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General News    H2'ed 12/17/11

Saving American Democracy

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I have recently introduced a constitutional amendment, the Saving American Democracy Act, to undo the damage being caused by the disastrous 5-4 Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

In my view, this Supreme Court decision is one of the worst in the history of our country. Together, we have got to do everything we can to repeal it. A good place to start would be signing the petition and becoming a citizen co-sponsor of this resolution.

Let me be very clear. Despite what five members of the U.S. Supreme Court may believe, a corporation is not a person. A corporation does not have First Amendment rights to spend as much money as it wants, without disclosure, on a political campaign. Corporations should not be able to go into their treasuries and withdraw unlimited sums of money in order to buy elections. That's not what American democracy is supposed to be about.

This horrendous Supreme Court ruling has radically changed the nature of our democracy. It has further tilted the balance of power in our country towards the rich and the powerful and against the needs of the middle class and working families.   

Today, when corporations have more than $2 trillion in cash in their bank accounts and are making record-breaking profits, the American people are outraged when the Supreme Court says that these corporations have a constitutionally-protected right to spend shareholders' money to dominate an election.  If we do not reverse this decision, there will be no end to the impact that corporate interests can have on our campaigns and our democracy.

According to an October 10, 2011, article in Politico, "the billionaire industrialist brothers David and Charles Koch plan to steer more than $200 million -- potentially much more -- to conservative groups ahead of Election Day 2012."  Others are doing the same thing.

Does anybody really believe that that is what American democracy is supposed to be about?

Think about the consequences of the Citizens United decision in Congress. When legislation comes up that negatively impacts Wall Street or some other powerful special interest, what will senators be thinking about when they decide how to vote? Every member of the Senate, every member of the House, in the back of their minds will be wondering if the vote they cast will unleash a tsunami of corporate TV and radio ads against them. Is that how we should be deciding legislation?

It's not just taking on Wall Street. Maybe it's standing up to the drug companies, or the insurance companies or the military-industrial complex. Whatever powerful and wealthy special interests members of Congress are prepared to take on -- on behalf of the interest of the middle class and working families of this country -- they will know in the back of their minds that there may be unlimited sums of money coming into their state if they cast the right vote.

When the Supreme Court says that for purposes of the First Amendment, corporations are people; that writing checks from the company's bank account is constitutionally-protected speech and that attempts by the federal government and states to impose reasonable restrictions on campaign ads are unconstitutional -- when that occurs, our democracy is in grave danger. And we have got to fight back!

I am a proud sponsor of a number of bills that would respond to Citizens United and begin to get a handle on the problem. But more needs to be done, something more fundamental and indisputable, something that cannot be turned on its head by a Supreme Court decision. That is why I proposed the Saving American Democracy constitutional amendment in the Senate. A companion measure has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Ted Deutch.

Together, we have got to do everything we can to gather grass-roots support for the long fight in front of us. Passing a constitutional amendment is not easy and will not be done tomorrow. Like the other great struggles in modern American history -- women's rights, civil rights, protecting our environment -- getting corporate money out of politics will require a strong and sustained effort. But it must be done. Corporations are not people with equal constitutional rights.  Corporations are subject to regulation by the people. Corporations may not make campaign contributions -- the law of the land for the last century.  And Congress and states have the power to regulate campaign finances.

Please join me in Saving American Democracy.

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Bernie Sanders is the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate's Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, (more...)

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