If at first you don't succeed, try try again.
So the old proverb instructs.
When that didn't work out for Hillary Clinton, she discovered another one: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
During the 2016 campaign, Clinton took every opportunity to promise a reversal of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case. Starting in May 2015, the Democrat told a gathering of her top donors that she planned to use the court's decision on political speech and campaign finance as a litmus test for her nominees to the Supreme Court, eventually hoping for a reversal of the precedent. That position remained unchanged all the way through to the final presidential debate with Donald Trump, when Clinton argued that America needed "a Supreme Court ... that will stand up to Citizens United, a decision that has undermined the election system in our country because of the way it permits dark, unaccountable money to come into our electoral system."
Clearly, some kinds of dark and unaccountable money are more dark and unaccountable than others. After two failed attempts to win the presidency, Clinton has formed a new political group called Onward Together, which will raise money for, and encourage engagement in, so-called "resistance" groups that oppose President Trump and his agenda. "More than ever, I believe citizen engagement is vital to our democracy," Clinton explained in a series of tweets announcing the group. "We're launching Onward Together to encourage people to get involved, organize, and even run for office."
Just how will Onward Together reflect Clinton's values, as expressed during the 18 months she ran for the nation's highest office? The group has a familiar arrangement, as CNN reported. According to one source within Clinton's organization, Onward Together is a 501(c)(4) with an associated political action committee. That allows unlimited fundraising without any requirement to disclose donors, even though Clinton's mission for the group explicitly includes finding candidates to run for political office. An aide to Clinton confirmed to CNN that Onward Together would not choose to disclose its donors, either.
The money has already begun flowing to other groups in pursuit of those missions. Three organizations, including Run For Something, have already received funds, and more are lining up. "In some cases, we'll provide direct funding to these organizations," Clinton explained in the email announcement of the launch. "For others, we'll help amplify their work and do what we can to help them continue to grow their audiences and expand their reach."
If the 501(c)(4) status sounds familiar, it should. That is the exact same tax status under which the group Citizens United operated at the time of its conflict with a candidate named ... Hillary Clinton. Formed in 2004, the group produced a film opposing Clinton's 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, and attempted to buy television advertising to market it within 30 days of a primary. The Federal Election Commission attempted to block such advertising as a violation of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002, better known as the McCain-Feingold law, ruling that unions and corporations were prohibited from campaigning during that blackout period under its auspices.
In its 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court disagreed. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, stating that the BCRA's restrictions violated the First Amendment. "If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech," Kennedy wrote (emphasis mine). If those restrictions on corporations — associations of citizens — remained, it would necessarily have to apply to all corporations, including news outlets and book publishers. The BCRA's restrictions on political expression and expenditures of corporations "is an outright ban on speech, backed by criminal sanctions."
From the publication of this opinion in 2010, Democrats have castigated the decision and the justices that produced it. Barack Obama broke precedent in his 2011 State of the Union speech to criticize the court, and Samuel Alito's silent protest became a short-lived national scandal. Obama offered continuous official criticism of the decision as late as January 2015, at which point Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders took up the cause for the Democratic primaries.
If Clinton has changed her mind about the Citizens United decision, that would make Onward Together understandable. Citizens United is the law of the land, and Clinton is as eligible to operate within the law as anyone else. However, she has given no indication of any such reconsideration. On her official website — still up and operating — Clinton still lists overturning the court's decision as the first step in a new campaign-finance regime. "Overturn Citizens United," it pledges, "the Supreme Court case that unleashed hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate and special-interest money into U.S. elections." And further, the site implores Americans to "end secret, unaccountable money in politics," stating that "we need federal legislation to require outside groups to publicly disclose political spending."
Perhaps Hillary Clinton was against undisclosed political donations before she was for it. Clearly, she is also for citizens uniting for her causes, but not Citizens United for others. If, as some already suspect, Onward Together might end up being a platform for another Hillary Clinton campaign, the hypocrisy of her embrace of undisclosed contributions will prompt another documentary or two when the time comes.