March 24, 2016: This story has been clarified.
Campaign finance reform has become a major issue in the presidential race — at least on the Democratic side — but even if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders were able to win the White House, a wholesale overhaul of the current system would take a lot more than a president alone.
"Anyone promising that the world will be completely different immediately is blowing smoke to a certain extent," said Daniel Weiner, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, which advocates for campaign finance reform. "Our campaign finance infrastructure and our overall electoral infrastructure turn like an aircraft carrier — slowly and cumbersomely."
Sanders, especially, has made his push to rebuild what he frequently describes as a “corrupt campaign finance system” the centerpiece of his campaign, and he frequently repudiates assistance from super PACs as a sign of his commitment to the issue.
His chances of winning the nomination have faded as Clinton has racked up a nearly insurmountable lead of delegates. Regardless, Sanders has pushed money in politics to the fore of the battle for the Democratic nomination, and will arrive at the convention in Philadelphia with enough delegates to wield some leverage.
He and Clinton have put forth substantially similar proposals on campaign finance, both of which draw from proposals by reform groups and on proposed legislation. But making those agendas a reality will depend heavily on the new president's ability to wrangle cooperation from Congress, other executive agencies and even state legislatures. Complicating matters further, reform advocates are divided about what must be done.
A few measures, such as an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose all political spending, or appointing new commissioners to the Federal Election Commission who favor increased enforcement, are under the president’s control.
But most of the proposals in both candidates' policy agendas will be a stretch.