If two dozen billionaires were using their wealth to effectively buy the 2012 election, it would be time for patriots to mount a bold response on behalf of democracy itself.
Well, that time has come.
US Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, revealed for the first time in Senate testimony Tuesday that at least twenty-three billionaire families have contributed a minimum of $250,000 each so far in this year’s campaigns.
“My guess is that number is really much greater because many of these contributions are made in secret. In other words, not content to own our economy, the 1 percent want to own our government as well,” Sanders told the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.
The subcommittee’s “Taking Back Our Democracy: Responding to Citizens United and the Rise of Super PACs” hearing provided an important point of reflection on the crisis created in the 2012 election cycle by what the progressive reformers of a century ago described broadly—and accurately—as “the money power.” In addition to Sanders, testimony was provided by other backers of amending the Constitution to overturn recent US Supreme Court decisions that have eliminated barriers to the dominance of elections by corporations and the wealthy, including Congresswoman Donna Edwards, D-Maryland, and Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig.
The sense of urgency regarding money in politics was heightened Tuesday as petitions signed by 1,959,063 Americans who want Congress to act to “restore the democratic promise of America” were delivered by a broad consortium of groups that favor a constitutional amendment.
Sanders, who has emerged as an outspoken challenger of “the money power” not just in politics but in public life more generally, was characteristically blunt about the role that campaign spending is playing not just in politics but in the expansion of economic inequality in America—a country where the wealthiest 400 individuals own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans.
“What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to say to these same billionaires and the corporations they control: ‘You own and control the economy, you own Wall Street, you own the coal companies, you own the oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we’re going to give you the opportunity to own the United States government.’