Our longest serving independent senator

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Public Domain photo.

On September 7, Bill Moyers interviewed Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent senator for five years who served 16 years before that in the House of Representatives.  Before going to Washington, he spent four years as mayor of Burlington, which was judged one of the most livable cities in the country.

Sanders is proud that his last campaign was financed by 130,000 individual donors who gave an average of $40 each.  This goes to the heart of his recommendation to fix what is most broken in our government:  a constitutional amendment repealing Citizens United.  So far, legislatures and governors in six states have voiced support for such an amendment, and millions of people have signed petitions, 200,000 of them on Sanders’ website alone.

“It is going to be a long process,” Sanders admits.  He goes on to say, “I think in the process we’re going to educate the American people about one of the most serious problems facing this country. And that is that virtually no piece of legislation will get passed in Congress unless it has the okay of corporate America and big money interest. So the corrupting, absolute corrupting impact of big money is something we have to address.”

For those living outside our borders or tuning out the political process entirely, Citizens United was a 2010 decision by the U.S. Supreme court ruling that the First Amendment (freedom of speech) prohibits the government from restricting political contributions by entities like corporations, unions or political action committees (PAC’s).  All attempts at campaign finance reform became void, and several important recent elections have gone to the side that raised the most money.  Sanders told Moyers, “I fear very much that if we don’t turn this around, we’re heading toward an oligarchic form of society.” 

People across the political system seem to agree.  Sixty-four municipalities in Vermont sent resolutions to congress calling for an amendment.  I seem to remember hearing of similar efforts underway in as many as 20 states.  As a concrete step, Sanders’ suggestion carries a lot more weight and plausibility than vague calls to abandon existing political parties and form new ones.  That doesn’t seem feasible on our current playing field.

For me, Bernie Sanders discussion with Moyers was a bright moment in an otherwise dismal political season.  You can find the video and a transcript here.  http://billmoyers.com/segment/bernie-sanders-on-the-independent-in-politics/

*** Update, Sept 14, 2012***

Here is a link to Senator Sanders’ official website: http://www.sanders.senate.gov.

There’s a link to the Moyer’s interview and a button labelled, “Overturn Citizens United.” If you click it, you’ll find a map showing local efforts across the nation, as well as info on how to add your local group information to the list. It’s really encouraging to see that we are not alone in our outrage.