Bernie Sanders has done something that conventional wisdom thought impossible. He has funded a national campaign entirely from millions of small donations, freeing himself from the corrupting influence of big corporate donors. The entire nation should be grateful to him for proving it could be done.
Sanders' historic achievement has embarrassed Hillary Clinton. It has made her anxious to distract us from her reliance on big money from Wall Street, the health-care industry and fossil-fuel firms. The dodge she uses is to rhetorically shrink the Sanders campaign to a tunnel-vision focus on Wall Street and breaking up big banks.
Clinton introduced this tactic in her closing remarks at the Democratic debate on Feb. 11, two days after her 22-point loss to Sanders in New Hampshire. First she proclaimed: "I am not a single issue candidate, and I do not believe we live in a single issue country." Then she conceded to Sanders that "big financial interests along with drug companies, insurance companies, big oil, all of it, have too much influence." BUT, she added:
"If we were to stop that tomorrow, we would still have the indifference, the negligence, that we saw in Flint. We would still have racism holding people back. . . .And we would still have governors like Scott Walker and others trying to rip out the heart of the middle class by making it impossible to organize and stand up for better wages and working conditions."
Les Leopold is right to call this argument a "ridiculous sleight of hand" (Alternet, 3/27). Clinton invites us to imagine stopping "that" (the influence of the super-rich) "tomorrow," as if something so powerful and pervasive could just be swatted away.
Sanders isn't talking about "a single issue." Instead, he is addressing what he rightly considers THE issue, the one that underlies most of our big problems today. As he says on his website: "The American people must make a fundamental decision. . . . Are we prepared to take on the enormous economic and political power of the billionaire class, or do we continue to slide into economic and political oligarchy?"
When Big Business buys politicians, it gets to shape tax legislation and public expenditures in ways that maximize corporate profits. The result is a long list of social harms such as privatized for-profit charter schools and prison s, a medical system twice as costly as those of other developed democracies, and military campaigns designed to sustain demand for obscenely expensive weapon systems.
It's ironic that Clinton mentions the Flint, Michigan water crisis and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's union busting as examples of problems that would remain even if the excessive influence of big corporations "were to stop tomorrow." Both were created by legislation pushed through Republican state legislatures by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and allied right-wing foundations supported by the great wealth of the Walton, Koch, Scaife, Coors and other families.
ALEC is a national organization of mostly Republican state legislators who work with lobbyists from major corporations to produce model bills which state legislators then present to their legislatures. According to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), "ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law."
Although legislators pay a $50 membership fee, nearly all the funding for ALEC operations comes from corporations on a pay-to-play basis, including basic membership fees ($7-25 thousand) and thousands more for participating in various ALEC activities. The list of corporate members is a who's who of Big Business, including the financial, health care and fossil fuel giants that shower money on Clinton.
Throughout his political career as a state legislator, Milwaukee County Executive and Governor, Walker has sponsored a host of ALEC bills. In his first year as governor, "Walker signed 19 ALEC bills into law, which went after unions, preempted paid sick days bills, enacted voter ID restrictions, and made it harder to hold corporations accountable in the courts" (CMD PRWatch, 6/3/15). In early 2015 he sponsored and signed an anti-union right-to-work law which was copied word-for-word from ALEC's model.
ALEC's most active front organization in Michigan is the Mackinac Center. It promoted the emergency manager law (PA 436) that let Gov. Rick Snyder appoint a manager with dictatorial powers to take over Flint when it experienced a financial crisis. This manager decided in 2014 that the city should draw its water from the highly contaminated Flint River as a money-saving measure. As a result, thousands of young children have been exposed to lead poisoning.
Michigan's emergency manager law appealed to the wealthy supporters of the Mackinac Center because it enabled state government to respond to the financial woes of a Flint or Detroit by shrinking or privatizing municipal services and canceling contracts with unions. It was a way to address decaying infrastructure without cost to affluent citizens elsewhere in the state. It was especially easy to do this sort of thing to cities with high unemployment and poverty rates, and a majority black population.
Government at the federal, state and municipal level is being subordinated to the private interests of a minority of plutocrats. Sanders is saying that because Clinton has taken their money, she is part of the problem.