Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses anti-corporation activists

by Angela Chagnon

Political activists, representatives of non-profit organizations and, of course, the Vermont Worker’s Center filled the Montpelier High School auditorium Saturday afternoon to hear Senator Bernie Sanders and a panel of hand-picked anti-corporation activists discuss their feelings about corporations, the media, and election funding.

The panelists included Thomas Hartmann, a Progressive radio host whose show replaced Al Franken’s on Air America, Cheryl Hanna, a professor at Vermont Law School, Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden), and Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

Interspersed between rants against the Supreme Court and their 2010 Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision were remarks about the Koch brothers, the Tea Party and “right-wing extremists.” Thom Hartmann read quotes from Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, and John Chandler Davis regarding corporations and accused the Supreme Court of being “bought off.” He ended his speech with a spirited reading of a Wisconsin law, long removed from the books, prohibiting corporations from contributing to political campaigns.

Robert Weissman, whose organization is based in Washington D.C., read the Supreme Court’s majority decision from Citizens United, eliciting laughter from the audience. He attributed the Democrats’ humiliating defeat in 2010 to corporate funding. He said the best chance to overturn the Supreme Court’s “abominably stupid and dangerous” decision would be by passing a Constitutional amendment that said corporations were not people.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company, made a short appearance. “Ben and Jerry’s has taken a stand against the Citizens United decision,” said Cohen. “Ben and Jerry’s, the corporation, does not believe that corporations have a right to contribute unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose political candidates.”

Cohen went on to say that the Ben & Jerry’s corporation was working with other businesses in a coalition called “Business for Democracy” to overturn the Supreme Court decision.

The most telling remark came during the question and answer session from an audience member, who introduced himself as a representative for a non-profit organization called “Gross National Happiness.” After his introduction, he said:

“…what I really wanted to say is that there is this thing on the Facebook page for the RSVP for this meeting today that really made me chuckle. Someone asked if we could order therapy for some of these persons that may be in need. I started to think, where can we take that? You know, we built all these prisons and maybe some of these greedy folks need some retraining. So let’s give that a little consideration, what we might to do to help some of these persons become better citizens.”