Sanders Ties Government Shutdown to Billionaire Donors as High Court Weighs Campaign Funding Law

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today attended oral arguments before the Supreme Court in a case that justices could use to throw out some legal limits on contributions by individual donors to political campaigns.

“Freedom of speech, in my view, does not mean the freedom to buy the United States government,” Sanders told a rally outside the Supreme Court after the one-hour oral argument.

The court’s ruling later this term in McCutcheon vs. FEC could further erode campaign finance laws and extend the controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling which opened the floodgates on campaign spending by corporations and wealthy individuals.

Taking advantage of the Citizens United ruling, the billionaires Charles and David Koch and other wealthy individuals have provided financial backing for the movement that forced a now week-old government shutdown, according to The New York Times. Some House Republicans, Sanders said, have gone along with their party’s right-wing Tea Party wing to fend off well-funded primary challenges.

“We are living in a society where a handful of people with incredible sums of money like the Koch brothers and others, are undermining what this democracy is supposed to be about,” Sanders said. “Right now, as we speak, in the House of Representatives there are people who are being threatened that if they vote for a clean CR [continuing resolution to reopen the government] that huge sums of money will be spent against them in the next election,” Sanders said.

At issue in the new case is a limit on how much donors may give to all candidates and political organizations during a two-year federal election cycle. The cap now is $123,200. That includes a separate $48,600 limit on contributions to individual candidates during 2013 and 2014. A separate $2,600 limit on how much one individual may give to any specific candidate for Congress in any election is not directly at stake in this case.

Sanders said the court’s previous ruling in Citizens United resulted in a record $7 billion being spent in the 2012 election cycle, including at least $400 million by the Koch brothers alone.

Sanders has proposed a constitutional amendment to overturn that ruling. His amendment and a companion measure in the House by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) would make it clear that the right to vote and the ability to make campaign contributions and expenditures belong only to real people. The amendment would effectively prevent corporations from bankrolling election campaigns. Congress and states would have specific authority to regulate campaign finances by, for example, limiting donations, requiring disclosure of donors or creating public-financing systems for campaigns.

To watch the senator at the Supreme Court, click here.

To read the constitutional amendment, click here.

For a fact sheet on the amendment, click here.