EDITORIAL | September 12, 2015
When the Republican presidential candidates debate this week, it would help if voters could hear them offer detailed proposals for dealing with the 800-pound fat cat in the room — superrich donors who are making enormous, often untraceable contributions that undoubtedly tie candidates to special-interest agendas.
The money flood, invited by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, is floating candidacies in both parties, with politicians ceaselessly begging for millions from the most affluent Americans. Two candidates are notably absent from the race for excess money — Donald Trump on the Republican slate, and Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont whose criticism of the super PAC political culture has won him supporters.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is accepting super PAC money to survive, she says, even as she vows to rein in entities that can take in unlimited contributions. Cynics are laughing, but the proposals she outlined last week are excellent.
They range from a government-matching system to bolster the power of small-dollar donors to support for a Securities and Exchange Commission rule that would require publicly traded companies to disclose political spending to shareholders. Another proposal would require greater disclosure of political spending by nonprofit “social welfare” groups and business trade organizations. She would also require disclosure by federal contractors to reduce the risk of pay-to-play corruption. She also supports a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, which is unlikely to happen.
In her push for these crucial reforms, Mrs. Clinton should stress that it would take a Democratic Congress to enact many of the changes. Overlooked but crying out for reform is the pathetic referee of the campaign arena — the Federal Election Commission, which has been hogtied by its Republican members from making needed enforcement decisions. The campaign of Jeb Bush exploited the F.E.C.’s passivity by raising scores of millions of dollars in super PAC money while pretending Mr. Bush was anoncandidate.
Other candidates like Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, and former Gov. Martin O’Malley, Democrat of Maryland, also support campaign reforms. But Mrs. Clinton has considerable power to drive the issue before the voters, particularly if Mr. Sanders keeps up the heat. He has proposed a constitutional amendment to upend Citizens United, favors a matching-fund plan and is renouncing super PAC millions while donations to his campaign average $31.
Mr. Trump, who says he can personally attest to politicians’ fawning over him and his checkbook, has been at his least offensive in making his rivals squirm at this truth.