Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told a Senate panel today that a constitutional amendment is needed to undo the Supreme Court ruling that let corporations and wealthy individuals spend unlimited sums to sway American elections.
Vermont and five other states have adopted resolutions asking Congress for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. More than 200 local governments, including about 60 towns in Vermont, have passed similar measures.
Sanders revealed for the first time that at least 23 billionaire families have contributed a minimum of $250,000 each so far in this year's campaigns. "My guess is that number is really much greater because many of these contributions are made in secret. In other words, not content to own our economy, the 1 percent want to own our government as well," he said his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.
Sanders said a handful of billionaires own a significant part of the wealth of America and have enormous control over our economy. The wealthiest 400 individuals own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans - half the country. One family, the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame, is worth $89 billion, more than the bottom 40 percent of America.
"What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to say to these same billionaires and the corporations they control: "You own and control the economy, you own Wall Street, you own the coal companies, you own the oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we're going to give you the opportunity to own the United States government.'
"That is the essence of what Citizens United is all about - and that's why it must be overturned," said Sanders, the sponsor of the Saving American Democracy Amendment. A companion measure in the House is sponsored by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).
The amendment would say that for-profit corporations are not people, that they are not entitled to any rights under the Constitution, that they are subject to regulation by state legislatures consistent with free press protections, and that they are prohibited from making contributions or expenditures in political campaigns. The amendment also would declare that Congress and the states have the right to regulate and limit all political expenditures and contributions.
"I'm proud to say the American people are making their voices heard on this issue-they are telling us loud and clear it is time to reverse the trend," Sanders said.