money outside of that limit protected speech. It ridiculously ignores the far greater corrupting effects of big money on our politics and our politicians. That is why Democrats and reformers rail against it.
And this isn't simply about secret donations. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the conservative majority, assumes that Congress will pass disclosure laws, and that publication will suffice for the democracy. Reformers, including Clinton, call for overturning Citizens United and related cases not because of secret money, but because they are stripping away any restrictions on big donations by corporations and the rich. All assume that this is offensive to and corrupting of our democracy.
Obama: More Indictment Than Defense
In response to Sanders, Clinton repairs frequently to her Obama Defense:"Make no mistake about it, this is not just an attack on me, it's an attack on President Obama. President Obama had a super PAC when he ran. President Obama took tens of millions of dollars from contributors. And President Obama was not at all influenced when he made the decision to pass and sign Dodd-Frank, the toughest regulations on Wall Street in many a year."