Bernie Sanders: 'Citizens United' ruling led to the government shutdown

The Senate’s lone independent said Monday that a controversial Supreme Court ruling on campaign financing indirectly led to the government shutdown, which he said was engineered by an influential group of billionaires led by the Koch brothers.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said the 2010 ruling in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission allowed the rich and powerful to threaten House members with well-funded campaign challengers unless they got their way on an agenda to roll back progressive legislation.

“So what democracy is today in the House of Representatives after Citizens United is about is a handful of billionaires can threaten any member of the House with defeat by pouring unlimited sums of money if they vote in a way that the Koch brothers do not like,” Sanders said.

Charles and David Koch inherited the manufacturing and petrochemical company Koch Industries from their father, and the brothers have contributed nearly $200 million to various conservative and libertarian political organizations.

The Senator, who typically votes with Democrats, cited a New York Times report from Sunday that explained how a coalition of conservative and corporate activist groups conspired to pressure Republican lawmakers into tying a funding bill for the federal government to implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The Democratic-led Senate rejected each bill that House Republicans approved to defund or delay the law, known as Obamacare, and the government was shut down when the new fiscal year began Oct. 1 without a funding agreement.

Sanders said the fight against the health care reform law was “just the tip of the iceberg” in the right-wing agenda to gut government programs that protect the most vulnerable members of society, including the sick and the elderly.

“It’s not a question of opposing the extension of health insurance through Obamacare -- that’s not enough for them,” Sanders said. “What they want to do is end Medicare as we know it.

Sanders warned that conservative activists and the Republican lawmakers they support intend to roll back Social Security and eliminate minimum wage laws, among other cuts to social services programs.

And he said the Supreme Court ruling that prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations, associations or labor unions.

“We have got to do everything that we can to overturn this disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision so that a handful of billionaires cannot dictate public policy,” Sanders said.