The 2008 presidential candidate and former Alaskan senator Mike Gravel criticized the current campaign finance system as a corruption of democracy but nonetheless foresaw a victory path to the presidency for Vermont’s junior Democratic senator.
“The most interesting campaign is that of Bernie Sanders,” Gravel, shown at right in an official photo from his 2008 campaign, told the Justice Integrity Project in an interview Aug. 15. Gravel, now 85, made his comments by phone from his home in California. Our Project sought his opinion on the under-reported story of how campaign finance regulations are affecting the race, especially regarding public financing of long-shot candidates.
The two-term Democratic senator (1969-1981), a hero of the Pentagon Papers transparency battle in the 1970s, said of Sanders: “He’s got a very viable shot at winning the primary and the presidency. He’s capturing the sense of economic outrage. He may have jumped in just when people are fed up enough to nominate and elect him.”
Sanders is shown below in a photo taken by the Justice Integrity Project March 9 at the National Press Club. Sanders told the audience he was trying to decide then whether he could gather enough financial support for a viable race, which he entered six weeks later.
Gravel’s critique follows former President Jimmy Carter’s comment last month that The U.S. Is an “Oligarchy With Unlimited Political Bribery,” and the rise of insurgents Sanders and Donald Trump in polling for the Democratic and Republican nominations, respectively.
Gravel described the current financing system as a mess, especially after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision allowed a non-profit corporation to spend for independent political campaigns. A Republican majority decided the case on First Amendment case grounds. The holding was extended to enable donations supposedly “independent” of campaigns to for-profit corporations, labor unions and other associations.
The decision was on a 5-4 party line vote on its most important provisions. It has enabled what some predict to be a 2016 contest that will cost $4 billion total for Democrats and Republicans.
The essential fifth vote for the Republican decision was provided by Justice Clarence Thomas. Yet he ruled with a major conflict of interest. The litigant Citizens Union had provided him with massive public relations support two decades previously in its lobbying campaign urging Senate confirmation despite the notorious sexual misconduct allegations raised against Thomas by such former Thomas staffers as Anita Hill.
Shortly before the Citizens United decision was announced, Virginia Lamp Thomas, the justice’s wife and a longtime Republican lobbyist and advocate, incorporated a consulting business in late 2010 with the help of one of the couple’s longtime wealthy financial backers in order to take early advantage of the vast business opportunities that would become available for political consultants under the decision. Our Justice Integrity Project reported that story in multiple columns in 2011 after the Los Angeles Times learned that Thomas had failed for years to report his wife’s income, as required under his sworn financial statements,
In sum, and as illustrated by Common Cause Files Against Justice Thomas’s Wife’s Group, a greedy and conflicted justice helped change the nation’s laws in a scheme with his puppet masters to profit personally with a minimum of oversight by other legal authorities and the mainstream media.