Thus far, self-proclaimed "Democratic-Socialist" Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has been the most high-profile progressive candidate to enter the 2016 presidential race. In an era in which politicians like Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have renewed populist ideology within the Democratic Party, Sanders has the rare opportunity to use the 2016 campaign to spread his European-style socialist platform. With Clinton the presumed Democratic nominee, however, many voters and much of the media have already written off Sanders as a fringe candidate with no possibility of securing the nomination. Matt Taibbi has a great article in Rolling Stone about how ludicrous it is to write off candidates like Sanders, but the way the media determines the popularity and acceptance of candidates is a reality nonetheless.
Sanders recently pledged not to accept any Super PAC donations during his presidential campaign, an act that will inevitably push him further towards the fringe status he is attempting to avoid. Yet it drives a point about his own beliefs regarding the corporate interest in American politics, and how his main opponent is entwined with that system no matter how much she speaks out against it.
“I understand where [Clinton] is coming from. I will not have a Super PAC,” Sanders said, according to the Washington Post, “...I don’t think we’re going to outspend Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush or anybody else, but I think we are going to raise the kinds of money that we need to run a strong and winning campaign."
Despite this proclamation, Sanders managed to raise $3 million in the first four days of his campaign. The average donation was $43 and 99.4 percent of the donations have been $250 or less, a campaign adviser told the Huffington Post. The power of Sanders' populist platform can be seen on his site BernieSanders.com - where, according to Sanders, more than 200,000 people have signed up to help his campaign.
Political funding by Super PACs is a relatively new phenomenon. It’s the outcome of the increased cost of campaign financing and lobbying, of Citizens United and big money in politics. The Citizens United ruling in 2010 gave corporations, unions and other groups unrestricted power to spend money in politics. The effect of Super PAC spending in the wake of that decision has been undeniable, and even progressives like Obama and Clinton have succumbed to accepting donations from those groups. It’s no surprise that there have already been Super PACs like Draft Bernie launched in support of Sanders — their power is so immense that they can’t be avoided even when fighting for a campaign that stands against everything they represent.
By refusing to accept Super PAC donations, Sanders obviously isn’t helping his campaign. He is, however, making a point about just how reckless Super PAC spending has become in such a short time span. He’s standing behind his outrage over Wall Street’s takeover of Washington. He’s also further distancing himself from Clinton, whose corporate, moderate interests are easy to perceive beneath her newfound populist rhetoric. Sanders may already know that his campaign has a slim chance of being successful, but at least his opposition to the Democratic establishment will help catapult his ideas to the forefront of the political discussion.
His reasoning has been simple, “I do not believe billionaires should be able to buy politicians." He's also optimistic that his ideology can connect with the American public: “I have known Hillary Clinton for 25 years. I respect her and admire her. But I think we’re living in a very strange moment in American history.”