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Hillary Clinton Proposes Plan To Restrict Money's Influence In Politics


It's not news for presidential hopefuls to bemoan the money chase. But this year, they're lamenting the fact that millionaires underwrite the super PACs that most of the candidates depend on. Today, Hillary Clinton's campaign rolled out a set of proposals aimed at restricting the money's influence in politics. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Clinton has super PAC support of her own, but she's proposing six changes to the law; among them, public financing to boost the cloud of small donors, less secrecy for big contributions and a constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United. That's the landmark Supreme Court decision that lets corporations and unions get directly involved in election campaigns. Here's Clinton adviser Kristina Schake on a campaign video.


KRISTINA SCHAKE: This unleashed a storm of dark, unaccountable money into American elections, and it really drowned out the voices of ordinary Americans. Hillary is passionate about changing that.

OVERBY: Also on the video Clinton herself pointed out the Supreme Court case was based on corporate funding of a movie attacking her candidacy in 2008.


HILLARY CLINTON: They took aim at me, but they ended up damaging our entire democracy. We can't let them pull that same trick again.

OVERBY: Since that Supreme Court ruling, campaign spending has soared. Outside groups in the 2012 campaign disclosed a billion dollars in spending. Much other spending wasn't subject to disclosure laws. There's a phalanx of advocacy groups mobilized in favor of tightening the rules. One of the main groups is called Every Voice. Its CEO, David Donnelly, says voters have come to a tipping point on this issue.

DAVID DONNELLY: Hillary Clinton has just put forth a proposal that I don't think six months ago or 12 months ago we would've seen either from her or other leading candidates. This is a mainstream position now.

OVERBY: Clinton is hardly the only presidential hopeful who's ready to talk about political money. Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced legislation - not that the Republican-controlled Congress will act on it. Here he is at the Iowa State Fair last month.


BERNIE SANDERS: Our campaign finance system - and let me underline the word. Don't misquote me on this. It is a corrupt system.

OVERBY: And there's a new democratic entry - Harvard professor Larry Lessig speaking yesterday on ABC's "This Week." Lessig said he has a single goal.


LARRY LESSIG: Fix this democracy and make it possible for government to actually do something without fear of what the funders want them to do.

OVERBY: On the Republican side, frontrunner Donald Trump says big money taints his rivals since they have to devote themselves to asking people for money. Senator Lindsey Graham is on record calling for the repeal of Citizens United, and businesswoman Carly Fiorina, speaking last month at Iowa State University, said the system is obviously broken. She said most of the proposed reforms favor Democrats.


CARLY FIORINA: I'm OK with any set of rules as long as it's the same for everybody, it's completely transparent and we understand who's giving money to what.

OVERBY: But there are two questions. First, do voters really care? Lanae Erickson Hatalsky heads the Social Policies and Politics Program at Third Way, a Washington think tank focused on the political center.

LANAE ERICKSON HATALSKY: We've been researching voters in the middle since 2006 and this is the first time that we've seen it be a constant issue that people are bringing up and something that they're really pinning as the source of many of our problems in government.

OVERBY: The second question - can Congress agree on how to fix the system? The last time it did that was in 2002, long before Citizens United, super PACs and undisclosed money. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.
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