Getting Money Out of Politics by Putting More Money Into Politics?

Addicting Info reports that Hillary Clinton’s campaign finance reform proposal “isn’t bad.”  The long and the short of it is that a federal fund would be created to magnify small donor contributions to politicians.  Let’s say I write a $25 check for Bernie Sanders.  The fund would then kick in some multiple of that and match the donation.  So by my acting to send Sanders $25, he would actually get possibly $50 or $100 in actual spending.

The article also points out that Hillary Clinton is in favor of overturning Citizens United, a longstanding Bernie Sanders plank, and to appoint Supreme Court justices that would overturn it.  To my knowledge, however, unlike Sanders, she has not made it a litmus test of acceptability for potential Supreme Court justices.

The article describes the plan as “not bad,” and this kind of lukewarm term resonates with me as correct.  The plan strikes me as very, well, Clintonian.  Very third way.  It’s the kind of solution for which Bill Clinton was well-known: (a) throw idealism and liberal orthodoxy under the bus, (b) make sure the elites maintain their protection and advantage, and then (c) throw the underclass a few third-way crumbs so that an improvement can be claimed.  Granted, the plan would be something of an improvement in practice, and that should be acknowledged.

I think the premise, however, is fundamentally flawed.  You can’t get the money out of politics by putting more money into politics.  The devil, also, is in the details: who will qualify as a “small donor”?  By how much will the donation be magnified?  What does the proposal do, if anything, actually to curb the big donor influence which is actually the problem here?  If I send Bernie Sanders $25, and it gets magnified to $100, well, guess what.  In a world where Koch brothers exist, $100 is still chump change.  Peanuts.  The Clinton proposal seems not to do anything at all to address the vast structural inequalities between small and big donors.

Bernie Sanders has by contrast come out in favor of a litmus test for Supreme Court justice appointees: he says that the justice must make it their intent on “Day One” to overturn Citizens United.  Sanders is also in favor of public funding of elections, which Hillary Clinton is not.  Public funding of elections would be marvelous, because it would mean that one candidate could not outspend the other candidate into office.  Admittedly, the devil here too is in the details (how do you keep the Neo-Nazi Party from getting an equal share of the money pile, or do you?), but in terms of premise alone, Sanders’s liberal orthodoxy strikes me as far more attractive and plausible a way to really get the money out of politics.

-Robert Gross

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