Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a campaign event at Plymouth State University on September 29. | Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Sanders wants to curb the influence of millionaires and billionaires in Democratic Party politics.

If Bernie Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee, he envisions a 2020 Democratic National Convention that is completely free of corporate sponsorship.

Under a new anti-corruption plan Sanders released Monday morning, the progressive senator from Vermont is taking aim at money and influence within political parties, national party conventions, and presidential inaugurations. His plan would also scrap the Federal Election Commission and replace it with a new, tougher Federal Election Administration and attempt to overturn the Supreme Court ruling Buckley v. Valeo, which considers money the same as constitutionally protected free speech.

“When we win the Democratic nomination and defeat Donald Trump, we will transform our political system by rejecting the influence of big corporate money,” Sanders said in a statement. “Our grassroots-funded campaign is proving every single day that you don’t need billionaires and private fundraisers to run for president.”

The plan is focused extensively on getting corporate money out of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), a group Sanders clashed with in 2016 after former top DNC staffers dismissed and derided his campaign. In his new plan, Sanders would ban corporate contributions to the Democratic Party Convention and its related committees, and he would instate a lifetime lobbying ban on Democratic National Committee chairs and co-chairs.

Sanders certainly has showed — twice, now — that he can run a presidential campaign without relying on corporate donations. His grassroots-powered campaign boasted the most money raised in the third quarter of fundraising among Democratic presidential candidates.

It’s noteworthy that while Sanders has spent both his 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns railing against the influence millionaires and billionaires, this is the first extensive anti-corruption plan he has released. And though it overlaps slightly with plans released by fellow 2020 candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sanders new plan is covering some different ground.

Sanders’s core message hasn’t changed, but he’s getting into much more detail as to how he plans to combat money and corruption in politics.

What Sanders’s plan contains

Sanders’s plan focuses on three main areas: ending corruption in national party conventions and presidential inaugurations, public election reform, and congressional reform.

Other anti-corruption plans released by 2020 presidential candidates have focused on combatting the influence of money in all three branches of government; Warren has an extensive plan focusing on the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

Sanders is putting his focus elsewhere; his plan makes it clear he wants to cut off corporate money in politics before a new president is even elected, while also ensuring money does not hinder fair elections. Some of his reforms would go into effect if he became the presidential nominee, before the general election even gets started.

Here’s the three main planks of Sanders’s plan, briefly explained:

Party conventions and presidential inaugurations

Sanders’s plan lays out the practices he plans to curb — namely, corporations donating to national party conventions and presidential inaugurations. His campaign cites an OpenSecrets report that says 17 donors contributed three-quarters of the funding for the 2016 Democratic National Convention funding, including Bank of America, Comcast, and Facebook.

Similar influence was peddled during Trump’s 2017 inauguration, which featured corporate donors including AT&T, Bank of America, Boeing, Exxon Mobil, General Motors, Coca Cola, and Pepsi, according to OpenSecrets.

Sanders’s plan would:

  • Ban all corporate donations for presidential inauguration events and cap all individual donations at $500.
  • Ban corporate contributions to the Democratic Party Convention and all related committees.
  • Return to mandatory public funding for National Party Conventions by strengthening the Federal Election Campaign Act.
  • Ban DNC donations from federal lobbyists and corporations, and set up a lifetime lobbying ban for national party chairs and co-chairs.
  • Ban advertising during presidential primary debates.

Public election reform

One of Sanders’s biggest proposals when it comes to election reform is abolishing the Federal Elections Commission as it currently exists and replacing it with a new Federal Elections Administration. It’s worth noting the FEC effectively shuttered after Federal Election Commission Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen recently resigned. And before that, the commission had been deadlocked for months because its equal number of partisan commissioners couldn’t agree on decisions.

As the Center for Public Integrity’s Dave Levinthal reported, the FEC currently can’t conduct meetings, levy fines for wrongdoing, make rules, or conduct audits. So Sanders is proposing a complete overhaul of the system. Here’s what it would look like.

  • The FEA would have three members — a chair and two administrators. All members would be required to have a background in some form of law or ethics enforcement.
  • Hearing for violations of campaign finance laws would go before an administrative law judge. In addition to imposing civil penalties for violations, the administration could also impose criminal penalties.
  • As president, Sanders would attempt to overturn the 1976 Supreme Court ruling Buckley v. Valeo, which ruled money is effectively speech. Many campaign finance experts believe this ruling favors the wealthy, who can afford to lobby the government, over everyday citizens.
  • Attempt to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court ruling Citizens United v. FEC. (Both this and the attempt to overturn Buckley v. Valeo would almost certainly face a court challenge).
  • Sanders would work with Congress to pass legislation to end super PACs, political spending by 501(c)4s, and other groups able to accept unlimited contributions or who do not disclose their donors.
  • He’d also work with Congress to pass mandatory public financing laws for all federal elections, including a new system of universal small dollar vouchers that would allow any voting-age American to donate to the candidates of their choice.

Congressional reform

Sanders’s ideas on congressional reform are notably much more limited than his other proposals. As it stands now, Sanders’s congressional reform plan would only involve:

  • Instituting a lifetime lobbying ban for former members of Congress and senior staffers.

Sanders’s campaign noted they would likely build on this by borrowing from other proposals, including House Democrats’ extensive anti-corruption bill known as HR 1, which includes reforms like prohibiting members of Congress from using taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment or discrimination cases and banning members of Congress from serving on boards of for-profit entities.

Overall, much of what Sanders is proposing relies on the cooperation of Congress and on winning court battles — successfully doing either could prove to be a challenge. However, because he has included party-level anti-corruption initiatives, his plan sidesteps some of these issues: If he wins the primary, at least some of Sanders’s proposals will more easily go into effect.

Author: Ella Nilsen

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