Hillary Clinton has a donor problem.
Even before recent allegations of her shady dealings with Clinton Foundation donors while she was secretary of State, she already suffered from a trust deficit. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll in April 2015, only 25 percent of respondents said that Clinton was “honest and straightforward.”
Now it will be even harder for candidate Clinton to shed the appearance of corruption and rebuild public trust. She faces a Mount Everest climb in a presidential election estimated to cost $5 billion – almost double the total amount spent in the 2012 election. That's because her success hinges on her ability to pander to the uber-wealthy, lobbyists, and special interests.
Hillary Clinton holds her hand to her face in a Situation Room photo. (Image Source: AP Photo/Politico)
This big money system is the root of the problem. It affects nearly all candidates for public office, not just Clinton.
But we can fix it.
What are “campaign contributors” buying when they “donate” to a political campaign? Clinton's tenure as secretary of State illustrates how big donations can shape policy. According to an investigative report from the International Business Times:
Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar all donated to the Clinton Foundation and also gained State Department clearance to buy caches of American-made weapons even as the department singled them out for a range of alleged ills, from corruption to restrictions on civil liberties to violent crackdowns against political opponents.
This isn't really new for the Clintons.
In the late 1990s, President Bill Clinton’s own Justice Department uncovered evidence that Democrats had received substantial improper foreign donations, including some apparently coordinated by the Chinese Embassy. Even President Clinton’s handpicked FBI Director sought a special counsel to investigate Clinton campaign fundraising.
Why should we care?
[sharequote align="center"]In politics, big money buys access and influence.[/sharequote]
In politics, big money buys access and influence. When our elected officials feed at the hand of special interests and big donors, it corrupts our democracy.
Of course, Republicans aren’t immune to campaign finance shenanigans.
Jeb Bush has been accused of postponing his formal declaration of presidential candidacy just so he can raise unlimited amounts of money for his super PAC and skirt rules that limit campaign contributions to $2,700 per person. He’s raised over $100 million in just three months with $100,000-a-plate fundraisers.
At the core of the problem are two Supreme Court cases.
First, in the 1976 Buckley ruling, the Supreme Court declared that political dollars count as "speech" under the First Amendment. Then in 2010, the Court's Citizens United decision held that corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts of money in federal elections.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) describes Citizens United as “[t]he worst decision the Supreme Court made.” As McCain correctly predicted, Citizens United “will sooner or later . . . lead to enough corruption that we will have a reform.”
The ruling has crippled the public's ability to control the influence of money in our politics and contain Clintonian-style corruption. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) agrees, predicting that “[e]ventually we're gonna destroy American politics with so much money in the political process cause they're going to turn you off to wanting to vote.”
McCain and Graham aren’t alone.
Over 100 Republican officials have gone on record criticizing Citizens United, and over 70 percent of grassroots Republicans support limits on campaign contributions and spending.
We need to restore the original meaning of the Constitution with a 28th Amendment that would tell the Supreme Court to stop interfering with common-sense reforms to limit the amount of money in politics. The 28th Amendment will give every citizen an equal voice in our democracy, end crony capitalism, and free our politicians from the need to kowtow to special interests and high rollers.
The Founders of our great nation bequeathed us what the great Benjamin Franklin described as “a Republic – if you can keep it.” The vast majority of the American public agrees that we need fundamental reform. Now it’s time for action: “We the People” need to take back our Republic – before it’s too late.
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