Campaign Finance

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks in front of the Supreme Court at a rally after hearing oral arguments in the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission case on October 8, 2013.

In January 2010, in a case of massive judicial overreach, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission that swept aside more than a century of legal precedent that banned corporate money from political campaigns. In this narrowly decided 5-4 decision, the Court overturned the foundation of America's campaign finance laws that had prevented wealthy individuals and large corporations from gaining even more influence over the American political system. Senator Sanders described Citizens United as "one of the worst decisions ever brought about by the Supreme Court of this country."

More recently, the Court’s McCutcheon decision did away with limits on how much individual donors may give to candidates and political organizations during a two-year federal election cycle.  Thanks to these disastrous rulings, the wealthiest individuals, corporations, and special interests are free to donate almost unlimited amounts to super PACs to influence elections and ensure elected officials are beholden to their policy interests. In fact, $4 billion was spent during the last election cycle, a record for midterm elections. Even more troubling, 70% of the money came from large donors who gave $200 or more.

For more than thirty years, Senator Sanders has been a staunch advocate for effective campaign finance reform that reduces the influence of special interests in the electoral process. To that end, he has introduced a resolution to amend the U.S. Constitution, making it clear that the right to vote and the ability to make campaign contributions and expenditures belong only to real people, not corporations. The Democracy is for People Amendment (S. J Res 4) would effectively prevent corporations from bankrolling election campaigns, and would give Congress and the states explicit authority to regulate campaign finances. Read an FAQ on the amendment.

“If we cannot control billionaires’ power to buy elections, the people elected to office will be responsive to the needs of the rich and powerful, rather than the needs of everyone else.”

- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Senator Sanders also strongly believes that all citizens must be engaged in our democracy for it to thrive, and that we should be doing everything possible to facilitate participation in the political process. In Vermont, only 43.7 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the most recent election, the lowest turnout on record since World War II.  Nationwide, turnout was an even more dismal 36.4 percent. Senator Sanders does not think we should be satisfied with elections in which more than 60 percent of our people – including 80 percent of young people and low-income Americans – do not vote.

Many Americans cite work schedule conflicts or lack of transportation as major reasons that prevent them from getting to the polls. In an effort to drive up voter participation, Senator Sanders has introduced legislation to designate Election Day as a national holiday.  He has also introduced legislation to require states to implement automatic voter registration for eligible individuals. Senator Sanders believes these actions would make it easier for people to participate in the political process, which is essential to create a more vibrant democracy.

Ultimately, Senator Sanders believes the best way to limit special interest and corporate influence in the political process is to transition to public funding of elections, effectively removing outside money from the system entirely.