MONTICELLO, Iowa — Hillary Clinton said she would support a constitutional amendment to ban “unaccountable money” in political campaigns at a campaign stop in Iowa Tuesday that featured a large contingent of journalists but few actual Iowans.
The event, a panel meeting with students and educators at a Kirkwood Community College campus, marked Clinton’s first public appearance since she launched her presidential bid Sunday and offered the most detail to date about what is shaping up to be a populist campaign message.
“There’s something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the typical worker,” Clinton said, flanked by half a dozen students and educators. “There’s something wrong when American workers continue to get more productive ... but that productivity is not matched in their paychecks.”
She earned instant praise from good-government groups when she listed campaign finance reform as one of four topics she wants to talk about on the hustings. Democrats in Congress have mounted unsuccessful efforts to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow them to undo the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that paved the way for unlimited spending without disclosure in political campaigns.
“That one of Clinton’s first policy proposals in her campaign is to address our broken campaign finance system speaks volumes about the role money and politics will play in the 2016 campaign,” said David Donnelly, head of Every Voice, a group trying to reduce the influence of money in campaigns.
Clinton and a constellation of super-PACs supporting her are expected to raise more than a billion dollars for her campaign. However, in the primary phase, the campaign set the relatively modest goal of raising $100 million. Super-PACs, which can accept unlimited sums from individuals, are required to disclose the identity of contributors. In her remarks, Clinton was targeting a different type of political entity, the non-profit corporations that spend vast sums and are not required to disclose funding sources.
Republicans immediately used the issue to remind voters about the former First Family’s network of charities which failed to disclose some donors while Clinton was secretary of state. Charities aren’t required to make contributors public, but Clinton agreed to do so when she helmed the State Department.
Clinton also expressed dismay about tax rates for the wealthy, echoing a position she highlighted in her 2008 campaign.
“There is something wrong when hedge fund managers pay lower tax rates than nurses or the trucker I saw on I-80 as I was driving here in the last few days,” Clinton said. Democrats have long pushed for the profits received by private equity and hedge-fund managers to be taxed as ordinary income instead of as capital gains.
Campaign staff characterized this early phase of the Clinton’s bid as a listening tour where she will meet with “every day Americans” and project a warm and approachable vibe.
Her surprise voyage from her Brooklyn, N.Y. campaign headquarters to Iowa, aboard a black vehicle dubbed the “Scooby van,’’ caused a frenzy of attention typically reserved for A-list celebrities or fugitives. On Monday, a New York Times reporter acting on a tip, tracked down a Chipotle fast food restaurant in Ohio where Clinton had reportedly stopped and obtained surveillance video of the candidate ordering food.
Journalists arrived to this town of less than 4,000 hours prior to Clinton’s appearance. Satellite trucks crowded into the school’s parking lot. Networks set up tents where anchors gave minute-to-minute updates on Clinton’s movements.
“The most media I’ve ever seen before was a single photographer,” said Andrew Lorimer, 18, who spoke on the panel with Clinton.
In contrast, only a handful of Iowans camped out early to catch a glimpse of her. Dan Saunders, 64, was surprised by the lack of a crowd even though the event was held during the work day. “There are a lot of older people who I thought would come out,” he said. He blamed the scant interest from the local population on the Republican tilt of the county.
Two students came early as well – to protest Clinton’s candidacy on the grounds that she’s too close to banks to make real improvement for the middle class.
“Wall $treet Banks 4 Hillary” was hand written on one sign. A lone conservative protester stood with a sign opposing same sex marriage.
When Clinton surfaced as scheduled at Kirkwood, reporters outside the event chased after Clinton’s van. Footage of the scene was carried by MSNBC and mocked by Republican news outlets.
The stop, billed as a chance for Clinton to have an intimate conversation with Iowans, felt more like an event created for a sitting president. The hand-selected students said they were “nervous” before the event, perplexed about why they’d been picked and unclear if they’d be able to even ask Clinton a question.
“I was told that I have a chance to meet Hillary Clinton and walk her through our C and C shop,” said Colton Halder, 20, a student at Kirkwood, referring to the college’s computer laboratory. “I think that has changed now.”
Clinton took only a couple of questions from reporters before departing from the school. She boarded the black van. It drove in convoy with two black SUVs and a white vehicle.