Senator Sanders’ campaign finance hysteria

Bradley A. Smith Institute for Free Speech
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Poor Bernie Sanders. Senator Sanders set out last week to write what he no doubt thinks is a blistering attack on Citizens United. Unfortunately, the self-described socialist from Vermont can’t even get through the first sentence without a factual error.

Taking to the pages of the Huffington Post, he begins, “As a result of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, billionaires and large corporations can now spend an unlimited amount of money to influence the political process.”

Sorry, but thanks for playing. Prior to Citizens United, billionaires were perfectly free to spend all of their billions to “influence the political process.” Indeed, there has never been a time in American history when billionaires were prohibited from spending “an unlimited amount of money,” unless we count the 15 months between passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act Amendments of October 1974 and the date they were struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in January, 1976.

When you can’t get through the first sentence without a factual error, you’ve got to figure the fact checkers were not merely bored, but non-existent.

We could go on; depending on how one defines “to influence the political process,” there has never been a time when corporations could not spend “an unlimited amount of money” to “influence” that process. Corporations can, and always have, been able to spend “unlimited” amounts to lobby and to run ads and educational campaigns on political issues, including pitches for specific legislation.

Again ignoring the 15 months between passage and striking down in the courts of the 1974 FECA Amendments, corporations have always been able to spend unlimited amounts on ads that might say something like “Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-avowed socialist, is a demagogic buffoon. Call Senator Sanders and tell him to quit misleading the American people.” Not that anyone would think that that was an accurate description of Senator Sanders.

We cannot help but notice that his concern is only with “extraordinarily wealthy families [who] will spend billions of dollars to elect right-wing candidates to the Senate, the House, governors’ mansions and the presidency of the United States.” Extraordinarily wealthy families who will spend billions to elect left-wing candidates — the Pritzkers, Strykers, Soroses, Steyers, etc. — don’t bother him much.

Most of Sander’s column is an ad hominem attack on the Kochs, by associating them with what the Senator thinks are some of the most extreme positions of the 1980 Libertarian Party platform (David Koch was the vice presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party that year). Oddly, Sanders notes that many of these positions are now pretty mainstream.

Before launching his ad hominem attack on the Kochs, the self-avowed “socialist” might have looked at the current platform of the Socialist Party. Though long on empty rhetoric and relatively short on specifics — you can guess why — there is still quite a bit in the platform. The Socialist platform in 2014 — not 1980 — calls for limiting the maximum income to ten times the minimum income. It calls for paying unemployment benefits for the duration of unemployment (i.e. indefinitely) at 100 percent of a person’s prior wage (in other words, if you’re willing to forego pay increases, you can retire today at 100 percent of pay, regardless of your age).

The socialists support the “expropriation of work places” by “militant, united labor action.” It calls for a 30-hour workweek with no reduction in pay and 6 weeks paid vacation – though it’s hard to see why, since you can just go on unemployment. It calls for the United States to pay “reparations” to the African American and Native American communities, with the system to be administered “by the oppressed communities themselves.” It opposes “any effort” to restrict Social Security Disability Income benefits by defining “who is a person with a disability.” (I am not making this up). It wants an Obamacare program for auto insurance. It favors nationalizing banking, insurance, energy, and airlines, and government subsidies and heavy regulation of other forms of media. It would prohibit farmers from incorporating. It calls for the elimination of all pesticides. One could go on quite a while, but you get the picture.

Unfortunately, this is too often what passes for debate about campaign finance and free speech these days. Factual errors, supported by ad hominem attacks and double standards, spelled out to appeal the desire of some to silence their political opponents. But perhaps this is why you shouldn’t try to silence your opponents. Speak out, speak on Senator Sanders. Keep proving our case.