Bernie Sanders is the first presidential candidate to sign onto an ambitious "Fix Democracy" pledge launched Monday by Greenpeace and more than 20 other climate justice organizations.
In doing so, Sanders vows to reject campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry and to support a "people-powered democracy" marked by full voting rights for all and public funding for campaigns.
"A critical way for candidates to show they support a people-powered democracy is by rejecting fossil fuel money and supporting voters rights," said Annie Leonard, executive director at Greenpeace USA. "So far only Bernie Sanders has agreed to fossil fuel-free funding and protection of voters rights. It's time for Hillary Clinton and anyone with serious White House aspirations to match Sanders' leadership. Our democracy has to stop being sold at auction to the highest bidders."
Greenpeace is joined in its call by groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Common Cause, Labor Network for Sustainability, Oil Change International, People for the American Way, Public Citizen, Rainforest Action Network, and the U.S. Student Association.
"Our democracy is in crisis," reads the letter (pdf) sent Monday to all major presidential candidates from both parties. "Today, Americans have fewer protections to their right to vote than when the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Never before have corporations and special interests wielded so much power at the expense of ordinary Americans."
Specifically, the letter calls on candidates to adhere to the following statements:
If elected, I pledge to fight for a people-powered democracy where every voice is heard
- By defending the right to vote for all, and
- Supporting common-sense measures like public funding for campaigns and overturning Citizens United to ensure a government by and for the people, not the biggest donors.
And I will prove that I work for the people by refusing money from fossil fuel interests and by championing these solutions for a people powered democracy on the campaign trail.
A Greenpeace press statement predicts that, "given [former Maryland] Governor Martin O'Malley's previous statements on shifting to 100 percent renewable energy and his call for a constitutional amendment to protect voting rights, he is expected to be the next candidate to sign the pledge."
But the group holds less hope for Republican candidates—nearly every one of whom, it notes, "receives a substantial contribution from the fossil fuel industry, either directly or via a super PAC"—and for Sanders' chief rival Hillary Clinton.
Along with GOP hopefuls Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, Greenpeace points out, Clinton is among the 2016 campaign's top three beneficiaries of contributions from oil and gas employees.
According to Ben Adler writing for Grist last year, Clinton is "getting a lot of money from fossil fuel executives and lobbyists acting as bundlers (fundraisers who collect donations) who represent fossil fuel companies."
It's all connected, wrote Greenpeace media officer Cassady Sharp in a blog post on Monday:
Private money, from industries like oil and gas, is manipulating our democracy so egregiously that it is has almost ceased to be a real democracy at all. The passage of Citizens United in 2010 unleashed unlimited spending and corporate influence. Individuals can now donate millions to the candidate of their choice.
We have seen the consequences of this. For instance, not one question about climate change was asked during either the Republican or Democratic presidential debates just days after the world reached a historic climate deal in Paris. Despite her recent comments on fossil fuels and climate change recently, even Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton receives money connected to the fossil fuel industry via industry lobbyists who have bundled contributions to the campaign.
We experience the impacts of excessive corporate influence on our politicians on a daily basis — from access to clean water and air to healthcare reform to student loans to gun control. The New York Times reported this fall that just 158 families have contributed half of the campaign money on the 2016 campaign trail. Where did all that money come from? Primarily the finance and energy industries, particularly oil and gas.
These contributors are not interested in protecting the environment, advocating for social justice or ending gun violence. They are only interested in protecting their sky-high profits.
As Sanders himself has said: "Enough is enough. It's time for a political revolution that takes on the fossil fuel billionaires, accelerates our transition to clean energy, and finally puts people before the profits of polluters."
In June 2015, The Nation magazine and 350 Action put out a similar call for 2016 presidential and congressional candidates to sign a pledge committing to "neither solicit nor accept campaign contributions from any oil, gas, or coal company." At the time, Sanders, O'Malley, and Green candidate Jill Stein all agreed to do so.