What Sanders and Clinton get wrong about Citizens United

  • Laurie Roberts
 (Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Democrat Debate) (Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Democrat Debate)

In one of the most exciting moments of the entire 2016 campaign, Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders made the case for why money in politics reform is issue one. Yet they continue to focus on the wrong aspects of our broken system: Citizens United.

Both candidates have spent months on the campaign trail explaining the insidious connections between special interest influence and the other challenges that America faces—for liberal voters, that means reining in Wall Street and fixing a “rigged” economy.

But in last night’s debate, money-in-politics reform took center stage. Sanders called the public financing system in place for presidential races, “antiquated,”  called for workable small-donor program for election and railed against super PACs that answer to only the wealthiest people and groups in America.

Clinton, after a back and forth regarding speaking fees and donations she’s received from Wall Street, exclaimed, “we both agree with campaign finance reform! I worked hard for McCain-Feingold! I want to reverse Citizens United!”

For the two candidates, Citizens United remains the centerpiece of their strong reform platforms. But, as we’ve covered many times, the court case should not be so central for several reasons.

First, while Issue One supports pro-reform jurisprudence, including efforts to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court decision, any path toward that goal it is, at best, a long-term one. The crisis we face in our democracy is far too urgent to only focus on this aspect of reform.

Second, there’s plenty of ways to fix the system right now, even with the current Supreme Court. Sanders and Clinton have both mentioned citizen-funding of elections, but they need to do more to highlight the bevy of solutions that exist in cities and states across the country. Plus, both candidates should be pushing President Obama to sign an executive order mandating disclosure of all political spending by federal contractors. You can learn more about the many ways citizens are taking their democracy back in our Blueprints for Democracy project—we guarantee you’ll be surprised at just how much we can accomplish right now.

Sanders and Clinton draw clear connections between broken democracy and the issues their voters care about. But by focusing too much on the problem, and on only one aspect of fixing it, neither candidate is truly taking advantage of the passion the American people feel for money-in-politics reform.

Enough about corruption—let’s talk solutions.