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Bernard S.
Independent VT

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  • Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015—Motion to Proceed

    by Senator Bernard Sanders

    Posted on 2015-08-04

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    SANDERS. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to address the Senate for up to 15 minutes.



    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Campaign Finance Reform Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, on November 19, 1863, standing on the bloodstained battlefield of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most significant and best remembered speeches in American history. At the conclusion of the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln stated ``that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain . . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom . . . and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.'' In the year 2015, with a political campaign finance system that is corrupt and increasingly controlled by billionaires and special interests, I fear very much that, in fact, government of the people, by the people, and for the people is perishing in the United States of America.

    Five years ago, in the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, by a 5-to-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court said to the wealthiest people in this country: Billionaires, you already own much of the American economy. Now we are going to give you the opportunity to purchase the U.S. Government, the White House, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, Governors' seats, legislatures, and State judicial branches as well. In essence, that is exactly what they said, and, in fact, that is exactly what is happening as we speak.

    As a result of Citizens United, during this campaign cycle, billions of dollars from the wealthiest people in this country will flood the political process. Super PACs--a direct outgrowth of the Citizens United decision--enabled the wealthiest people and the largest corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money to campaigns. According to recent FEC filings, super PACs have raised more than $300 million for the 2016 Presidential election already, and this election cycle has barely begun. This $300 million is more than 11 times what was raised at this point in the 2000 election cycle. What will the situation be 4 years from now? What will the situation be 8 years from now? How many billions and billions of dollars from the wealthy and powerful will be used to elect candidates who represent the rich and the superrich? According to the Sunlight Foundation, more than $2 out of every $3 raised for Presidential candidates so far is going to super PACs and not to the candidate's own campaign. This is quite extraordinary. What this means is that super PACs, which theoretically operate independently of the actual candidate, have more money and more influence over the candidate's campaign than the candidate himself or herself. Let me repeat that. The millionaires and billionaires who control [[Page S6257]] the super PACs have more money and more influence over a candidate's campaign than the candidate himself or herself. In other words, the candidate becomes a surrogate, a representative for powerful special interests and is not even in control of his or her own campaign.

    Mr. President, 35 individuals or companies have already donated more than $1 million to super PACs so far. According to the Associated Press, almost 60 donors have accounted for nearly one-third of all of the money donated so far in the Presidential race, including donations to the campaigns themselves. Donors giving at least $100,000 account for close to half of all funds raised. Let's be clear. This is all taking place at the early stages of the campaign. We have a long way to go.

    We know, for example, that the Koch brothers, worth some $85 billion--the second wealthiest family in America--have made public that they intend to spend some $900 million on this election. This is more money than either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party will spend. One family will be spending more money than either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. How do we describe a process in which one multibillion-dollar family spends more money on a campaign than either of the two major political parties? Well, I define that process not as democracy but as oligarchy.

    Let's be honest and acknowledge what we are talking about. We are talking about a rapid movement in this country toward a political system in which a handful of very wealthy people and special interests will determine who gets elected or who does not get elected. That is not, to say the least, what this country is supposed to be about. That was not, to say the least, the vision of Abraham Lincoln when he talked about a nation in which we had a government of the people, by the people, for the people. That is not what Lincoln's vision was about.

    This is not just Bernie Sanders expressing a concern. Last week, this is what former President Jimmy Carter had to say about the current campaign finance system on the Thom Hartmann radio show. President Carter stated that unlimited money in politics ``violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now, it's just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. Senators and congress members. So now we've just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election's over.'' Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have President Carter's statement printed in the Record.

    There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: [From the Intercept, July 30, 2015] Jimmy Carter: The U.S. Is an ``Oligarchy With Unlimited Political Bribery'' (By Jon Schwarz) Former president Jimmy Carter said Tuesday on the nationally syndicated radio show the Thom Hartmann Program that the United States is now an ``oligarchy'' in which ``unlimited political bribery'' has created ``a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors.'' Both Democrats and Republicans, Carter said, ``look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves.'' Carter was responding to a question from Hartmann about recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign financing like Citizens United.

    Transcript HARTMANN: Our Supreme Court has now said, ``unlimited money in politics.'' It seems like a violation of principles of democracy. . . . Your thoughts on that? CARTER: It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it's just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. Senators and congress members. So now we've just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election's over. . . . The incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody who's already in Congress has a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody who's just a challenger.

    Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, the need for real campaign finance reform is not a progressive issue. It is not a conservative issue. It is an American issue. It is an issue that should concern all Americans, regardless of their political point of view, who wish to preserve the essence of the longest standing democracy in the world, a government which represents all of the people and not a handful of powerful and wealthy special interests.

    The need for real campaign finance reform must happen and it must happen as soon as possible. That is why clearly we must overturn, through a constitutional amendment, the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision as well as the Buckley v. Vallejo decision. That is why we need to pass disclosure legislation which will identify all those wealthy individuals who make large campaign contributions. More importantly, it is why we need to move toward public funding of elections.

    Our vision for American democracy, our vision for the United States of America, should be a nation in which all people, regardless of their income, can participate in the political process, can run for office without begging for contributions from the wealthy and the powerful. Every Member of the Senate and every Member of the House knows how much time candidates spend on the telephone dialing for dollars-- Republicans, Democrats, everybody. This is not what democracy should be about.

    Our vision for the future of this country should be one in which candidates are not telling billionaires at special forums what they can do for them. Our vision for democracy should be one in which candidates are speaking to the vast majority of our people--working people, the middle class, low-income people, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor--and discussing with them their ideas as to how we can improve lives for all people in this country.

    Let us be frank. Let us be honest. The current political campaign finance system is corrupt and amounts to legalized bribery. How can we in the United States tell developing countries how they can go forward in developing their democracies when our system is corrupt? Our vision for the future of this country should be a vision which is inclusive, which tells young people that if you are conservative, if you are progressive, if you are interested in public service, you can run for office without begging the rich and the powerful for campaign contributions.

    When Congress returns after the August break, I will be introducing strong legislation which calls for public funding of elections, which will enable any candidate, regardless of his or her political views, to run for office without being beholden to the rich and the powerful. I hope very much the Republican leadership in the Senate will allow this legislation to get to the floor, I hope we can have a serious debate about it, and I hope very much we can go forward to restoring American democracy to a situation in which every citizen of this country has the right to vote and has equal power in determining the future of our great Nation.

    Mr. President, with that, I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Lee). The Senator from California.

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