Hillary Clinton Supports Amendment To Get Hidden Money Out Of Politics : It's All Politics Clinton called campaign finance reform one of the "four big fights" of her campaign. But does this idea of a constitutional amendment to restrict or eliminate big money stand a chance?
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Hillary Clinton Supports Amendment To Get Hidden Money Out Of Politics

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Hillary Clinton Supports Amendment To Get Hidden Money Out Of Politics

Hillary Clinton Supports Amendment To Get Hidden Money Out Of Politics

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Hillary Clinton made a surprising move this week. On her first official day of campaigning for president, she embraced the idea of amending the Constitution to force big money out of politics. That's a long-debated strategy that may be getting new legs, as NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: This is how Clinton put it Tuesday at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa.

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HILLARY CLINTON: We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment.

OVERBY: Activist groups have toiled for such an amendment since 2010. That's when the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision let corporate and union money directly into partisan politics. In fact, Clinton isn't the first presidential hopeful to speak up. Here's Republican Senator Lindsey Graham last weekend on WMUR-TV in New Hampshire.

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SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: 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.

OVERBY: That is the unlimited money groups, new since Citizens United, that are shaping the presidential contest. President Obama said yes to amending the Constitution in 2012 and again last month in an interview on the Vox website.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I would love to see, you know, some constitutional process that would allow us to actually regulate campaign spending the way we used to, or - and maybe even improve it.

OVERBY: Campaign spending has been constitutionally protected since 1976, when the Supreme Court said it amounts to political speech. Former Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Bill Bradley said an amendment was needed in the 1990s and three years ago on NPR.

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BILL BRADLEY: You need a constitutional amendment that says federal state and local governments may limit the amount of money in a campaign.

OVERBY: But back to Clinton. At People For the American Way, one of the groups mobilizing for an amendment, Marge Baker said Clinton's statement can help the effort.

MARGE BAKER: So when the leading candidate for president says she's going to make reducing the influence of money in politics one of the four pillars in her campaign, you know that that's going to be a major issue in 2016. So this is a very, very big deal.

OVERBY: Clinton drew a charge of hypocrisy from Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey - not a declared candidate, but he was stumping in New Hampshire.

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GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: She intends to raise two-and-a-half billion dollars for her campaign, but she wants to then get the corrupting money out of politics. You know, it's classic, right? It's classic politician speak.

OVERBY: This year in Congress, lawmakers have introduced nine amendment resolutions. Republican leaders simply say nobody should mess with the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell made the point on the Senate floor last fall.

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SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: If the Democrats who run Washington are so determined to force the Senate into debate over repealing the free speech protections of the First Amendment, then fine, let's have a full and proper debate.

OVERBY: This amendment shows just how hard it is to change the Constitution. Senators voted 54 to 42 in favor - not nearly the two-thirds required to approve the amendment. Ratification also needs approval from 38 states. Republican lawyer Trevor Potter has long worked for tougher campaign finance laws, but he says a constitutional amendment poses problems that only start with getting it ratified.

TREVOR POTTER: Beyond that is the issue of what is it that the amendment would say and how would it be effective?

OVERBY: These are questions of language that might go too far, or not far enough or lie open to reinterpretation by future Supreme Courts. So far, the answers don't satisfy all of big money's critics. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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