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Super PACs Gone Wild: This Is “Tip of the Iceberg” If Citizens United Isn’t Overturned, Sen. Sanders Warns

Aaron Task
Editor in Chief
Daily Ticker

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As of Super Tuesday, so-called Super PACs have spent more than $66 million on the GOP primaries, more than the total Super PAC spending during the entire 2010 midterms, according to The Center for Public Integrity.

"You're looking at the tip of the iceberg," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) tells The Daily Ticker. "What people are seeing as a result of the Republican primary, with their own eyes, for the first time, is the unbelievable power large corporations and billionaires are having on the political process."

Like many Americans, Sen. Sanders believes the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling must be overturned. The decision determined that corporations, labor unions and individuals can give unlimited money to political groups to spend on elections. The Supreme Court determined the free speech protections individuals have should apply to corporations, too.

"Honest people all over this country have different philosophical and political views: Very few believe a corporation is a person, which is what the Supreme Court said in Citizens United," Sen. Sanders says. "If we do not turn this thing around, you're going to be living in a country where a handful of billionaires and large corporations will be determining who our elected officials are, and that is not what people fought and died for [fighting] for our democracy."

Sen. Sanders has proposed a Constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United. The Saving American Democracy Amendment states that:

  • Corporations are not persons with constitutional rights equal to real people.
  • Corporations are subject to regulation by the people.
  • Corporations may not make campaign contributions or any election expenditures.
  • Congress and states have the power to regulate campaign finances.

By his own admission, Sen. Sanders says there's not enough support in Congress to get the "super-majority" necessary to pass a Constitutional amendment.

"We are not going to have the votes today," he says. "My Republican colleagues understand Citizens United is a positive for them; it allows their corporate friends to help them and their candidates."

Money & Politics: A Bipartisan Problem

While President Obama has said it would be his "strong preference" to "completely eliminate" Super PACs, according to Politico.com, he is also accepting such funding, including $1 million from comedian Bill Maher. The President has said his campaign will not "unilaterally disarm," a view Sen. Sanders supports, but some see hypocrisy in the President's actions. (See: Obama Pushes for Super PAC Donations: Is His Decision Rife with Hypocrisy?)

Partisan politics aside, there is also the question of whether most Americans agree with the idea that individuals should have limits on their campaign contributions.

The GOP primary season has seen a number of very wealthy Americans make big contributions to Super PACs, most notably:

  • Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who is supporting Newt Gingrich's "Winning Our Future" Super PAC.
  • Wyoming businessman Foster Friess and Louisiana energy exec William Dore, who support Rick Santorum's "Red, White and Blue Fund."
  • PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who has given a big boost to Ron Paul's "Endorse Liberty" Super PAC.

According to The Center for Public Integrity, those Super PACs have spent less-than $25 million combined as of Super Tuesday vs. about $32 million by Mitt Romney's "Restore Our Future."

Sen. Sanders agrees the issue of individual spending vs. corporate spending is "a serious question," one reason he supports giving states the ability to regulate campaign spending.

In Vermont this week, more than 50 towns voted to support a Constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. State legislatures in New Mexico and Hawaii have already passed such legislation and similar initiatives are being considered in a handful of states, including California, Massachusetts, Washington and Maryland.

For more coverage of these issues, see:

Citizens United: 'Terrible and Reckless' and Should Be Overturned, Says Pro-Democracy Activist

Rise of the Super PACs: U.S. Votes Essentially Bought, Says Reuters' Felix Salmon

"Occupy Courts": Movement Targets Supreme Court's Citizens United Decision

Super PACs: It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's -- It's Well Complicated

Aaron Task is the host of The Daily Ticker. You can follow him on Twitter at @aarontask or email him at altask@yahoo.com