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Sanders and Weissman write: "If you wonder why the United States is the only country in the industrialized world not to have a national health care program, if you're asking why we pay the highest price in the world for prescription drugs, or why we spend more money on the military than the rest of the world combined, you are talking about campaign finance. You are talking about the unbelievable power that big-money interests have over every legislative decision."

Sen. Bernie Sanders during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, 05/10/11. (photo: Alex Brandon/AP)
Sen. Bernie Sanders during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, 05/10/11. (photo: Alex Brandon/AP)



We the People

By Sen. Bernie Sanders and Robert Weissman, Reader Supported News

22 January 12

 

f you are concerned about the collapse of the middle class, you should be concerned about how American campaigns are financed. If you wonder why the United States is the only country in the industrialized world not to have a national health care program, if you're asking why we pay the highest price in the world for prescription drugs, or why we spend more money on the military than the rest of the world combined, you are talking about campaign finance. You are talking about the unbelievable power that big-money interests have over every legislative decision.

An already horrendous situation was made much worse two years ago this month when the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. the Federal Elections Commission that multinational corporations have a constitutional right to spend whatever they want to influence election outcomes. A bare 5-4 majority lowered the floodgates on unchecked, unlimited, unaccountable corporate cash in political campaigns. Corporations were equated with people. A century of laws regulating business spending on elections were upended. In one fell swoop, five justices fantasized for corporations a right never conceived by the founders whose preamble to our Constitution begins with the words, "We the people..."

The ruling not only poisoned our political process. It contaminated the legislative process. It cast a permanent chill over all policymaking. Will the merits or the money tip the balance when an issue comes before Congress? What do you think? If the question is on breaking up huge banks, for example, every member of the Senate and the House, in the back of their minds, will ask themselves what the personal price would be for taking on Wall Street. Am I going to be punished? Will a huge amount of money be unleashed in my state? They're going to think twice about how to cast that vote. Not to put too fine a point on it, you will see politicians being adopted by corporations and becoming wholly owned subsidiaries of corporate entities.

We already have seen what kind of damage Citizens United can cause. In the first election after the decision was handed down, corporations in 2010 poured hundreds of millions of dollars into independent organizations not formally affiliated with parties or candidates. About half of the $300 million spent by independent organizations came from undisclosed sources. In 60 of the 75 congressional races in which power changed hands, the unaccountable outside groups backed the winners. They spent freely and overwhelmingly on negative ads. The early phases of this year's elections bear witness to projections that the Citizens United effect will be much worse. Karl Rove has announced plans to raise $240 million. The Koch brothers promise to spend $200 million. It's fair to assume the Chamber of Commerce will spend at least as much. The Super PAC supporting President Obama, Priorities USA Action, aims to play in the same league. Hundreds of millions more will be in play.

It's a virtual certainty that all of this spending will fundamentally distort our democracy, tilting the playing field to favor corporate interests, discouraging new candidates, chilling elected officials and shifting the overall policymaking debate even further in the direction of giant corporate interests and the super-wealthy.

So now we face a choice. Americans can let Citizens United remain the law of the land, or we can have a functioning democracy. We can't have both. We choose democracy. With no reason to think that this court will reconsider its decision, we need a constitutional amendment.

Yes, legislative reforms could mitigate the damage. We should require better disclosure rules. We should make shareholders approve corporations' political spending. We should provide public financing of elections, but entrenched money interests have thwarted that for decades.

But nothing can truly cure the problem unless Citizens United is overturned with a constitutional amendment.

The Saving American Democracy Amendment in the Senate and a companion proposed in the House by Florida Representative Ted Deutch would do just that. The amendment would establish that constitutional rights belong to real people, not for-profit corporations. The amendment would prohibit corporations from making election-related expenditures. It would clarify that Congress and states have the power to regulate campaign spending, overturning the doctrine that election contributions and expenditures constitute First Amendment-protected speech and therefore may be subject only to limited restrictions. And it would affirm that nothing in the amendment limits freedom of press.

It's no easy thing to enact a constitutional amendment, but momentum for an amendment is building. People who have honest differences of opinion understand that there is something profoundly disgusting with what is happening in Washington and that there is something wrong with American democracy when you have a handful of billionaires and businesses putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the political process. Very few people think that has anything to do with American democracy. The American people desperately want to restore our democracy and return to rule by all of the people, not corporations and the superrich.

Bernie Sanders is a United States Senator from Vermont. Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen.

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+33 # burner 2012-01-22 11:39
They are right of course but I doubt they will be able to change the course this country is going in.....I believe in less than 2 years the USA will be a police state, people will be ruled by the 1%, and no majority vote will change anything because the elections are already rigged and everything will rule in the favor of the preferred CFR candidate, which now is everyone except Ron Paul....
 
 
+23 # Hypatia 2012-01-22 12:33
I thought your timeframe too brief, until I recalled that Obama had signed the NDAA.
 
 
+108 # Capn Canard 2012-01-22 11:43
Thank you, Senator Sanders, thank you. I am always shocked that the rest of America has complete apathy until the stray cats start to shit in their own little sandbox. It's difficult to contain my frustration with their ignorance. Thanks for shedding some light on this massive corruption, Senator Sanders. We need that 28th Amendment to ban corporate person-hood.
 
 
+28 # Rita Walpole Ague 2012-01-22 14:05
May I add my thanks to yours, Capn Canard? What courage and determination this truly people serving vs. money and power grabbing senator consistantly displays. The 50 states are desparate for the 28th Amendment, and do not doubt that the rest of the so suffering world will also benefit from this vital step forward.

Courage and determination, such as Sen. Sanders displays, is essential if a total overtake by the evil, greed and power addicted villainaire 1%ers, and enslavement of us all, is to be quashed.

Lots to do to UNDO THE COUP, and...

OCCUPY LIBERTYAND JUSTICE FOR ALL!
 
 
+14 # jky1291 2012-01-22 16:20
Ritaague, you have once again succinctly captured the essence of our current dire situation. Add my thank you, also.
 
 
+27 # artful 2012-01-22 12:15
Yes, Bernie. It's all about the money. Sad . . . very sad.
 
 
+42 # marjb 2012-01-22 12:16
Yes, it's good that Senator Sanders has shed light...but now we all have to do something more than talk. It's time to hit the streets and force Congress to pass the ammendment and get the states to ratify it. People forget, but years of taking to the streets and protesting the Vietnam War completely transformed public opinion and brought what would have been America's first "long war" to an end. Occupy and organizations like Move On have already started. We should all get out there with them and not stop until we win. It is possible. Talk alone won't do it. Only actions will.
 
 
+13 # rsnfan 2012-01-22 18:30
It is time to hit the streets. But try that and see how it works.
We worked hard on a rally on Saturday to get people aware of the efforts for an amendment. In the whole of the SW suburbs of Chicago we had 30 people.
Go to Movetoamend.org and help get the momentum going.
They have all kinds of help.
 
 
+32 # Sandy G 2012-01-22 12:31
Everyone, I mean EVERYONE, needs to watch Bill Moyer's latest program featuring David Stockman and Gretchen Morgenson discussing the toxic effects of Big Money Influence in Washington. We better get at doing something about it before it's too late (if it isn't, already),
 
 
+20 # John Locke 2012-01-22 13:02
"Will the merits or the money tip the balance when an issue comes before Congress?"
Absolutely as it always has...We need more than a constitutional amendment, we need to change how the members of the Supreme Court are nominated and appointed... Until we change that part of the constitution we face similar issues in the future...
 
 
+23 # zitzwitz@mac.com 2012-01-22 13:25
This has to be overturned ASAP. This process may take years to accomplish. An American public outcry, towards both sides of the aisle, would be called for. If this does not happen very soon, we will surely loose the little Democracy we have left. Everyone of our citizens should, and must get involved. How about demanding a position on this subject of every single Senator and Congressman? Make the list public; Act! Demand answers!
 
 
-33 # cypress72 2012-01-22 13:32
Senator Sanders, do you accept any campaign contributions from corporations, non-profits or millionaire constituents (like maybe from Ben & Jerry's founders)?? Do your contibutors send only small checks without any expectation of access??
 
 
+15 # BradFromSalem 2012-01-22 15:21
Cypress72,

Millionaire constituents have the same right to donate whatever the legal limit is for private citizens. As they should.

The problem is Corporations and Super Pacs especially donating unlimited anonymous money.

So, if you believe that Sen. Sanders is a hypocrite, then look up the information. It will pretty obvious if he is doing what you accuse him of.
 
 
+15 # rom120 2012-01-22 13:41
So far Sanders is the only decent, outstanding American politician, a lone voice in the wilderness without a chance of being heard. Make no mistake, there is no hope for the USA, once the country of the free and brave, it is going down on a greased slide. You can hardly save what you have lost. Democracy has been lost in the US long ago. Years ago it started drifting into a police state.
People love to use the cliché "Gestapo methods" without knowing what they are talking about, their knowledge comes from corrupt media, especially Hollywood and TV shows. People who lived then and there can tell you that present US methods are worse than the maligned Gestapo methods.
For the US the eleventh has passed.
 
 
+5 # Observer 47 2012-01-24 08:30
rom120, I don't believe that Senator Sanders is the only one of his kind. Dennis Kucinich, Russ Feingold (former Senator), and Alan Grayson (former Congressman) are all equally honest, dedicated public servants.
 
 
+18 # MendoChuck 2012-01-22 14:36
Our Republic will continue down hill unless we vote in a citizen government as originally designed.
A citizen government is elected and serves one or two terms and then the individual returns to the real world.
As long as career politicians are elected we will continue down this road.

I do not pretend to have the answers but as long as ANY incumbents remain in office they will continue to maintain the status quo. Our Republic requires that we have a citizen driven government. You get elected, serve a term or two and then go back to working at a real job in real life. I do not see that happening any time soon.

I have a saying that I have hung onto for many years.

"We will have a good government as long as those that govern are effected by those laws that they pass. When those that are passing the laws are no longer effected by those laws then they will no longer pass good laws."

Being a land that is run by The Rule of Law makes this a requirement.
 
 
+13 # AuntieTom 2012-01-22 14:45
A constituiional amendment will take too long. Congress must pass new legislation to counter the Court's stupid ruling. Meanwhile, is anybody paying any attention to WHO will be getting all this campaign money? I should think that the greatest share of it will go to the networks, which are already in the catbird seat. Maybe Congress could make a law that restricts the amount of money that can be given to the networks in connection with political campaigns, as that can't be "free speech" since it's being paid for. Let's set a limit on paid speech.
 
 
+15 # grouchy 2012-01-22 14:49
In the meantime, let's sign up all the corporations for our military draft (hey, they are people, right?) and send a few to Afghanistan-- to the front lines. The thought makes me smile!
 
 
+15 # Kayjay 2012-01-22 15:06
Kudos to Sen. Sanders for not letting we the people, just shrug our collective shoulders re. corporate spending and agenda setting. We need the kind of energy of the million man march to enact and get support for such an amendment. It won't be easy to negate what those corporate rats have carved out. It very well could require two, three etc. tries to get an amendment passed. But we cannot afford any more apathy from the voters. Nor can we afford to send corrupt corporately control "reps" to fill congressional seats. Campaign spending needs to be controlled, and term limits implemented in our effort to create a more representationa l government. Dreams do happen! Don't abandon OWS!
 
 
+13 # John Gill 2012-01-22 15:28
What a guy. Such an amendment would be a start, anyway, but let's face it, long before "Citizens United," the dream of a "functioning democracy" had long since been sold down the river. Not that I'm his biggest fan, but credit where it's due, if Dwight Eisenhower had believed he stood a chance in hell of effecting any change in that area, he would not have waited until his farewell speech to warn the public about the military-indust rial complex. It will take a revolution to topple the kings from their thrones, nothing less. But before such a thing occurs, the one percent will simply apply pressure to increase the federal subsidy of companies like MacDonalds, who will in turn lower the price of happy meals.
 
 
+7 # James Marcus 2012-01-22 15:51
cut to The Chase.
'Awareness Dawns', in more and more of our population, thanks to the Senator, and many others.
This Recent Supreme Court Ruling now confirms:
All 3 Branches of our Government have been sufficiently Corrupted (Purchased), so as to 'Gridlock' our magnificent Constitutional 'Checks and Balances';
The President, a majority of the Supreme Court, a Majority of both Parts of Congress, as well as all the Presidential Candidates, except Paul,... All, are 'In The Bag'....of the 'Military/Indus trial/ Financial Complex'; which is a very Self-Oriented, Self Perpetuating Dragon, run by,and benefitting, a Very Few.( who happened to also buy most of 'The Media', just to be sure 'The Cover-up' was sustained until 'All the Bases were covered'

Might as well know the score
 
 
+9 # anotherraginggranny 2012-01-22 16:50
BERNIE, WHY ARE YOU LEAVING US? WE NEED YOU AS NEVER BEFORE. THANK YOU FOR YOUR CLEAR-HEADED INTELLIGENCE! SINCE WHEN HAS THE TRUTH BEEN DEFINED AS "PROGRESSIVE". I'LL SHOW UP FOR THE MILLION WOMAN MARCH, RIGHT NEXT TO THE FELLAS. YEP, IT'S TIME TO TAKE TO THE STREETS!!
 
 
+4 # MidwestTom 2012-01-22 19:32
Because we owe so much to the International bankers located in NYC, our politicians must do what they are told to do. The average man on the street does not want to be at war. Close the privately owned Fed, and we can take back the country. That it the ONLY WAY we return this country to the citizens.
 
 
-3 # Carolyn 2012-01-22 21:37
We are now bailing out the euro. the economy is not just going to fail. It is going to crash. Word of this can now be heard from all sides. President Obama doesn't seem to be concerned.
 
 
+3 # infohiway 2012-01-23 00:03
The Federal (NOT!) Reserve (NONE!) SYSTEM (THE Bankster's Ponzi scam) is a fraud and as such they owe America(ns) every cent they have stolen plus compound interest and damages.
 
 
+4 # futhark 2012-01-23 07:00
Scalia said in a newspaper article I read today to stop whining about the Citizens United decision and just turn off the TV if you didn't like watching the ugly and obnoxious ads sponsored by the super PACs. Fine! What are we supposed to do about the annoying and disruptive robocalls we will all be getting, funded by super PACs?

I just want to say right here to all the candidates that the one sure way you can lose my vote is to have a robocall put through to my home number.

Let's get busy and pass that "Sovereignty of the People" amendment to reverse the Citizens United decision pronto before we all go nuts!
 
 
+5 # wolflady52 2012-01-23 11:52
With the moneyed interests of the super PACs at astronomical amounts, no other candidate who would be funded by the regular joe would ever stand a chance. It's not just about turning off your television, it's about the obscene structure for current elections. Campaign finance reform must happen, which starts with overturning Citizens United. Even corporations owned by foreign money interests can contribute to Super PACs. How is that in the best interests of America?
 
 
+4 # TomDegan 2012-01-23 08:13
Bernie Sanders speaks for me.

http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
 
 
+1 # Fi10Gale 2012-01-25 01:36
Bernie Sanders tells it like it is. This nation needs more politicians like him.
http://www.99%Declaration.org
 
 
+1 # ledpenny 2012-01-26 08:16
Abandon voting? not smart. React emotionally to media info? nah. Democrats passed, they say by squeaking margins, a health bill, never telling the public HOW MUCH IT WILL COST EACH OF US. The former passing of auto insurance requirement is making Geico, StateFarm, Progressive, and all very, very wealthy. How is Health Insurance going to be different? Then those bailouts...wher ein the corporation failed but gave taxpayer supplied million dollar final bonuses to their 'executives'. In a democratic republic, these acts should be considered criminal.
 

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