Bernie Sanders

Corporate Political Spending Is Helping Bernie Sanders Succeed. Why Does He Want To Ban It?

To progressive campaign finance reformers, freedom of speech depends on who you are or what you say.



Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are both running for president while at the same time calling for a constitutional amendment that would change the laws governing our elections. It's an unusual situation in that if either of them manage to get elected, it would actually weaken the case for enacting the amendment they favor.

Senator Sanders' campaign web site says, "Oil companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, Wall Street bankers and other powerful special interests have poured money into our political system for years. In 2010, a bad situation turned worse. In a 5-4 decision in the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for corporations and the wealthy to spend unlimited and undisclosed money to buy our elected officials."

If these bankers and oil companies are so politically influential, how is it that Senator Sanders is leading in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls by double digit margins? Maybe the influence of corporate cash on elections isn't as big a problem as Sen. Sanders and Clinton claim, since Sanders is winning even though he is not a big favorite of investment bankers, oil companies, or pharmaceutical manufacturers. Though there's a mischievous alternative possibility, too, one that really has the potential to reframe the debate on what the Clinton campaign, in a press release last week, called "the stranglehold that wealthy interests have over our political system." Maybe what has pushed Sanders over the top in Iowa and New Hampshire is corporate political spending.

Ben & Jerry's, an ice cream brand with historical roots in Sanders' home state of Vermont, has been using its stores and website as a platform for a political campaign against free trade. That carries its own irony, because Ben & Jerry's is a global brand available from Singapore to Sweden, owned by the European consumer products conglomerate Unilever. Yet Ben & Jerry's has aligned with Sanders—and against the Republican Congressional leadership and President Obama—in opposing fast-track presidential negotiating power for the trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. "Secret TPP deal equals climate meltdown," the Ben & Jerry's web site proclaims, urging customers to write Congress opposing the free trade deal.

If it's not Ben & Jerry's anti-trade politicking making the difference for Mr. Sanders, perhaps it's the political activism of Amalgamated Bank. This bank boasts that it "publicly endorsed President Obama in the last presidential election." Signs in the windows of the bank's branches urge support for a $15 an hour minimum wage — legislation that Sanders supports. The bank's website features an elaborate section urging customers to write Congress in support of a $15 minimum wage.

Or maybe it is the shoe and fashion company Kenneth Cole whose support has put Mr. Sanders in the lead. Sanders has long been a supporter of gay rights; as a congressman in 1996, he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act that President Clinton signed into law. Kenneth Cole has used its corporate marketing budget to purchase billboard advertising in support of gay marriage.

In fairness to Sanders and Clinton, it's not only Democrats who want laws to restrict political speech. The Citizens United decision was one in which the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. That act was signed into law by a Republican president, George W. Bush, who had sworn to protect and defend the Constitution that included the First Amendment. The 2002 campaign-speech-limitation legislation was also known as McCain-Feingold, after its champion Senator John McCain, who was the Republican Party's presidential candidate in 2008.

Election lawyers may quibble about the supposed distinction between "electioneering communication"or "express advocacy" of the sort at issue in Citizens United and the mere "issue advocacy" or petition-type language of the sort that is of issue in most of the examples involving Ben & Jerry's, Amalgamated Bank, and Kenneth Cole. It strikes me as an awfully fine distinction; both forms of political communication are protected by the First Amendment's freedoms of speech and of petition.

Perhaps the progressive politicians will eventually come around to the idea that if they can manage to get elected under the existing rules, those rules aren't so bad, after all. Otherwise, they'll be stuck trying to rewrite the First Amendment in a way that will prohibit politicking by oil companies, investment banks, and pharmaceutical companies but that will allow similar activity by international ice cream companies, labor-union-controlled banks, and the fashion industry. In other words, freedom of speech would depend on who you are or what you say. That isn't really freedom at all. It is, however, good reason to be suspicious of presidential candidates running on promises to rescind a part of the Bill of Rights.

NEXT: What's in Scott Walker's National Labor Reform Plans?

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  1. “It is, however, good reason to be suspicious of presidential candidates running on promises to rescind a part of the Bill of Rights.”

    So, every one of them.

  2. Oh please, writing narrow exclusions and exceptions for their supporters to laws restricting basic rights is half the fun and a great source of lucre for politicians.

    1. Only half?

  3. you can be right, or you can win…that’s usually a choice a politician makes somewhere along the line. and then the line keeps moving.

    then of course, there’s the politicians who think no matter what happens, it is simply affirmation of what they thought all long.

    perpetual compromise or eternal delusion 2016!?

    god bless america.

  4. “Perhaps the progressive politicians will eventually come around to the idea that if they can manage to get elected under the existing rules, those rules aren’t so bad, after all.”


  5. “Otherwise, they’ll be stuck trying to rewrite the First Amendment in a way that will prohibit politicking by oil companies, investment banks, and pharmaceutical companies but that will allow similar activity by international ice cream companies, labor-union-controlled banks, and the fashion industry.”

    Ruling arbitrarily is the entire point of ruling. They don’t have to rewrite the First Amendment at all, any more than FDR had to rewrite the 5A to get a favorable Korematsu ruling. The executive will do what it wants, after which the judiciary will bang its collective head on a keyboard until it produces a justification for the executive action that looks vaguely plausible to its supporters and the hoi polloi. And, presto change-o, the land has a new law.

    The only means of preventing that is gridlock via a sufficient number of antagonistic political actors in the judicial system, and Scalia and Thomas aren’t going to live forever.

  6. What seems to be the problem, Ira? You never saw someone stand on principal before? Probably not, since your guy Rand Paul sells himself out constantly to the fringe on the right.

    Sanders and those corporations know exactly what he is calling for, and they support it simply because it’s the right thing to do…they’re not buying that money equals speech. Good for them.

    1. Jackand Ace|9.14.15 @ 6:08PM|#
      “…they’re not buying that money equals speech. Good for them.”

      So they’re as fucking idiotic as you?

    2. Must be nice to be able to stand on principle and still take the money. I’d ask when exactly Hillary Clinton acquired any principles, but at this point what difference would it make?

    3. ‘stand on principal…”

      As is often noted here, statists care more about principals than principles. Sanders has no problem calling out the oil companies and KOCHPORASHUNZ! but will eagerly take all the monetary and public-relations support from right-thinking corporations like Ben & Jerrys.

      1. A liberal playing the game according to its rules is worse than capitalist conservatives rigging the game in the first place–which you support.

        1. In what ways are capitalist conservatives rigging the game in the first place? What are the rules exactly?

        2. Those are both sides of the same coin. Liberal and conservative politicians alike at all levels of gov’t above small city councils all serve corporate and union interests (also both sides of the same coin–management on one side, labor on the other, with no one truly representing the third party, the citizen).

          That includes “libertarian” Rand Paul–to win federal office, one MUST sell one’s influence to the corporations and/or unions.

      2. Ice-cream < oil companies when it comes to the evil scale.

        Erog, gimme some mo.

    4. Your comment literally is incoherent.

      Re-read, re-work, re-think.

  7. Remember guys: It’s not cronyism when WE do it!


    1. Lol. no mention from comrade sanders regarding guys like buffet, soros, steyer, ellison, kaiser

      I get a kick out of rich liberals complaining about income and wealth inequality. they are the ones

  8. “Corporate Political Spending Is Helping Bernie Sanders Succeed. Why Does He Want To Ban It?”

    He’s stupid enough to be a socialist; you think he’s bright enough to figure out what’s to his advantage?

  9. …because he is a true Progressive, that’s why – meaning, he always does what he feels is right, regardless of whether its in his self-interest or demonstrably destructive of his stated goals.

  10. I’m gonna manufacture Bernie Sanders bobbleheads and make millions stateside, billions world wide. Unless that fucking Trump motherfucker beats me to the punch. I mean, look at Sanders’ head. It SCREAMS bobblehead. But does it scream bobblehead as much as Trump? That is the question.

  11. “Corporate political spending”? Don’t you mean “persons speaking”?

    1. No problem with the labor union lobbying huh?

      1. I have no problem with lobbying at all.

        1. So what was the rigging you spoke of above?

      2. That’s the actual catch here. By differentiating unions and the legacy press from other sorts of paid political speech, you get the case being made by the Left for a narrowly-defined First Amendment (one that just happens to come out in their favorite).

        It’s that game of how one defines “moneyed interests” in Anglosphere political debate that’s at least as old as Walpole and Bolingbroke, before George III was even a mad gleam in his father’s Hanoverian eye.

        1. So what your saying it really isnt about principle but rather TEAM

  12. You left out the most important industry supporter of Bernie: Hollywood. Pretty much everything it produces is anti-capitalist.

  13. Why does bernie sanders need all that campaign cash when children are starving in america?


  14. This supposes they only wish to ban sponsorship. The proposed amendment to countering Citizens United gutted the First Amendment, which is their goal.

    Remember, their goal is single party rule and eliminate the first amendment…not finance reform.

  15. I don’t really see any hypocrisy here. The issue is, after all, quite a bit larger than Bernie Sander’s particular political campaign.

    Imagine for instance that I don’t like a certain rule in Baseball, like – the designated hitter. Now I’m playing a baseball tournament where the winner gets to change any rule of Baseball that they like.

    Should I not use the designated hitter rule to make sure that I am competing as evenly as I can on my way to winning the tournament? It seems a little preposterous to me to not play the game by the current rules even if I want to change them later. I mean, I COULD do that (and likely be at a disadvantage) and sure it WOULD prove a point, but proving a point means far less than accomplishing your goals, doesn’t it? So long as the way you go about doing everything is within the scope of the existing rules, I think this ought to be above criticism, particularly from charges of hypocrisy (of which, this is actually not – Bernie’s arguments are not that current campaign finance rules are bad for individual politicians, but overall bad as a system for politics).

    I think, on some level, Ira (and other critics) understand this. If this is the case I feel a little annoyed that they’re insulting my intelligence by putting out articles like this one and a little ashamed at Reason for carrying them.

  16. How could anyone vote for someone with all of that corn stuck in his teeth?

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