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Truthdigger of the Week: Sen. Bernie Sanders (Video)

Posted on Mar 2, 2014

    Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Photo by Blair Kelly and Tylor Bohlman

By Alexander Reed Kelly

(Page 2)

Kelly: And that’s enough to sustain you?

Sanders: It is. It is.

Kelly: You win by large margins.

Sanders: I did win by 71 percent of the vote last time and 67 percent of the vote six years before that running against the wealthiest guy in the state of Vermont who spent more money on his campaign than anyone’s ever spent.


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Kelly: How much time do you spend fundraising as a portion of the time you spend working in Congress?

Sanders: I spend much, much less than a lot of people. I’m not going to tell you I don’t spend any time. Most of our money comes from our website and every now and then I write kind of a long three or four page letter, raising money and we get some money. But I will tell you I do spend time. But I don’t think anywhere near as much as the average person in the Senate and the House does. And that is, I think if people knew how much, not only time, but mental energy—you know, we’re all human beings, and if your goal is to raise X amounts of money in a week, if you think you can cut that switch, turn that switch off and say, “Oh, now I have to deal with unemployment or health care or education,” you can’t do that. People are obsessed by the need to raise huge amounts of money and it impacts their legislative work absolutely and positively. Not to mention the simple large amount of hours that people spend doing that.

Kelly: Do any of your colleagues love this?

Sanders: No. I think it’s probably fair to say that for many Republicans as well, this is pretty much across the board. Who would possibly like getting on the phone, calling up people who you have never met in your life and begging for money? I don’t think anybody likes that at all, and I think people feel that that is not why—you know, regardless of their political views—I think that many people feel that’s not why I got into politics, to sit around and spend an inordinate amount of time raising money from rich people I’ve never met in my life.

Kelly: You must hear complaints about this.

Sanders: Oh, god yes.

Kelly: What do your colleagues say?

Sanders: Well, people are saying, you know, this is absurd. I came here to do serious work and not spending my life raising money. And what’s happening is because of this disastrous Supreme Court decision of Citizens United, a bad situation—and it’s been bad for a while—has become much worse. Because with the Citizens United decision, the big money interests are now able to spend $10 million against your campaign, which means you have got to raise even more money, and you probably have to raise that money from wealthy people who don’t have the views that, say, some of the Democrats have.

Kelly: So why don’t legislators band together and put an end to this?

Sanders: Well, that’s a very good question. The answer is that while on a personal level I think you have a number of Republicans who do not like raising money and some of them have spoken out, the truth of the matter is that they understand it ultimately works for them politically. So you may find it distasteful, but if at the end of the day you have the Koch brothers prepared to spend huge amounts of money in support of you or in opposition to your opponent, it works for you.

Kelly: Because the Kochs and their friends are spending so much money to game the system, it’s inconceivable that Congress would solve this problem on its own. It seems to me and to a lot of people I talk to that what we need is a nationwide grass-roots movement of the size and imagination of the civil rights era. But so many Americans are turned off by anything that resembles politics as they’ve come to understand it.

Sanders: Precisely. It’s a Catch-22. The worse the situation becomes, the more disillusioned people become. The more disillusioned people become, the less they’re gonna be active.

Let me tell you some good news. A few weeks ago I was asked to get on the phone and talk to college students all over the country. I was told there were a hundred campuses on the phone. I don’t know that that’s accurate. And you know what the issue was? To my surprise, it wasn’t climate change. It wasn’t women’s rights. It wasn’t gay rights. It wasn’t economics. It wasn’t college affordability. It in fact was campaign finance. So there are a lot of folks, including young people, who do understand that no matter what issue you are concerned about, whether it’s the economy, whether it is income and wealth disparity, climate change, women’s rights, gay rights, whatever it may be, at the end of the day, we are not gonna succeed in a progressive way unless we have real campaign finance reform. And I think a lot of people understand that.

Now the good news is that there is already somewhat of a grass-roots movement. I know Public Citizen and other groups are working hard. I believe that some 500 cities around the country have come on board, voted to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. I think it’s 17 or 18 states, including my state of Vermont, that have also done the same. So we are beginning to see a grass-roots movement. We’ve gotta go a lot further and a lot more aggressively.

Kelly: A lot more aggressively.

Sanders: Look, the truth is, this nation is rapidly moving toward an oligarchic society. Do you know what that means?

Kelly: Yes, but tell us please.

Sanders: What that means is that we are going to be living in a country in which a handful of billionaire families control not only the economic life of the country, but the political life of the country, because they have unlimited, literally unlimited amounts of money to spend on the political process. These are the guys who will set up all these think tanks. They’ll endow seats in various colleges and universities, not to mention pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns. That’s where we are right now. And if we don’t get our act together and I think do two things—short term, we have to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Longer term, but equally more important, we need public funding of elections. So if you’re serious about democracy, one person one vote, ideas prevailing, rather than money prevailing, you’re gonna need public funding of elections.

Kelly: This is not a left or right issue.

Sanders: It is not a left or right issue. If you go to some honest conservatives, they will tell you, look, this is not what America is supposed to be about. A handful of billionaires should not control the political process.

When you talk about politics in America you’ve got the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Well let me tell you, you’ve now got a third party, which might be far more influential than either the Democrats or the Republicans, and that’s the Koch brothers’ party and their allies. It is quite possible that now, either in the immediate future or the not too distant future, they will have more political influence than parties in which millions of people are active in. That’s the direction we are heading.

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