If ever there were a cycle that seemed poised for a serious argument over what to do — if anything — about the torrents of money sloshing through our politics, you’d think it would be this one. We’re seeing a parade of billionaire sugar daddies looking to sponsor individual GOP candidates. A profusion of clever tactics such as turning over campaign operations to a friendly Super PAC, and running a full-blown presidential campaign while pretending you haven’t declared. Outside groups on both sides pledging enormous expenditures. Relentless media attention to foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation. And so on.

Yet despite all this, the chances of turning campaign finance into a major or compelling issue appear remote: A new poll today finds that fewer than one percent of Americans see it as the most important issue facing the country.

To be sure, the new New York Times/CBS News poll does find that Americans across party lines think money exerts too much influence over the political process. Eighty-four percent of Americans, including 80 percent of Republicans, believe this. Crucially, the poll shows that majorities of Americans believe this gives the rich more influence over the process, and that they believe public officials reward big donors:

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Two thirds think wealthy Americans have a better chance than others of influencing the election process, while just 31 percent say all Americans have an equal chance to do so….Americans see a frequent quid pro quo when it comes to contributing to an election campaign and receiving benefits once a candidate is in office. Fifty-five percent of Americans think politicians enact policies to benefit their financial contributors most of the time, while another 30 percent think this happens sometimes. Just 13 percent think this only happens rarely or never.

And get this: 54 percent do not believe political donations should be protected as free speech, and 78 percent support limits on contributions to groups unaffiliated with a candidate. Yet here’s the bad news for campaign finance reformers:

Very few Americans prioritize campaign finance over other domestic issues when asked to name the most important problem facing the country today. Americans’ top issue priority continues to be the economy and jobs; health care and immigration follow. Less than one percent volunteer campaign fundraising as the most important issue facing the country.

In fairness, the poll reached this conclusion through an open-ended question that asked people to name the single top issue, so who knows how much this means. But even some reform-minded Democrats have lamented the difficulty of turning campaign finance it into a motivating issue.

Clinton has pledged to push for a Constitutional amendment to get so-called “dark money” out of politics. But some of her own supporters may be worried about her fitness as messenger for this cause. Politico reports that a new memo is circulating among Democrats that debates how to respond to difficult questions about whether Clinton’s Wall Street donors could complicate efforts to turn the Koch brothers’ pledge to spend nearly $900 million into a liability for Republicans.

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Beyond that lurks the broader challenge here: Democrats have long puzzled over how to make campaign finance matter to voters. They’ve wrestled the problem by trying to come up with ways to tie it to a broader argument against plutocracy, making the case that big money in politics is why the political process is paralyzed in the face of an economic playing field that is rigged for the rich and against the middle class. But plainly, this conundrum has yet to be cracked.

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* HILLARY’S IMAGE TAKES A HIT, PART 1: A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds some bad news for Hillary Clinton:

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Clinton’s favorability ratings are the lowest in a Post-ABC poll since April 2008, when she was running for president the first time. Today, 41 percent of Americans say she is honest and trustworthy, compared with 52 percent who say she is not…Half of all Americans disapprove of the way she has handled questions about the Clinton Foundation, and 55 percent disapprove of how she has handled questions about her personal e-mails as secretary of state. 

However, 58 percent say Clinton would pursue new policies, rather than those of Obama, so perhaps the “Hillary equals Obummer third term” line isn’t resonating much.

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* GOP PRESIDENTIAL FIELD IS A ‘MUDDLED MASS’: The new Post/ABC poll also finds that the 2016 GOP presidential field is tightly bunched: Scott Walker and Rand Paul each have 11 percent of Republicans, while Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio each have 10 percent. The other dozen or so — yes, you read that right — are in single digits.

As the Post write-up comments, “the Republican field is largely a muddled mass, underscoring just how wide open the race continues to be.” Until debates and fundraising start winnowing things down a bit, we may be looking at a race with no clear frontrunner for many months.

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* HILLARY’S IMAGE TAKES A HIT, PART 2: A new CNN poll finds more Americans have an unfavorable view of her than at any time since 2001. And:

A growing number of people say she is not honest and trustworthy (57%, up from 49% in March), less than half feel she cares about people like them (47%, down from 53% last July) and more now feel she does not inspire confidence (50%, up from 42% last March).

In the head-to-head matchups, Clinton leads Jeb Bush by 51-43; and  she leads Marco Rubio and Scott Walker by 49-46. Who fares best against Clinton? Rand Paul. (The perils of early polling.)

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* HILLARY IS CANDIDATE OF FUTURE; JEB IS CANDIDATE OF PAST: One other interesting nugget from the new CNN poll: Americans say by 51-45 that Clinton is the candidate of the future. By contrast, they say by 62-34 that Jeb Bush is the candidate of the past.

Perhaps related: 56 percent say the fact that Jeb is related to certain former presidents makes it less likely that they’ll vote for him, while only 39 percent say the same about Clinton’s relationship to a certain other former president.

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 * LAST STAND FOR NSA SURVEILLANCE DEFENDERS: The Hill has the latest: After Mitch McConnell failed to extend NSA bulk surveillance, GOP Senators are set to introduce amendments to the U.S.A. Freedom Act (which would roll back that surveillance) that are designed to “reassure” GOP hawks that the new surveillance regime it creates will work.

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The problem: Any serious changes to the Freedom Act might not pass the House, which has already passed the Freedom Act by an overwhelming margin. While some limited face-saving amendments might be doable, McConnell’s most likely endgame is to just let the Freedom Act pass already.

* WARREN-FOR-PRESIDENT EFFORT IS SUSPENDED: Today organizers of the movement to draft Elizabeth Warren — spearheaded by Democracy for America and MoveOn — announced that the effort will be suspended. In a statement, the groups vowed to “pivot” to working with Warren and other progressives on “issue fights” like Fast Track on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

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While the Draft Warren movement obviously did want her to run, it was also about keeping her in the news to maximize the influence of the “Elizabeth Warren wing” over the party on policy positions. The organizing effort will continue to pursue that latter goal.

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* AND GOP ALTERNATIVE TO OBAMACARE IS COMING…SOON…NO, REALLY! Republicans have now confirmed that they won’t introduce their Obamacare alternative until after the Supreme Court rules in King v. Burwell. Simon Maloy comments:

The reality of the situation….is that the Republicans remain as divided as ever on how to actually handle the impossibly complex task of crafting healthcare legislation. The whole exercise has been rooted in cynical politics – they’ve presented an image of legislative competence to create political conditions that would favor the abrupt crippling of a law they hate.

The “GOP alternative” game has long been to persuade the Court that the consequences of a pro-King ruling won’t be dire. Even if there is ultimately a GOP alternative, it will be about drawing a presidential veto for the political blame-game that follows.

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