Trump and Clinton agree our politics are flawed: Will he match her vision for democracy reform?

Trump's given lip service to campaign finance reform — but if he's serious about it is anyone's guess

By Karen Hobert Flynn
July 23, 2016 4:00PM (UTC)
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Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton (Reuters/Dominick Reuter/Gary Cameron/Photo montage by Salon)

In announcing his presidential bid in June 2015, Donald Trump tried to distinguish himself from the 15 other Republican candidates running because he said he understood that politicians were “controlled fully by the lobbyists, by the donors and by the special interests, fully.”

Since then, Trump has won over discouraged and cynical voters by pledging to self-fund his campaign so he would not be beholden to wealthy special interests and attacked his opponents on both sides of the aisle for their relationships to big money donors.


Whether it was remarks in a nationally televised GOP primary debate or a late-night tweet, Trump knew exactly what he was doing and knew that despite the GOP congressional leadership blocking action on campaign finance reform, ordinary Republican voters are fed up with big money in politics. And he was right.

A recent Bloomberg Politics poll also showed that 80% of Republicans oppose the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision.

More recently, a YouGov/Economist poll found that found 80% of GOP primary voters who preferred Donald Trump as the nominee listed money in politics as an important issue.


Voters from across the ideological spectrum understand that their voice and vote is threatened if democracy doesn’t work.  A recent New York Times/CBS News poll showed that 84 percent of Democrats and 81 percent of Republicans want to fundamentally change or completely rebuild our campaign finance system.

But is a poll released today from the Associated Press-GfK, just 13 percent consider it a problem that Trump changed his mind and is now taking Super PAC money — and nearly all those think it's only a minor one.

So when it comes to why politicians perpetuate a flawed system, voters might take a look in the mirror. Unless we the people hold politicians accountable for the changes they say they will make to strengthen our democracy, we can’t blame them for saying one thing during the campaign and doing another when in office.


Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton embraces Super PACs and has been chastised for it. But beyond just saying the system is rigged, she has laid out a strong democracy reform plan to fundamentally change what she and Trump agree is a flawed system.

Clinton’s proposal includes creating a small-donor matching system to break down barriers for participation, greater disclosure so every voter knows who is trying to influence our democracy, overturning Citizens United, protecting voting rights, and reforming the Federal Elections Commission so lawbreakers are held accountable. Clinton recently took her agenda a step further, pledging to prioritize campaign finance reform and introduce a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United in the first 30 days of her presidency.


Despite how it may appear in the news, reforming our democracy is a nonpartisan issue. Across the country, money in politics reform has passed at the state level with bipartisan support. In states like Montana and Massachusetts, Republicans and Democrats came together to pass strict transparency laws. Last year in Maine, Republican legislators joined efforts to improve that state’s clean elections law with a ballot initiative.

The question that remains is whether Donald Trump and other Republicans running for office will tell voters how they plan to take on big money. Candidates for congress from both parties have the opportunity to tell voters where they stand on these issues at, while Trump has the world watching everything he says and tweets. Although Trump has reneged on his promise to self-fund his campaign and is now raising big money from high-dollar donors, that shouldn’t stop him from telling voters how he plans to fix our democracy, as taking Super PAC money didn’t stop Hillary Clinton from imagining a way out of this flawed system.  

Simply put, the ball is in your court, Mr. Trump.

Karen Hobert Flynn

Karen Hobert Flynn in president of Common Cause, a non-partisan advocacy organization working to build a democracy that works for everyone in its 35 state offices which represent more than 475,000 activists nationwide.

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Campaign Finance Reform Donald Trump Editor's Picks Elections 2016 Hillary Clinton Money In Politics