Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a campaign stop in New Orleans on July 26, 2015. (Photo: Nick Solari/flickr/cc)

To Topple US 'Oligarchy,' Sanders Calls for Publicly Financed Elections

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton responds to question about big money in politics with 'a flavorless mush of platitudes'

Deirdre Fulton

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who has been vocal on the campaign trail about the scourge of big money in politics, said on Sunday he would push legislation in Congress to provide public funding of elections.

"We're going to introduce legislation which will allow people to run for office without having to beg money from the wealthy and the powerful," Sanders told a crowd of about 300 people at a town meeting in Rollinsford, New Hampshire.

"We are increasingly living in an oligarchy where big money is buying politicians."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sanders blasted the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that gutted limits on campaign funding and paved the way for the über-wealthy to spend unlimited sums to influence election outcomes. His criticisms echoed those voiced last week by former president Jimmy Carter, who said on the Thom Hartmann Program that the U.S. is now an "oligarchy" in which "unlimited political bribery" has created "a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors." 

Referring to Citizens United, Sanders said on Sunday: "We must overturn that decision before it's too late. We are increasingly living in an oligarchy where big money is buying politicians."

The senator from Vermont compared politicians to NASCAR drivers with their sponsor's logos emblazoned on their uniforms, suggesting some politicians should wear signs saying, "I'm sponsored by the Koch brothers" or "I'm sponsored by Big Oil."

In his own presidential campaign, Sanders has eschewed support from super PACs, which the Citizens United ruling spawned. Instead, Sanders has relied overwhelmingly on small donations from individual contributors. Altogether, more than 76.5 percent of all contributions—totaling more than $10.5 million—came from individuals who donated less than $200.

Meanwhile, as The Intercept reported Monday, Sanders' chief rival, frontrunner Hillary Clinton, has been more vague and less inspiring when it comes to the matter of big money in politics.

Video released Monday by Democracy Matters, a national student organization with a focus on campaign finance reform, shows Clinton responding to a question about campaign finance with what The Intercept's Jon Schwarz described as "a flavorless mush of platitudes."

It's all well and good for Clinton to state her support for publicly funded elections, Schwarz argued—but she has yet to walk the walk. 

It’s always better to have big-time politicians say the right thing than not. And Clinton may in her heart “believe” in publicly financed elections. But Lance Armstrong may also truly “believe” in clean, no-doping professional cycling.

And just as Armstrong did what he felt he had to to win, Clinton has declined to participate in the presidential public financing system, because it places limits on how much candidates can spend.  She did not take the available matching funds in her 2008 primary campaign. Nor is there any indication she will for the 2016 primaries or (assuming she’s the Democratic nominee) the presidential campaign.

It’s defensible for her not to want to unilaterally disarm for the 2016 general election, since the public financing system would limit her campaign’s total spending to only $100 million. (Romney spent almost $500 million in 2012, even without counting outside spending, and the 2016 Republican candidate will surely spend far more.) It was perhaps legitimate for her to opt out for the 2008 primaries, since Obama did as well. But Clinton could participate in the public financing system in the 2016 primaries versus Bernie Sanders et al. She won’t.

"If Clinton truly does support public financing," Schwarz wrote, "the most important thing she could do would be to strongly endorse the Government By the People Act—which would create a significant public financing system for Congress—and use her campaign to educate people about it."

To that end, Democracy Matters posted several "follow-up" questions for Clinton, including this one: "While it is great news that you 'believe in public financing of elections,' those of us interested in restoring a fair democracy for all Americans are anxious to hear your specific legislative plans. Do you support John Sarbanes' Government by the People Act? Would you make its passage a top priority of your administration from day 1?"

For his part, Sanders has signed the organization's "Democracy Pledge" which states: "I support restoring democracy by publicly financing elections and taking big money out politics."

Clinton has yet to do so. 

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.


Right-Wing Justices Should Be Impeached for Lying Under Oath, Says Ocasio-Cortez

"We have a responsibility to protect our democracy," said the New York Democrat. "That includes holding those in power who violate the law accountable."

Kenny Stancil ·

'Infuriating': Biden Rebuked for Continued Opposition to Supreme Court Expansion

"What does Biden 'agree' with doing?" Mehdi Hasan asked. "What does the leader of this country want to do to stop the increasingly fascistic assault on our democratic institutions and basic rights?"

Kenny Stancil ·

'We Need Action': Biden, Democrats Urged to Protect Abortion Access in Post-Roe US

"The Supreme Court doesn't get the final say on abortion," Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith wrote in a new op-ed.

Kenny Stancil ·

Motorist 'Tried to Murder' Abortion Rights Advocates at Iowa Protest, Witnesses Say

Although one witness said the driver went "out of his way" to hit pro-choice protestors in the street, Cedar Rapids police declined to make an arrest.

Kenny Stancil ·

'A Hate Crime': Oslo Pride Parade Canceled After Deadly Shooting at Gay Bar

A 42-year-old gunman has been charged with terrorism following what Norway's prime minister called a "terrible and deeply shocking attack on innocent people."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo