Hillary Clinton Proposes Making Companies Disclose Political Donations

The Democratic front-runner has been focused on how to overturn the effects of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame Celebration dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, July 17, 2015.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is calling on companies to be required to disclose their political donations and for the creation of a donation-matching program intended to boost the influence of small donors’ giving.

In campaign finance proposals released Tuesday that build on Clinton’s desire to reverse the effects of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, her campaign says that she would push for federal legislation demanding more “effective” disclosure of political spending and urge the Securities and Exchange Commission to require publicly traded companies to disclose all political spending to their shareholders.

“We have to end the flood of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political system and drowning out the voices of too many everyday Americans,” Clinton said in a statement ahead of the campaign’s formal rollout, which includes a Web video. “Our democracy should be about expanding the franchise, not charging an entrance fee. It starts with overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and continues with structural reform to our campaign finance system so there’s real sunshine and increased participation.”

Clinton’s campaign is taking full advantage of existing campaign finance laws, with the candidate attending dozens of $1,000-to-$2,700 per head fundraisers, and giving her blessing to the Priorities USA Action super-PAC. Clinton and her aides argue that to get elected she cannot unilaterally disarm as Republicans push the limits of the law. But once elected, they say, she will be able to change the system from the White House.

Corporate cash has flooded into the political system since the Citizen United ruling, allowed companies and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on election advertising through nonprofits and political-action committees. The SEC was considering rules on the issue until 2013, when Chair Mary Jo White in 2013 signaled an unwillingness to act, arguing that the independent agency should stay out of politics and pulled their consideration from the commission’s agenda.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and others on the left have pushed the agency to act on the issue and have stood in the way of the nomination process for commission candidates with Wall Street ties.

“This is foundational,” Warren said in 2013 at an event hosted by watchdog group Public Citizen. “There is no excuse. There is no reason, on the other side, for saying a corporation wants to be able to spend shareholders' money and not tell shareholders how that money is being spent.”

A bipartisan pair of former SEC chairs wrote to White in May asking her to move ahead with rules on the issue, noting that a 2011 petition by a group of securities law professors drew a record 1.2 million supportive comments. Corporate political spending is of “paramount public interest and growing concern to investors,” they said.

A group of 70 foundations also called for action in a May letter to White. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is opposed to requiring new disclosures.

Clinton’s campaign finance overhaul also includes the pledge she often makes in her stump speeches, to only nominate to the Supreme Court judges who “value the right to vote over the right of billionaires to buy elections,” her campaign said in a fact sheet. She also supports a constitutional amendment “to allow Americans to establish common sense rules to protect against the undue influence of billionaires and special interests and to restore the role of average voters in elections.”

Clinton will also push for legislation requiring outside groups that engage in significant political spending to disclose their key donors and the disclosure of significant transfers between organizations. If Congress doesn’t act on campaign finance, she promises she will sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose all political spending. President Barack Obama has taken a similar approach on certain labor rules.

The Democrat’s proposal also includes a mechanism aimed at amplifying the influence of small donors—a small donor matching system for presidential and congressional candidates that would provide matching funds for small donations. To ensure the sustainability of the program, there would be a “reasonable limit” on the amount of matching funds.

To participate in the matching program, candidates would need to agree to “substantially lower limit on how much money they can receive from any individual donor.”

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