In a video message on Saturday, Hillary Clinton proposed a constitutional amendment to reform campaign spending. The presumptive democratic presidential nominee stated:
Today I’m announcing that in my first thirty days as president I will propose a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and give the American people — all of us — the chance to reclaim our democracy.
It’s a nice idea – but it is unlikely that such an amendment would ever be passed.
Why the constitutional amendment will never pass
Citizens United v FEC was a Supreme Court in 2010 in which the court ruled that there can be no limits set on political contributions by corporations. As a result, Super PACs can donate unlimited amounts of money to campaigns, spurring a debate on how much influence these Super PACs – and the corporations behind them – have on the politicians that they support.
Since a president can’t overturn a Supreme Court decision, Clinton is proposing an amendment to change the Constitution itself. In this case, she is proposing an amendment that will explicitly place limits on campaign financing.
Amendments to the Constitution are rare: after the first ten amendments were ratified in the Bill of Rights in 1791, only seventeen amendments have been ratified since.
The process for passing an amendment is extremely difficult.
- First, the amendment has to be passed by a two-thirds majority by the Senate and House of Representatives.
- Then, three-fourths of states need to ratify the amendment through their state legislatures or ratifying conventions.
- Only then does an amendment to the Constitution take effect.
Today’s Congress struggles to reach on simple majority on even minor issues. To think that both houses could reach a two-thirds majority on an issue as complicated as campaign finance, and then have 38 out of 50 states accept it, borderlines on the delusional. Why then did Hillary Clinton propose this?
Campaign finance reform grabs the Bernie voters
This current state of campaign finance was one of the main pillars of Bernie Sanders’s platform. Sanders argued that that the current system allows the wealthy to take control of elections. Elections may still be a one person, one vote system, but today money has a significant influence on those votes as well.
Clinton’s pledge to overturn Citizen’s United through a constitutional amendment will help her attract many voters who originally supported Sanders. The Vermont Senator had officially backed Clinton in the presidential election in a rally last week, and since then Clinton has made several concessions to him.
Apart from campaign finance, Clinton has also introduced a proposals on higher education and healthcare reform. These moves to the left of the political spectrum are a move by Clinton to attract voters who supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries. Sanders may be out of the race, but Clinton is still trying to “feel the Bern”.
Clinton benefits from the current system
Clinton knows that such a campaign spending amendment is unlikely to pass. She may even be counting on it. Super PACs supporting Clinton have raised nearly $100 million this campaign cycle. Clinton benefits from the current campaign finance system much more than Donald Trump, who claims that he is not influenced by Super PACs since he is largely self-funding his campaign.
Clinton’s proposal is simply a savvy political move. Many Bernie Sanders supporters have not yet promised to support Clinton in the general election. She needs to encourage Sanders supporters that she is their candidate now that Sanders is out of the race.
By making this proposal, Clinton is appealing to these voters. If she indeed becomes president, she does not have to worry if her amendment does not pass. After all, she can simply point to members of Congress when they fail to reach a two-thirds agreement.
Clinton’s new proposal is therefore a political maneuver with low risk and high reward. It may appear that Clinton is biting the hand that feeds her, considering that she has benefited the most from Super PACs.
But even if campaign finance reform does pass, it will be long after she has reaped the benefits of the current system. Clinton may have made Citizens United a target this past week, but she can thank the Supreme Court decision if she is walking into the White House in January.