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Sanders: Democrats Must Curb Billionaires’ Grip on Elections to Save Democracy

Sanders said the amount of billionaire money that has been poured into the election is “disgusting.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally on November 6, 2022, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

As the midterm elections wrap up with a better-than-expected showing for Democrats, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is saying that the Democratic Party must make curbing the influence of deep-pocketed political donors one of its top priorities in order to save democracy from the far right.

The right is posing a credible and concerning threat to democracy in the U.S. — and their attacks on democracy are aided by the fact that billionaires and corporations are exercising ever increasing influence over elections, as enabled by 2010’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Sanders said in a new interview with Rolling Stone.

“We have got to do everything we can to defend American democracy,” Sanders said, explaining what he thinks the Democratic Party should prioritize for the next two years.

Something in this cycle that was “not talked about, I think, enough is the degree to which billionaire money impacted this election. It’s disgusting,” he said. “As I mentioned, I was in Pittsburgh with Summer Lee. She had to run against millions of dollars of AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] super PAC money coming in the last couple of weeks, and she ended up beating it back. This is a major, major problem.”

AIPAC, a pro-Israel group that has emerged as a strong force against progressive candidates in recent years, indeed spent over $1 million in the general election and $2 million in the primary trying to defeat progressive Summer Lee in her campaign for a Pennsylvania U.S. House seat. Lee ultimately triumphed, but AIPAC succeeded in defeating other progressive primary and general House candidates along the way, like Jamie McLeod-Skinner in Oregon, who lost to her Republican opponent by 2.5 points.

“So when you’re looking at democracy, it’s not just Trump. It is the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which has got to be dealt with,” Sanders continued.

Citizens United, which has been the subject of progressive ire for years, allows entities to pour an unlimited amount of money into elections.

This has handed an astounding amount of influence to billionaires and corporations, which progressives like Sanders say can essentially buy elections due in part to Citizens United. Indeed, OpenSecrets found in an analysis of House elections last week that, of the races called as of Thursday, 96 percent were won by the candidate who spent the most in the election.

Since Citizens United was handed down by the Supreme Court 12 years ago, the amount of money being poured into elections by deep-pocketed interests has been rapidly growing, with no signs of stopping.

According to a recent report by Americans for Tax Fairness, just 465 billionaires had poured an astonishing $881 million into the election by the end of September, putting them well on track to have spent a billion dollars on the election by the time Election Day came around.

Meanwhile, the flow of dark money — or political donations where the donors’ names and identities are hidden — has reached a record high for midterm elections, OpenSecrets has found. As of Election Day, outside groups, which are largely funded by dark money, had spent more than $2.1 billion in federal races this cycle, smashing the previous record of $1.6 billion, set in 2018.

Sanders has previously spoken up about this issue. In 2015, Sanders introduced a constitutional amendment that would undo the Citizens United decision, calling it “one of the most disastrous decisions in” the Supreme Court’s history at the time, and he has continually spoken up about the issue over the years.