Where They Stand: Candidates Offer Varying Approches to Issue of Money in Politics

Jul 11, 2015

At campaign events, house parties and town hall meetings across the state, presidential contenders are being met by potential voters who want to know what they plan to do about the role of money in politics.

And the candidates aren’t shying away from the question.

Democrats have taken aim at Citizens United, the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling that struck down limits on independent expenditures by corporations and unions.

Story: Campaign Finance Reformers Find Voice on 2016 Trail

During a visit to Concord in April, Democratic contender Hillary Clinton said she’d support a constitutional amendment to “get this corporate and unchecked money out of politics.” A few weeks later, Clinton said she would “do everything I can” to nominate Supreme Court justices who would overturn Citizens United.

Sen. Bernie Sanders also backs a constitutional amendment and says he would apply the same judicial litmus test as Clinton. The Vermont Democrat is also a strong proponent of publicly funded elections, which reformers say would leverage the contributions of small donors and reduce the influence of the wealthy. 

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, also a Democrat, backs public funding too. During a visit to Manchester in May, he likened members of Congress to telemarketers, “spending 20 hours a week on a telephone like an idiot in some little room calling people again and again and again asking for PAC checks.”

Republicans generally propose a different approach.

At an April event in Barrington, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz responded to a question from a volunteer from the advocacy group New Hampshire Rebellion by explaining legislation he sponsored, “The Super PAC Elimination Act of 2014.”

“What it did was very simple,” he said. “It eliminated contribution limits from individuals to any candidate. And then it required immediate disclosure within 24 hours. As a practical matter, if we did that, Super PACs would go away.”

That’s Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s position as well. During a February visit to New Hampshire, he suggested that limiting political contributions is unconstitutional. But, he added, the spending “has to be disclosed. Full disclosure and sunlight into all of these expenditures are critical to getting to the root of this problem.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie supports greater transparency too. At an April town hall meeting in Londonderry, he proposed “an absolute rule” to require on-line reporting of political contributions within 24 hours of their receipt. “I think what is corrupting in this, potentially, is we don’t know where the money is coming from,” he said.

Other Republican candidates, including Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Donald Trump, have limited their critiques to the role of lobbyists. Bush, who has the backing of three Super PACs as well as a non-profit “social welfare” group, has pledged to tackle the “culture of special interest access” if elected president.

Meanwhile, South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham has aligned himself with Democrats on this issue. At a WMUR forum in April, Graham was asked what he would do about money in politics.

“You're gonna need a constitutional amendment to fix this problem,” he said, adding, “You're gonna get sick of watching TV in New Hampshire, so the next President of the United States needs to get a commission of really smart people and find a way to create a constitutional amendment to limit the role of Super PACs, because there's gonna be like $100 million spent on races in New Hampshire.”