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Supporters cheer for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speak at a rally in support of the Chicago Teachers Union ahead of an upcoming potential strike on September 24, 2019 in Chicago. (Photo: Scott Heins/Getty Images)

Supporters cheer for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speak at a rally in support of the Chicago Teachers Union ahead of an upcoming potential strike on September 24, 2019 in Chicago. (Photo: Scott Heins/Getty Images)

'Money Is Not Speech and Corporations Are Not People': Sanders Unveils Plan to Get Corporate Money Out of Politics

"You can't take on a corrupt system if you take its money."

Jon Queally, staff writer

Holding up the small-donor campaign model his campaign has revolutionized as proof alternatives exist, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday unveiled an ambitious new plan to get "corporate money out of politics."

The Sanders plan aims to end the corrupting influence of dark money by dramatically curbing the ability of corporations to dominate giving to political parties, replacing the Federal Election Commission with a new enforcement agency, establishing public funding for all federal elections, and pushing for a Constitutional Amendment that makes clear that "money is not speech and corporations are not people."

"Our grassroots-funded campaign is proving every single day that you don't need billionaires and private fundraisers to run for president." —Sen. Bernie SandersThe Sanders campaign said in a statement that the new slate of proposals—which can be read in full here—are designed to end "the greed-fueled, corrupt corporate influence over elections, national party convention, and presidential inaugurations" that currently exists and deliver to the public an election system the puts the America people at the center.

"Our grassroots-funded campaign is proving every single day that you don't need billionaires and private fundraisers to run for president," Sanders said. "We've received more contributions from more individual contributors than any campaign in the history of American politics because we understand the basic reality that you can't take on a corrupt system if you take its money."

The plan would specifically target corporate giving by banning companies from donating to the Democratic National Convention and related committees, a change that would dramatically upend how the DNC has traditionally operated the quadrennial party gathering.

The proposal would also abolish corporate giving to presidential inaugurations and cap individual donations to $500.

According to the campaign:

Corporate donors spend tremendous amounts of money on inaugural events. In 2016, Trump's inaugural donors included AT&T, Bank of America, Boeing, Exxon Mobil, General Motors, Coca Cola, Pepsi, and many more. Private Prisons also shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars for Trump's inauguration. And this is nothing new, Corporate donors to the 2013 inauguration included Microsoft, Boeing, Chevron, Genetech, and numerous federal contractors. Many of these corporations have federal contracts and business that comes before Congress. It is absolutely absurd that these entities are allowed to spend enormous sums of money in an attempt to garner favor with the president and vice president of the United States.

Sanders outraised all his Democratic rivals for the presidential nomination in the last quarter by bringing in $25.3 million, with an average donation of just $18. In September, the campaign announced it had received donations from one million different people so far in the campaign, with teachers, Walmart employees, and other blue collar workers making up the most represented donors.

In its statement announcing the new plan Monday, the campaign outlined other key elements of the 'Corporate Money Out of Politics Plan' which includes:
  • Enacting mandatory public financing laws for all federal elections. 
  • Updating and strengthening the Federal Election Campaign Act to return to a system of mandatory public funding for National Party Conventions. 
  • Passing a Constitutional Amendment that makes clear that money is not speech and corporations are not people.
  • Ending the influence of corporations at the DNC.
    • Banning donations from federal lobbyists and corporations. 
    • Institute a lifetime lobbying ban for National Party chairs and co-chairs.
    • Banning chairs and co-chairs from working for entities with federal contract, that are seeking government approval for projects or mergers, or can reasonably be expected to have business before Congress in the future. 
  • Banning advertising during presidential primary debates.
  • Instituting a lifetime lobbying ban for former members of Congress and senior staffers.

As the Washington Post notes, Sanders' plan to replace the FEC—which his campaign describes as "now-worthless"—with a new agency signals a bold shift:

Sanders envisions [a Federal Election Agency] made up of three members with legal backgrounds who serve terms long enough to ensure no president could appoint the entire committee at any one time. The FEA would have the power to pursue not only civil penalties but also criminal charges against those violating campaign finance laws.

Many Democratic candidates have criticized the FEC as toothless in the course of the campaign, though Sanders is the only one to call for its complete retooling. Sanders's plan also attacks corporate influence in politics by banning former members of Congress and senior staffers from future lobbying endeavors. 

The proposal is an indication that Sanders' vision to fix American democracy goes far beyond "structural reforms" by targeting what he perceives as the rot at the center of the system: corporate greed and massive political power seized by the multinational corporations and the extremely rich.

A large part of the proposal includes leveling the playing field by putting working class people at the center of primaries and elections by boosting public funding. In order to combat "the outsized influence large corporate donors have on candidates," the campaign argues, the U.S. must move to publicly fund federal elections in order to neutralize the corrupting influence of corporate donors and the uber wealthy.

Sanders argues that his grassroots campaign proves that not only that it can be done successfully, but that the people are hungry for it.

"Working people all over the country are responding to that message and demanding a political revolution through their small dollar donations," Sanders said on Monday. "When we win the Democratic nomination and defeat Donald Trump, we will transform our political system by rejecting the influence of big corporate money."

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