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Bernie Sanders on Breaking Big Money's Grip on Elections

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Reprinted from Bill Moyers & Company

From youtube.com/watch?v=domWXCrQOFc: Senator Bernie Sanders
Senator Bernie Sanders
(Image by YouTube)
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BILL MOYERS: Welcome. This just in from the prophetic Andy Borowitz: With midterm elections a few days away, "a new poll indicates that billionaires are likely to retain control of the United States government"proxy candidates of billionaires are likely to win ninety-eight percent of next Tuesday's races, with the remaining two percent leaning billionaire."

Now Andy Borowitz is one of our leading humorists and I figured he was joking. But now I'm not so sure. And neither, I'd guess, is United States Senator Bernie Sanders. Because a couple of weeks ago, Bernie Sanders was in Richmond, California, a small city of just over 100,000 in the Bay Area of San Francisco. He was speaking out against the energy giant Chevron and the big money it's spending to influence the local elections there.

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS in Richmond, CA: And if Chevron can roll over you, they and their buddies will roll over every community in America. If you can stand up and beat them with all of their money, you're going to give hope to people all over America that we can control our destinies.

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BILL MOYERS: Chevron's the Fortune 500 company that has a big refinery in Richmond and acts like it owns the place. After that refinery erupted in fire two years ago, the city, led by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, sued Chevron for what it alleges is a long history of negligence. Chevron's fighting back, spending an incredible $3 million plus to beat McLaughlin and her allies and replace them with a more pliable city council that will protect the oil company's interests.

All that cash for one small election -- but it's just part of a spending frenzy of perhaps $4 billion all across the country, making this the most expensive midterms in history; money unleashed by a series of Supreme Court decisions allowing millionaires and billionaires to drown out the voice of anyone who tries to speak against them.

And that's why Bernie Sanders is with me now. He's not a Democrat. He's not a Republican. He's an independent in his second senate term, after 16 years in the House of Representatives, and eight as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Welcome back.

BERNIE SANDERS: Great to be with you.

BILL MOYERS: It's a long way from Burlington, Vermont, to Richmond, California. And there's a lot of other places you could've been going. Why did you go there?

BERNIE SANDERS: Because it disgusts me and angers me to see a huge, multinational corporation like Chevron try to destroy a local government, which is standing up for the working people and standing up for the environment. The idea that just because they have unlimited sums of money, they can toss aside and defeat people who are trying to do the right thing. It's not what America is supposed to be about and it upset me very much.

BILL MOYERS: You were very upset. Let me play you another excerpt from the speech.

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BERNIE SANDERS: Unlimited sums of money from one of the largest corporation in America who says, 'How dare you ordinary people, working class people, people of color, young people, how dare you think you have a right to run your city government? Who do you think you are? We're going to teach you a lesson. We're going to tell you who owns this community, who controls this community.' And that's what this fight is about here in Richmond. And you damn well better win that fight.

BILL MOYERS: So what is the fight?

BERNIE SANDERS: The fight is for the future of democracy in America. What you're seeing in Richmond is one small part of what's going on in this country today, Bill. And let me just say this. If people think the situation is bad now, and it is horrendous, the chairman of the Republican Party now, he wants to take it further. He thinks Citizens United did not go far enough. So the Koch brothers and he want to eliminate all campaign finance legislation, all regulations, and have a situation where the billionaires will say to somebody, 'You want to run for governor of California? Here's a check of a half a billion dollars. You work for me. No longer independent expenditures, we own you completely.'

BILL MOYERS: I read one account that says Chevron is spending over $150 for every, quote, "likely" voter. What do they get back for their investment?

BERNIE SANDERS: Well, what they're going to get back, clearly, is a city council which will be less attentive to the environmental needs of that community. They are the largest employer. They have, as you've mentioned a moment ago, there was a terrible fire there a couple of years ago. People there are very concerned about the environmental impacts of Chevron, and they will get a much more docile city council if they win.

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Bill Moyers is President of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy.

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