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Bernie Sanders Explains Why Congress Fears Citizens United

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Posted on Dec 16, 2011
AP / Rich Pedroncelli

By Bill Boyarsky

It took just 12 minutes and 29 seconds on the Senate floor for Sen. Bernie Sanders to expose the real power of corporate America over our elections. It should be a rallying cry for the embattled minority trying to clean up the system.

Sanders, one of two Independents in the Senate (along with Joe Lieberman), was speaking Dec. 8 on behalf of his proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s devastating Citizens United decision, which permits corporations, unions and issue advocacy organizations to spend unlimited amounts of money from their own funds to support or oppose candidates.

As the nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog The Center for Responsive Politics said of Citizens United, it “has profoundly affected the nation’s political landscape” and resulted in “unprecedented political spending. Secret donors. New ways for unions and corporations to spend money on politics.”

With Barack Obama and the Republican presidential candidates collecting huge amounts of money and attention, Sanders focused instead on the Senate and the House, a real public service.

Noting that the six largest banks on Wall Street have assets equal to 65 percent of the national gross domestic product, he asked what happens in Congress “when an issue comes up and impacts Wall Street … to break up these huge banks and members walk up to the desk and have to decide [whether] to vote against it with full knowledge that if they vote against the interest of Wall Street that two weeks later there may be ads coming down into their state attacking them. Every member of the Senate, every member of the House, in the back of their minds, will be thinking … ‘If I cast a vote this way, if I take on the big money interest, am I going to be punished … will a huge amount of money be unleashed in my state?’ Every member knows this is true. It is not just taking on Wall Street, maybe it’s taking on the drug companies, maybe it’s taking on the private insurance companies, maybe it’s taking on the military-industrial complex. … You’re going to think twice about how you cast that vote.”

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Sanders’ description is much more sophisticated than the conventional view of campaign reformers: contribution received, vote given. Perhaps there is no crime, but certainly the appearance of a quid pro quo. That’s bad and it happens all the time. But in the post Citizens United world, powerful special interests have a much greater ability to influence votes with the threat of massive electoral retaliation.

The retaliators are the many independent groups formed since the Supreme Court gave its blessing. They collect unlimited and undisclosed contributions and distribute them in unlimited amounts in the form of television and radio commercials, online propaganda, targeted get-out-the-vote drives, robo-phone calls, mailings, polling, fundraising and other political activities. The Center for Responsive Politics has documented a huge increase in contributions from these groups. Among them are American Crossroads, run by Republican and former adviser to President George W. Bush, Karl Rove, and the conservative Club for Growth Action, as well as smaller union and liberal funds.

They are swords hanging over the head of any lawmaker. A vote against a powerful industry—or, for that matter, a powerful union—will bring swift punishment from a secretive source ready to flood a district or a state in the next election campaign. The threat of being blindsided is always there. The lobbyist doesn’t have to verbalize it or even give the threatening look, an old tool of that trade. The lawmaker can just look around and note the absence of former colleagues defeated by one of these assaults.

I know how difficult it is to get people outraged about this subject. I was a member of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission for five years, charged with enforcing the city’s campaign finance laws. Journalists and the public pretty much ignored our efforts and the elected officials in City Hall stymied us.

That’s why my first reaction to Sanders’ proposal was skeptical. Then, by chance, I happened to catch much of his speech on C-SPAN. I tracked it down on YouTube and saw the whole thing. It was a bright moment in a dreary year.

Sanders is not alone in his fight. The activist organization Public Citizen and other progressive groups are organizing, circulating petitions for a constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United decision. The target date, Jan. 21, will be the second anniversary of the high court’s ruling.

The Los Angeles City Council supports the constitutional amendment. Another supporter, progressive activist Mark Green, said Occupy Wall Street should join in. He wrote in The Huffington Post, “Nothing could enhance American democracy more than if Occupy Wall Street helped enact the 28th Constitutional Amendment to end the pretense that corporations are people who speak with money. The 99% can stop the privatization of government.”

On Thursday night, I attended a meeting of eight people who were planning a Jan. 21 march. The group, earnestly talking in the living room of Dr. Andrew Leavenworth, reflected the hope and frustration felt by progressives. Frustration with President Obama for not keeping his promises and with the money-dominated political system. Hope that their demonstration and others around the country will spark a reform movement. To attract attention in media-heavy L.A., they will march from a Bank of America branch to the nearby Federal Building, carrying a coffin containing Uncle Sam and a copy of the Constitution to show the harm done by the Citizens United decision.

Americans who want a cleaner politics should join in outrage with those working to scrub our political system. As Sanders said in his speech, “Make no mistake. The Citizens United ruling has radically changed the nature of our democracy, further tilting the balance of power toward the rich and the powerful at a time when already the wealthiest people in this country have never had it so good.”


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John Best asks,

By John Best asks, "What IS Progress"?, December 22, 2011 at 7:37 pm Link to this comment

People should understand that corporate interests are very often NOT aligned with stockholder interests.  They are more often simply the interests of the extreme top management and perhaps a few key board members.  You’re talking as few as a half dozen people who have this power at their command for any given corp.

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By curmudgeon99, December 20, 2011 at 11:38 am Link to this comment

and of course it is co-incidence that state of CA candidate finance reporting system is DOWN for unspecified time…..

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By Shenonymous, December 19, 2011 at 11:22 am Link to this comment

The best photo (above) I’ve seen of Bernie.  It looks like he is cursing
that blue streak that is hovering over his head!  LOL Go Bernie Go!

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By LocalHero, December 19, 2011 at 10:57 am Link to this comment

Couldn’t agree with Sanders’ more that the Citizens United decision was horrendous but I have a better solution.

Outlaw ALL corporations. Tax them to death until there are none left standing. Then, allow the formation of non-profit corporations chartered through the State legislatures ONLY and only under very strict guidelines for the good of all of the people of the state.

Barring that, these fictions should be abolished.

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oddsox's avatar

By oddsox, December 19, 2011 at 9:04 am Link to this comment

BenDoubleCrossed, you write, re campaign donations:
2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i) ... “expenditure” does not include any news story, (etc) distributed through the (media), unless such facilities are owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate; (my condense)

This exemption created a “State Approved Commercial Press!””

Actually, Ben, it’s just the opposite. 
The statute defines a “State Dis-approved Commercial Press.”

To be consistent, I should agree with you about removing the provision in campaign finance laws for arm’s-length relationships between political entities and the media. 
But, again, with full disclosure.
And I’ll stick by my original statement on the matter way-y-y-y back on December 17:
Even if political entities are free to do so, “it’s a good thing that the RNC or DNC don’t own media outlets…”

As for term limits, we have them now for President (22nd Amendment)and many local and state offices.  Some complaints, but only 4 of 11 Presidents since passage (not counting Obama) would have been eligible for a 3rd term anyway.

Your “vote ‘em out” point is valid as well. 
Only brought up term limits because you seemed bothered by incumbents’ advantages.

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By BenDoubleCrossed, December 18, 2011 at 8:15 pm Link to this comment

Restoring the 1st Amendment rights of flesh and blood would be a satisfying solution.

In 1789 The Constitution was established. In 1981 the of Bill of Rights became the law of the land.

For 95 years it was understood that 1st Amendment freedoms of speech, press and assembly were the sole rights of flesh and blood citizens. Corporations had no rights. Newspapers had the right to print because they employed people and not the other way around.

Amendment 1
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Political campaigns assemble people and coordinate their money and talents to communicate, thru speech and the press, demands for redress of grievances.  The 1st Amendment is not a loophole in campaign laws. Campaign laws are corruption of the 1st Amendment!

Flesh and blood people should be equally exempt and equally free from unconstitutional restraints. But only the corporate voice has been unregulated since the passage of the Federal Campaign Act.

2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i) The term “expenditure” does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, unless such facilities are owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate;

This exemption created a “State Approved Commercial Press!”

Many non-profit corporations, 501s and 527s were formed to get around some, not all, restraints FECA and BCRA placed on political communications by flesh and blood citizens. Interest groups, from the ACLU to the NRA to DownsizeDC.org, are all corporations too. The persons in these groups have interests, and particularly in the non-profit sector, it’s a method for organizing the so-called 99% so they can pool their resources and be sure they are heard.

The NRA bought a radio station to restore the rights of their membership to participate in American politics. But the 1st Amendment does not require people to purchase a radio station in order to enjoy freedom of speech. Radio stations enjoy freedom of speech because they employee people.

And Oddsox,

Voters are free to vote incumbents out and thereby limit their terms.

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By oddsox, December 18, 2011 at 6:19 pm Link to this comment

BenDoubleCrossed, you ask:
“Should (media corporations) be allowed to speak and print?” 
Of course, freedom of the press. 
But no monetary contributions to candidates or causes. 
And full disclosure of everything: ownership, affiliations, payroll rosters, etc.

You write: “Controlling campaign contributions has NO impact on this (corrupt acquiescence to special interests) problem.”
If non-monetary and in-kind donations (Redskin tickets, dinners, trips to Vail, etc) were made transparent, it would help expose cronyism. 
We’re moving in that direction, I’m optimistic about that.

“Congress is hated, but the members of Congress are constantly re-elected.”
Seems a paradox, but it’s not. 
We’re less likely to hate our OWN congressman or senator than YOURS!
Seriously, polls and studies confirm this.

BenDoubleCrossed, you sound like the kind of fellow who might support congressional term limits.  I’d be with you on that depending on the details.

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By BenDoubleCrossed, December 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm Link to this comment

Oddsox,

What about media corporations? Should they be allowed to speak and print? Do you think they should be exempt from campaign laws that regulate flesh and blood?

If you want elections to matter, then you need to be able to fire your elected representatives. This is nearly impossible because of the campaign finance laws. These laws are really incumbent protection laws. They make it almost impossible for challengers to raise competitive funding, while doing almost nothing to control the true causes of government corruption.

We were told that the campaign finance laws—the contribution limits and the reporting requirements—would curtail or even prevent corruption. Now, with 40 years of experience, we know that they do the exact opposite.

Powerful special interests have more control than ever. While it may be true that campaign contributions “buy” some small amount of access, or influence, it’s very clear that other factors are far more important.

You politicians say yes to special interests because you want to. It makes you feel powerful. You would be of little importance if you constantly said no. Controlling campaign contributions has NO impact on this problem. You would continue to serve special interests even if voluntary campaign contributions were completely prohibited, and all campaigns became tax funded.

We also know that many politicians retire to lucrative positions working as lobbyists and serving on corporate boards. The politicians who best serve special interests will get the best of these jobs. The campaign finance laws have no impact on this.

When contributions are limited, one must raise more of them. That seems obvious, right? Incumbents solve this problem through access. Special interests line up to provide clusters of checks for the officeholder to keep his door open. But the challenger, with no real power, is left with a task equivalent to filling a swimming pool with a teaspoon. Who lines up to support the challenger?

When contributions are publicly reported, checks to incumbents are risk-free. But supporting a challenger might close the officeholder’s door, or worse, put a group or industry on the schedule for political retribution.

Thus, challengers are almost always underfunded (unless they are rich). This “underfundedness” creates the following perverse outcome . . .

Congress is hated, but the members of Congress are constantly re-elected.

If something like this were to happen in the private sector you politicians would point to it as a supposed market failure, and you would rush to pass laws about it. But because this is a failure of The State that benefits YOU, the campaign finance laws are strengthened rather than repealed. But surely you must realize . . .

At some point this fraud will become so obvious to so many people that you will lose the consent of the governed, if you haven’t lost it already.

I want you to honor your Constitutional oath of office. The First Amendment says that Congress shall make NO law curtailing the freedoms of speech, press, and assembly. The campaign finance laws do all three. Please introduce legislation to repeal all of the campaign finance laws.

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By oddsox, December 18, 2011 at 10:07 am Link to this comment

self edit on

Corporations, Unions and PACS:
They are not citizens.
They cannot vote.
They are not mortal.
Therefore they have no RIGHTFUL place in our political system.

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By oddsox, December 18, 2011 at 9:59 am Link to this comment

BenDoubleCrossed, you ask:
“Do Americans really spend too much on politics?”
Others will have their opinions, but it’s moot to me—I’m for unlimited contributions from individual US citizens.  But with full disclosure.

“What difference does it make if political donations are made by corporations, unions or pacs?”

Fair question. 

Short answer: Undue and corrupting influence.
That’s the difference these donations have made, as Sen. Sanders has articulated.

Longer answer:
Corporations, unions and pacs are not citizens. 
They cannot vote. 
They are not mortal.
Therefore they have no place in our political system.

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By balkas, December 18, 2011 at 8:53 am Link to this comment

as i see it, education in u.s [includes, schools, colleges, MSM reports, political and priestly talk; what advisers, thinkers say/write]
demonizes equality for people in both the justice and daily living by calling such an endeavor “socialism” or “communism”.
so, what good are elections and electioneering if 99% of americans
evaluate an equality builder and/or hisher ideas as evil and is out to destroy america?
at this time such a person cld not be elected. it seems, that millions of people who do not vote in u.s elections, realize that by voting
s/he’s wasting herhis time and that nothing ever changes except for the worse, anyway!
once americans begin to be educated about value of being more or less equally politico-educational-military powerful with a general,
ceo, politician, plutocrat, et al, the demonization and evocation of great perils to america arising from electing equality builders, we wld
for the first time ever in u.s history witness an elections and not just a show business.

at this time, Dem-Repub party, wld use the capital [99% support for it] to keep on demonizing any person who’d dare run for office on
any other platform, but Repub-Dem one.
this simplicity is astounding in meaning and import; yet it is totally brushed aside by all MSM columnists and most posters.
they wdl have us believe that if one changed the laws governing election expenditures, u.s wld become more or totally peaceful, just,
democratic, etc.
i hope OWS does not fall for this ruse!
in short, money wld still rule americans—and u can have any elections u want; especially now that vote counting is gone electronic. tnx

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By Shenonymous, December 18, 2011 at 4:26 am Link to this comment

Okay, Outraged, Dec. 18 12:34 am It’s kinda early, yawn yawn…
but now what?  I agree, but to what exactly am I agreeing?  LOL
Better go get a cup of coffee. Chris Hayes will be on a little later.
He will make some sense and tell us what to do!  LOL

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Outraged's avatar

By Outraged, December 18, 2011 at 1:34 am Link to this comment

Re: BenDoubleCrossed

Your comment: “Campaign laws do not level the
playing field. They censor communications and favor
one candidate or side of an issue by limiting who can
donate and how much.

And money alone does not necessarily buy elections.”

Campaign laws DO level the playing field. What planet
are you on? Us earthlings(especially us AMERICANS),
absolutely see the problem of BIG MONEY in our
politics.

Look…. the “censor communications” BIT, has already
been exposed as completely bogus. As if…the average
person can compete with big money interests to have
their voice heard. How many ads have you encountered
representing the people. You are a hack, and
an despicable one at that.

Certainly money ALONE doesn’t buy elections. But it
does a good job of LYING, DECEIVING and CONVOLUTING
the real issues Americans care about and are in their
best interests. YES. Americans see this and are sick
to death of your antics. Integrity is what you lack,
I’m sorry….. but Americans are not buying what
you’re selling, try Mitch McConnel—he seems to be
easily bought. As it is:

“Quote: “It took just 12 minutes and 29 seconds
on the Senate floor for Sen. Bernie Sanders to
expose the real power of corporate America over
our elections.
It should be a rallying cry for
the embattled minority trying to clean up the
system.”

That’s it…. in a nutshell. Is there anyone here who
disagrees with that?

If you don’t disagree, put aside your personal
proclivities or partisan politics and FIGHT TOGETHER
as regards this particular issue. It’s that simple, I
can do it…...can YOU?

Look….. I don’t have to agree with you on any other
matter at all…. and until this is rectified WE have
no voice. Both sides.

So….agree or disagree politically…. are you in..?

I’m in. I’ll align with anyone or everyone ON THIS
ISSUE. We can argue other issues on their own merit,
once we have a voice.”

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By BenDoubleCrossed, December 17, 2011 at 11:26 pm Link to this comment

Oddsox,

Do Americans really spend too much on politics? “Consumers in the United States spend more than $7 billion US Dollars (USD) a year on potato chips.

What difference does it make if political donations are made by corporations, unions or pacs? The only thing political campaigns produce are communications for mass distribution. If the American people cannot listen to opposing points of view and determine for themselves the best way to vote to protect themselves what is the point? Campaign laws do not level the playing field. They censor communications and favor one candidate or side of an issue by limiting who can donate and how much.

And money alone does not necessarily buy elections. Remember the New Coke marketing campaign in the middle 80s. People didn’t buy it. Several millionaire candidates have run for Governor of the the State of Kentucky and been beaten by candidates who were not nearly as well funded.

I believe money has the most impact on elections when the messages of opposing candidates are similar and fail to resonate with the voting public. In other words when there is no substantive difference.

As for public financing, according to George Will: “Public financing of presidential campaigns has collapsed. Obama disdained it in 2008; the public always has. Voluntary, cost-free participation, using the checkoff on the income tax form, peaked at a paltry 28.7 percent in 1980 and by 2008 had sagged to 8.3 percent.”

UNITED STATES v. ASSOCIATED PRESS
It would be strange indeed however if the grave concern for freedom of the press which prompted adoption of the First Amendment should be read as a command that the government was without power to protect that freedom. That Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society. Surely a command that the government itself shall not impede the free flow of ideas does not afford non-governmental combinations a refuge if they impose restraints upon that constitutionally guaranteed freedom. Freedom to publish means freedom for all and not for some. Freedom to publish is guaranteed by the Constitution, but freedom to combine to keep others from publishing is not. Freedom of the press from governmental interference under the First Amendment does not sanction repression of that freedom by private interests.

Kentucky Constitution
 
Section 1
————————————————————————————————————————
Rights of life, liberty, worship, pursuit of safety and happiness, free speech, acquiring and protecting property, peaceable assembly, redress of grievances, bearing arms.
————————————————————————————————————————
All men are, by nature, free and equal, and have certain inherent and inalienable rights, among which may be reckoned:

Fourth: The right of freely communicating their thoughts and opinions.
 
Section 8
————————————————————————————————————————
Freedom of speech and of the press.
———————————————————————————————————————-
 
Printing presses shall be free to every person who undertakes to examine the proceedings of the General Assembly or any branch of government, and no law shall ever be made to restrain the right thereof. Every person may freely and fully speak, write and print on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty.

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By Union Member, December 17, 2011 at 10:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr. Boyarsky,

Why are unions always included in the list of beneficiaries of
Citzens United, as though organized labor could ever muster the
dollars to spend on political activity as major corporations or even
many individuals?

Your own article cites banks as possessing a staggering - and
frightening - share of GDP, without even mentioning real political
wealth of the oil industry, big pharma, or so-called ‘defense”
contractors. 

Then there’s question of individuals.  People are familiar now with
the Koch Brothers, but can anyone estimate the impact of Pete
Peterson"s billions on something as sacred as Social Security if so
much of Citizens money can be spent in secret? Someone like
Bloomberg could afford to finance his own phony opposition.  It
appears the entire Republican presidential field is this year are
indeed quacks of some kind.

It should also be noted that unions, even if that had money to rival
any of these other interests, would presumably spend it on behalf
of their members; that is, a group larger in numbers and one
solidly of the 99% (i.e. citizens)

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Outraged's avatar

By Outraged, December 17, 2011 at 9:36 pm Link to this comment

Quote: “It took just 12 minutes and 29 seconds
on the Senate floor for Sen. Bernie Sanders to
expose the real power of corporate America over
our elections.
It should be a rallying cry for
the embattled minority trying to clean up the
system.”

That’s it…. in a nutshell. Is there anyone here who
disagrees with that?

If you don’t disagree, put aside your personal
proclivities or partisan politics and FIGHT TOGETHER
as regards this particular issue. It’s that simple, I
can do it…...can YOU?

Look….. I don’t have to agree with you on any other
matter at all…. and until this is rectified WE have
no voice. Both sides.

So….agree or disagree politically…. are you in..?

I’m in. I’ll align with anyone or everyone ON THIS
ISSUE. We can argue other issues on their own merit,
once we have a voice.

Report this
oddsox's avatar

By oddsox, December 17, 2011 at 6:59 pm Link to this comment

BenDoubleCrossed, you ask:
“How is it that using newspapers to promote political views of like minded readership fallen out of vogue and become a practice that needs oversight of a Federal Censor?”

Don’t know about any Federal Censor, my point was about ownership.  I remember my parents talking about newspapers like the ones in your youth. 
My grandfather used to read 3 or 4 papers a day, I’m told.
In today’s multi-media world that might be like waking to CNN and CNBC, listening to NPR then Rush Limbaugh on the way to work, blogging with Tea Partiers at lunch, then TruthDig for an afternoon break, then watching Nightly News, O’Reilly and Rachel Maddow that night. 

you write:
“Government-compelled disclosure is unconstitutional and un-American.”

I suppose we could set a $100+ threshhold.
How else, then, would you assure that political donations are NOT being made by a corporation, union or PAC?

The alternative would have to be Nambro’s idea of government-funded campaign finance.  I don’t care for that one—who decides the budget or who’s a worthy candidate?

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By Tuscany, December 17, 2011 at 5:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I agree with you.  I’m voting 3rd party, Rocky Anderson for President.

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By balkas, December 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm Link to this comment

it’s not the economy—it is THE THOUGHT, stupid.
remove THE THOUGHT [in the world and not just u.s] and
walls come tumbling down [u’ll still have to use buldozers,
wrecking balls—not the shouts at jericho, tho], warships
stop cruising oceans, army bases disappear, wmd are
destroyed, abuse of money/global warming stops, etc. tnx

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, December 17, 2011 at 1:15 pm Link to this comment

Boyarski – “Americans who want a cleaner politics should join in
outrage with those working to scrub our political system.”

He should have given a few ways to do this!  There are plenty who
are outraged!  The OWS Movement started with A Day of Rage.  Not
everyone, most as a matter of fact, lives in close proximity of LA.  But
tens of thousands, probably closer to millions, are in solidarity with the
Occupiers.

Those who see that a third party could set this country on a better
trajectory might draft Bernie Sanders as there is no better voice of the
people other than Elizabeth Warren out in the American world.  As a
voter, those are two I could get excited about.

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By BenDoubleCrossed, December 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm Link to this comment

Reply to oddsox

During the 40s and early 50s Louisville, Kentucky, where I grew up, was typical of many communities across the nation. Louisville had a Democratic and a Republican newspaper and that was how the parties made war with each other over issues and attempted to woo voters. How is it that using newspapers to promote political views of like minded readership fallen out of vogue and become a practice that needs oversight of a Federal Censor? -BenDoubleCrossed

The following was written by Jim Babka and can be found on Real CampaignReform.org:

3. Why is compulsory disclosure considered a good thing?
Nowadays, few people question the propriety of disclosure of campaign contributions. Even conservatives and some libertarians have come to the conclusion that we must know who is behind the Congressman, or who is funding a particular commercial. Some Americans believe that disclosure is essential to the proper operation of democracy.

Let’s carry this premise to its logical conclusion.

How many Americans insist their “oughta be a law” requiring the media to divulge their “governmental sources?” Imagine the trouble Woodward and Bernstein would’ve had if they’d had to disclose who “Deep Throat” was.

How many people want government compelled disclosure of the names, addresses, vocations and employers of persons who “volunteer” for campaigns? After all, some people’s time is quite valuable.

Or how many people believe we need to end the secret ballot? Is it possible that some people voting for particular candidates because they expect to receive special favors from the government if the candidate wins?

This could be done. After all, the secret ballot isn’t required by the Constitution. During the colonial period many government officials were elected by voice or a show of hands. This practice didn’t die out entirely until the 1860s. And paper ballots didn’t become popular until early in the 19th century. At first, voters made their own ballots and brought them to the polls. Then political parties started printing ballots and the polling places became akin to an open auction. Ticket distributors would fight with each other and the elderly were scared away. And that’s why we have secret ballots today—to protect the voters from reprisals and threats of violence.

But shouldn’t we also want to protect political donors from potential reprisals from candidates they didn’t support, especially if the candidates the donors opposed are elected to office and have the power of government behind them?

This seems obvious, but for some reason we’ve gone the opposite way on financial disclosure. Why? Anonymous political documents predate the settling of our country. The first was a document written in the 1570s under the fictitious name Junius Brutus. In English it’s titled A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants. According to historians, this document played a role in the destruction of the Stuarts, then the royal family of Great Britain. And this document also influenced America’s patriots.

There are other pre-revolutionary examples, including the story of John Peter Zenger, whose case was a precedent for the 1st Amendment freedom of the press and the concept of fully informed juries.

Another example was John Dickson, a colonial patriot who anonymously protested the preponderance of taxes by Parliament in his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania. Add to this list, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, which was published with the byline “An Englishman.”

But the best examples occurred during the debate over the Constitution itself. Publius, the pseudonym of James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, wrote the Federalist Papers. And let’s give equal time to “Brutus,” “Federal Farmer,” “Centinel,” and “Cato”—all of them took the anti-federalist position. (Too bad they lost.)

The list goes on, but the point is this: Government-compelled disclosure is unconstitutional and un-American.

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By Chris Herz, December 17, 2011 at 10:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The political system is so corrupt, so stacked in favor of corporations and the wealthy, perhaps the rest of us should simply refuse to take part in it. 

In other places and other times boycott of unfair, corrupt and manipulated elections has been a useful tactic.

Seems half the prospective voters are already doing this:  Why not formalize this as a national movement?

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By oddsox, December 17, 2011 at 10:11 am Link to this comment

BenDoubleCrossed: interesting analysis, especially about the media.
Don’t know any way around that without jeopardizing 1st Amendment rights. 
But it’s a good thing that the RNC or DNC don’t own media outlets, don’t you agree?

You write:
“...supporting a challenger might close the officeholder’s door, or worse, put a group or industry on the schedule for political retribution.”

That’s probably why so many corporations contribute to multiple candidates in the same election.
When we limit contributions to individual US Citizens only, they will be free to continue the practice.  With full transparency, of course. 

You write:
“Donation limits hurt challengers more than incumbents.”
That’s part of why I’m against them. 
Let INDIVIDUAL citizens (no corporations, no unions, no PACs) donate as much as they like.
(The Koch Brothers vs. George Soros in a race to bankruptcy suits me fine…)
But, again, with full transparency.

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By BenDoubleCrossed, December 17, 2011 at 8:09 am Link to this comment

Unrestricted and undisclosed campaign spending by corporations has been going on for years:

“The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” -Alex Carey, Australian social scientist

It is normal for all large businesses to make serious efforts to influence the news, to avoid embarrassing publicity, and to maximize sympathetic public opinion and government policies. Now they own most of the news media that they wish to influence. – Excerpt from The Media Monopoly by Ben H. Bagdikian

Following reports of serious financial abuses in the 1972 Presidential campaign, Congress amended the FECA in 1974 to set limits on contributions by individuals, political parties and PACs. But politicians exempted the commercial press

2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i) The term “expenditure” does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, unless such facilities are owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate;

“Section 431(9)(B)(i) makes a distinction where there is no real difference: the media is extremely powerful by any measure, a “special interest” by any definition, and heavily engaged in the “issue advocacy” and “independent expenditure” realms of political persuasion that most editorial boards find so objectionable when anyone other than a media outlet engages in it. To illustrate the absurdity of this special exemption the media enjoys, I frequently cite as an example the fact that if the RNC bought NBC from GE the FEC would regulate the evening news and, under the McCain-Feingold “reform” bill, Tom Brokaw could not mention a candidate 60 days before an election. This is patently absurd.” – Senator McConnell

Congress is hated, but members of Congress are constantly re-elected.

That is because existing campaign laws are incumbent protection acts! Donation limits hurt challengers more than incumbents. Super Pacs could help level the playing field for challengers.

When contributions are limited, one must raise more of them. That seems obvious, right? Incumbents solve this problem through access. Special interests line up to provide clusters of checks for the officeholder to keep his door open. But the challenger, with no real power, is left with a task equivalent to filling a swimming pool with a teaspoon. Who lines up to support the challenger?

When contributions are publicly reported, checks to incumbents are risk-free. But supporting a challenger might close the officeholder’s door, or worse, put a group or industry on the schedule for political retribution.

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By cynic, December 17, 2011 at 8:01 am Link to this comment

There are about 100 people in my work department. The majority have at least a Bachelor degree, many of those have their Masters. After several years of polite conversations I would estimate that,while most are angry about politics and the banksters, less than 5% care enough to extend themselves to sign a petition. There is just not enough interest on their part to exert the least effort. They don’t want to hear information that may upset them, read anything that contradicts their opinion, and clearly are bored with anything more in depth than a simple comment. I can’t see anything happening until collapse and then they will take the easiest way out, capitulation to a police state.

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By PatrickHenry, December 17, 2011 at 7:15 am Link to this comment

Congress fears verifiable voting machines and paper ballots more than Citizens United.

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By Fullblad, December 16, 2011 at 6:01 pm Link to this comment

P.S. to my comment: most of our “REPS” were vetted as to their character long before gaining office as to their moral ambiguity or actual moral defunctness.Think Newt. It’s the rare bird such as Sander, Kucinich, Warren(hopefully) who are elected by their constituents and returned to office because the people know what they have in such morally strong people. Replace the lap dogs with such people who can withstand being corrupted or change our government to something we can stand. This last part is where deteNtions will happen with those in OWS.

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By Fullblad, December 16, 2011 at 5:36 pm Link to this comment

To make a long story short our supposed representatives are being given “a deal they can’t refuse.” In the small town I live in we where having trouble with a biker gang, extorting, raping etc. and our police force was ineffectual due to threats against their families. Bingo, new police arrived consisting of single men and our problem vanished almost overnight. Bingo, replace our reps or if need be replace our government to one that’s truly “of the people.” Bingo, remove the oligarch’s power and their control of our government by taking control of our money supply and creating our currency without debt attached while ending fractional reserve banking and the charging of undue interest for profit. All the rest would fall into place. The power of the corps ended as long as we maintain our control over the money supply. With the “big crunch” coming it will be the perfect time for the change. Just don’t be fooled by anything the money trust or their minions in business or the media say as it will just be “disaster capitalism.”

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By Namro, December 16, 2011 at 3:35 pm Link to this comment

The simplest way to get corrupt money out of elections is to finance them rom general tax revenues.
That way a budget would be set for each legitimate candidate that would establish theirt maximum expenditure.  A time frame for the duration could also be set at say 60 days.  Then they could spend their time actually writing and voting on legislation.  I would also not allow any outside money to be spent on advertising, so PACs, Super Pacs and all their varients would be dismantled.

The candidate would be required to propose and defend his/her platform on the issues they identiy, and voters would be subjected to a better discussion of ideas, enabling better choices to be made.  That is democracy!

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By Sir Real, December 16, 2011 at 3:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

PETE619: I WILL NOT BE VOTING IN 2012.
You lose,they win. This is exactly what happened in 2010 and this is what you get when you don’t vote. It is because of people like you, who just throw up their hands and give up,those who stayed home in 2010 because the world wasn’t righted in less than two years. This is why we are where we are today.

The right has been pouring millions into think tanks and organizations supporting their world view for over thirty years and we will not over power them by your giving up. Now wipe your eyes, get off your ass and do something.

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By BeReal, December 16, 2011 at 2:08 pm Link to this comment

You cannot pay these guys enough money to fill the huge dark empty hole in their souls. I believe limiting terms would at least limit their influence, but would also mean they would just try harder to grab more in the time they have in office.

Someone said we need ethical people in office but observing what I have in business and politics and the legal system and college, I truly doubt there are many of them around. The Milgram Experiment showed us our true colors, and when it was rerun recently it showed that where previously 65% of people would electrocute a stranger if they would be held blameless, if I remember correctly the new results were 77%!

Ethics, integrity, honor, honesty, compassion .. all spectacularly missing from the largest part of our society. We ARE the New Rome and I for one am embarrassed and frustrated by my country. Not voting doesn’t work, because that just gives the idiots who vote for other idiots more weight. I honestly cannot think of one I would vote for, though Ron Paul resonates in some of what he says, and doesn’t in other comments. Like most people, I am frustrated and angry, but I do take responsibility for my choices, even when I chose to do nothing.

Other than that, maybe Armageddon would be a good thing, clean the slate, start over. But you know who would survive it, right? *sigh*

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By ssupak, December 16, 2011 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment

Sanders is not the only independent in the Senate.
Lieberman is an independent too.

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By Textynn, December 16, 2011 at 12:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I made up my mind, I am not voting for anyone that is in now.  There’s a few I would keep like Sanders but I can’t vote for him.  Both my senators voted for Indefinite detention.  I will not vote for them again.  No one could be more of a threat.  Im voting for progressives and socialists and, come what may, that’s who Im voting for. 

There is nothing to be feared from the Repubs now. The Dems and the Repubs all work for the same people.  We need to vote them all out. Traitors all and that goes double for Obama.

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By oddsox, December 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm Link to this comment

Bernie’s got this one right.

So we need to outlaw all political contributions except from breathing, legal US citizens (no corps, no unions, no PACs.)

THEN break up the banks using Anti-Trust action.

It may have to be that order.

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By JimBob, December 16, 2011 at 11:16 am Link to this comment

The problem is that being a Senator or a Congressperson is
just to cushy and fun a job.  We have to do one of two
things: either pay these “public servants” so well that
they are immune to bribery, or take away some of the perks
that make them so desperate to hold on.  For instance, no
more health insurance, a mandate that each and every one of
them fly commercial—coach—wherever they travel while
in office, reduce or eliminate their generous pensions and
make it illegal for them EVER to work as lobbyists once out
of office.

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By gerard, December 16, 2011 at 10:26 am Link to this comment

Sure it’s thought.  That’s self-evident.  But laws, while they cannot control thought, can influence it in a public-spirited direction, more or less, depending upon the “teeth” and public opinion.  If you make the law just and fair (reasonable) most people will support it.  If the “teeth” are sufficiently sharp, they will deter crime.

Changing “thought” (ethical behavior) is of course better,but takes longer and is more difficult. Changing law, though difficult, is possible and worth the effort. Get rid of unjust laws (loopholes, favoritisms, graft etc); pass just laws (as fair as possible to most of the people most of the time; nothing is perfect!) and enforce them fairly.  It’s all “ethical behavior” in the long run, and there’s no other way. The entire nation is in dire need of an “ethical infusion”.

If the law is wrong, don’t obey it.(civil disobedience when appropriate.)  If it can be revoked, revoke it (Constitutional Amendment or cancellation). Laws have been changed before. LA City Council just recently voted in favor of revoking the Court’s ridiculous ruling on “corporate personhood”.  We’re not required to invent “rocket science” but It takes individual citizen time plus broad cooperation.
  There are efforts going on now. Join them.  Don’t lay it on OWS back—they will help plenty if and as they so decide, but primarily it’s our (older generation’s) flat-out responsibility!
  See:  get money out.com Reclaim Democracy.org
  Move to Amend.org
  etc. There are others. Act Locally.

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By balkas, December 16, 2011 at 9:25 am Link to this comment

the question arises is sanders demagogic? or what is one going to make out of the
fact that he criticizes [in that one speech—i do not what he said previously] only
corporations?? and not money nor ideology which made corporations; it,
manifestly, is not the other way around—that we had first the corporations and
only thereafter ideology—in u.s’ case, a supremacist one!

true, we need to put what sanders is saying now in senate in its proper context;
i.e., in all he had said up to now; which, of course, boyarsky cannot supply due to
space and other considerations, etc.
but he shld have warned his readers about this fact. and why had’t he done so? tnx

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By balkas, December 16, 2011 at 9:01 am Link to this comment

as long as some people have more or much more money than
others, we cannot prevent rich people from abusing poorer
people or gaining often even apsolute power over them.
the money, itself, is a mere and very useful tool.
there is nothing evil about it.
what is evil is the THOUGHT and laws which emanate from
that THOUGHT and which command just such a behavior. tnx

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By litlpeep, December 16, 2011 at 9:01 am Link to this comment

What a great public, and public-spirited revelation! This revelation: “what happens in Congress “when an issue comes up and impacts Wall Street … to break up these huge banks and members walk up to the desk and have to decide [whether] to vote against it with full knowledge that if they vote against the interest of Wall Street that two weeks later there may be ads coming down into their state attacking them. Every member of the Senate, every member of the House, in the back of their minds, will be thinking … ‘if I cast a vote this way, if I take on the big money interest, am I going to be punished … will a huge amount of money be unleashed in my state?’” offers us all the opportunity to clearly and repeatedly separate the courageous from the cowardly!

Sing it to the heavens!

Is Ron Wyden teaming with Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney to boost Wyden’s re-election campaign income from health care industrial thugs while it defeats all chances of ever getting a single one of those corporate thugs brought down to manageable stature in our politics?

Then find someone to replace Ron Wyden!  And Paul Ryan!  And Mitt Romney (after he replaces that other non-entity, president what’s his non-sense.

This is a magic formula!  Bring on the votes!  Prepare to replace Harry Reid so the Senate Democrats can grow more Bernie Sanders spine!  Bring on a replacement for Nancy Pelosi, so the House Democrats can grow enough spine to tell their incompetent president they are uniting to support another candidate to lead the party!

Bring on the contests, so the Republicans can grow enough spine to retire the cry baby and their reactionary gigglies smirking all over the US Senate!

Bring on the contests!  Bring on and loudly proclaim the results of these contests!

Let us have an election worth remembering instead of just another rubber stamp endorsement of public servility to corporate thugs!

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By PETE619, December 16, 2011 at 8:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am a 55 year old disabled american veteran. I have voted in every single election since Nixon was president. I WILL NOT BE VOTING IN 2012.I’m done, totally and completely disgusted with the broken and corrupt political system in this once great country.I know that no matter who wins we, the citizens, lose. The special interests simply back both sides. The fix for our problems, if such a thing is even remotely possible anymore, can only come from outside the system. While I commend Senator Sanders, his amendment couldn’t pass even if every city in america was on fire. Those selfish bastards won’t take a risk just to save our democracy or, do anything else that might upset the current status quo.

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By balkas, December 16, 2011 at 8:17 am Link to this comment

as i see it, in u.s u not only have corporate power over elections, but money
powers over foreign affairs, education, health care, information, joblessness, etc.
so the diktatorship by the one percent wld nevertheless continue if money rules
even only education/information, let alone every aspect of daily living; includes
also food; now poisoning so many americans.
pollution, overuse, overwaste wld still continue unabated. bases, wmd wld
remain, etc.
and if sanders is sincere why doesn’t he lead or set up a political party to show
that he really is for meaningful changes?
he’s independent, is he? nobody can be independent! this just a ploy to get the
OWS off the streets or to stop protesting or organizing a political party.
remember, kids, the more things change [by the will of one percent] the worse it
gets.  tnx

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David J. Cyr's avatar

By David J. Cyr, December 16, 2011 at 7:48 am Link to this comment

QUOTE, Bil Boyarsky quoting Mark Green:

“The 99% can stop the privatization of government.”
_________________________________

That would first require voters to stop voting for what they have been voting for, since 99% of voters have been voting for the corporate party’s corporate money manufactured Republican and Democrat candidates… 99% reliably voting in solidarity together for a continuum of the corporate party’s neoliberal policies of corporate person control of government, natural persons, and the commons.

Howard Dean provided the typically illogical liberal answer to too much money in campaigns, by having the corporate party’s Democrats raise more money than the corporate party’s Republicans. Result: the best government Goldman Sachs could buy.

It’s always the same when liberals get outraged. They get active to make what was simply outrageous become “historically” outrageous, by energetically mobilizing maniac masses to MoveOn in the wrong direction.

The liberals were outraged over the sick system of private insurance profiting denial of healthcare, so the voted for Democrats who mandated greater private profits from more denial of healthcare.

The liberals were outraged with Bush’s embarrassingly “dumb” hot-blooded incompetence in waging war, so they voted to make it “necessary” and “humanitarian” for Democrats to wage more wars competently… and cold-bloodedly.

Jill Stein for President:

http://www.jillstein.org

Voter Consent Wastes Dissent:

http://chenangogreens.org/home/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=498&Itemid=1

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By WalterReuther, December 16, 2011 at 6:42 am Link to this comment

Of course it’s about the people, but if working for the people is what triggers the avalanche of cash that ends your political career as soon as it starts, what’s the point? The deck is stacked against the people that aren’t looking out for the rich or the large corporations. That is Sen. Sanders’ point.

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By Jon, December 16, 2011 at 6:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Meaning what?  That if only we elected the right people, they would act differently? 
Have you considered, honestly, what you or I or any average person would do in
such a situation?  Such behavior is inexcusable, but it is nevertheless
understandable.  Some in Congress may be crooks, plain and simple. Others may
be decent, but not particularly sophisticated or brave folks who are in an
impossible position.  Who is who, doesn’t really matter. What matters is, it’s not
the people, it’s the institution and the process of election. If it were just a matter
of getting the right people in, this would have self-corrected by now.

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By Dr Bones, December 16, 2011 at 5:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am truly sick of the stupidity of our supposed criminal leaders.  First Iraq invasion, then feeding the Bankster monster.  How difficult is it to understand that if the banks are too big to fail, they are actually too big to exist.  It is not as though we don’t bail the crooks out every decade or so for their illegal and high risk speculation.  There is no free market because are entire nation operates via revolving doors of corruption in DC.

We need some real choices in election, not the two corrupt and utterly failed parties.

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By do over, December 16, 2011 at 4:49 am Link to this comment

“‘if I cast a vote this way, if I take on the big money interest, am I going to be punished …”

It’s about the People stupid!

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