BURLINGTON, Vt., Jan. 24 -- Potential Republican presidential candidates are hobnobbing this weekend with politically potent billionaires at an invitation-only gathering in Palm Springs, California, that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and others have called "the Koch brothers primary."
Four Republican hopefuls -- looking to line up benefactors to bankroll their campaigns -- are participating in mostly closed-door meetings of millionaires and billionaires assembled by Charles and David Koch, the industrial tycoons who control the second largest family fortune in the United States.
"Americans used to think Iowa and New Hampshire held the first caucus and primary in the nation every four years. Not anymore. Now the 'Koch brothers primary' goes first to determine who wins the blessing and financial backing of the billionaire class. This is truly sad and shows us how far Citizens United has gone to undermine American democracy.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) are all speaking at the winter meeting of the so-called Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce.
To end the ability of billionaires to buy elections, Sanders on Wednesday introduced a constitutional amendment that would undo the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That narrow 5-4 decision and subsequent court cases struck down decades-old laws that had limited how much money wealthy individuals and corporations may contribute to campaigns.
Vermont and 15 other states along with voters and city councils in more than 600 cities and towns already have passed measures supporting a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. "People across the political spectrum are demanding that billionaires not be able to buy American democracy," Sanders said.
The influence of money in politics was on vivid display this week in the Senate, where Republicans promoting the interests of a giant international oil conglomerate blocked Sanders' proposal to put Congress on record acknowledging the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels causes global warming. "The issue was whether we listen to the scientists or listen to the powerful fossil fuel industry. Sadly, the Republicans sided with the special interests and campaign contributors who promote the myth that climate change is not caused by carbon emissions," Sanders said.