Have Democrats Given Up on Reforming Citizens United?
Lost a bit in the initial round of “what will Hillary Clinton do next” speculation was the fact that Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign talk is about as clear evidence we have that Democrats have accepted, and perhaps even come to love, a post-Citizens United world.
The “Ready for Hillary” super PAC registered with the Federal Election Commission just as Clinton was transitioning out of her role as Secretary of State. The group is chaired by Allida Black, a long-time Clinton Supporter. Black is the founder of the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project at George Washington University and the Roosevelt Institute. According to reports Black has been relatively low-key about the launch, explaining in an email the the Center for Public Integrity that “[o]ur purpose is simple: we are ready to work for Hillary to be president when she is ready to run.”
The presence of independent super PAC’s alone doesn’t mean Clinton is considering running or even that Democrats are in the big money game. But as these groups start to raise money, President Obama announced during the 60 Minutes interview with Clinton that he was working to help his former cabinet member retire her campaign debt. If that debt’s retired Clinton is an even stronger fund-raising force to reckon with. Although technically candidates are prohibited from coordinating with super PACs, this case would be more implicit, which makes it okay under our current campaign finance laws.
Don’t get me wrong. I think the former Secretary of State is just hitting her stride in public leadership and I would love to see her back in public office, but I do not believe a cycle of perpetual campaigning is good for our democracy and public policy. And thanks to Citizens United, we now live in a culture of the never-ending campaign. It’s fatiguing. It distorts loyalties, and it does not lend itself to playing a long-game and coming up with broad policy solutions. I’ll offer the 112th Congress as our most recent, and most perfect example of these conclusions in action.
And at one point President Obama and Democrats showed a potential for actual reform on this issue. Calling out the disastrous decision during the State of the Union address put the issue of dark money and bought-off elections squarely on the table, yet in the end dark money once again beat back meaningful reform.
Then came the 2012 presidential election and Priorities USA Action, a super PAC founded by former White House aides to work toward the president’s re-election.
To their credit when Priorities USA Action was launched the Obama team acknowledged it was a reversal, but one necessitated by the reality of campaign finance law as it stands. If 2012 was the trial balloon of life with the super PAC then 2016 will be the year Democrats move in.
Photo from Titanic Belfast via flickr.