CNN’s Rick Sanchez conducted a softball interview of Senator Bernie Sanders on Thursday’s Newsroom, during which the two railed against the influence of the wealthy in politics. Sanchez omitted the large donations Sanders has received from unions while taking other senators to task for receiving corporate money, and seemed to endorse the senator’s push for the public financing of elections.
The CNN anchor began the segment by lamenting how $375 million has apparently been spent “mostly by the health and insurance industry...to influence this important debate” on health care “reform,” barely mentioning the spending by “those who back the President.” He then introduced Senator Sanders as an “an independent from Vermont who is convinced that politics has become way too corporatized, if not controlled.” Sanchez did not mention how the Vermont Senator self-identifies as “democratic socialist” and has almost consistently supported left-wing causes throughout his political career.
After the two joked briefly about political donations, Sanchez suggested that the people who are “screaming over death panels, screaming over immigrant labor” (in other words, grassroots conservatives) should be “just as angry, if not more so, about politicians that are getting all this money.” Sanders replied, “Rick, you’re absolutely right, and thank you for speaking about an issue that far too people do talk about. Look, we pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, far higher than any other country. You know why- do you know why? Because the drug companies pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the political process.” The left-wing senator repeated this point about health care.
Sanchez then read political contribution statistics from OpenSecrets.org about three of Sanders’ colleagues- Mitch McConnell, Max Baucus, and Chuck Grassley- two Republicans and a Democrat. He used the website’s grouping of the donations by industry, which, as you might expect, cast the three senators in a bad light on the health care issue.
SANCHEZ: Let’s go with three people who have been very much involved in this health care debate. I have got Mitch McConnell, Republican; Max Baucus, Democrat; and Chuck Grassley. Let’s look at who- these are the people who are talking about this health care debate, right? Let’s see how much money they have gotten from health care. Let’s start with Mr. Grassley over here, all right? Top five industries- health professionals have given him $222,000; insurance, $184,000; pharmaceuticals, $145,000; lobbyists, $137,000; hospitals, nursing homes- $137,000. Those are the top five people who have given him money [sic]. Let’s go over here to Mr. McConnell. Look at Mr. McConnell- let’s go to the page. Okay again, this is the top five industries- industries that have given him money: securities and investment, $1.16 million; lawyers $918,000. But let’s go down here to health professionals, $713,000. Those are two Republicans.
Here’s the big brouhaha Democrat on this- not too far off, by the way: securities and investment- top five industries- $842,000; insurance, $552,000; health professionals, $497,000; pharmaceuticals, $507,000. Now, $507,000- that’s a big nut for someone who’s making decisions about how our health care is going to be run to be getting from someone who’s very interested in how it’s going to be run, isn’t it?
The CNN anchor also read the statistics on the industries that gave to Sanders, giving him a more sympathetic portrayal: “I got you here at top five industries, you got $435,000 from retired, $331,000 from Democratic/liberal- I’m not sure what that means. You’ve got $138,000 from lawyers, $78,000 from transportation, and $75,000 from education. You don’t do as well as those other guys do, by the way.” Sanders replied to Sanchez’s figures from Open Secrets that “most of that money came from organizations representing working people, representing consumer interests, representing senior citizens. I happen not to take corporate PAC money.”
These figures do not tell the whole story however. OpenSecrets.org also has a tab for top individual contributors. Since 1989, Sanders has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the PACs of liberal unions, including the Teamsters, the UAW, and the NEA, with the lone exception being the American Association for Justice, a trial lawyers group. One might guess Sanchez isn’t too concerned about these political contributions. The anchor didn’t ask a follow-up question to Sanders’ explanation.
Near the end of the interview, the discussion shifted to a case that was recently argued before the Supreme Court that may repeal many campaign finance laws. After Senator Sanders expressed concern that “if this decision is overturned...you’re just giving over our democracy to the most wealthy and powerful institutions in the world.” Sanchez replied that “it’s interesting because everything I read today seemed to indicate that because this is such a conservative court, they- they will probably rule...for corporations in this case.” The left-wing senator then suggested what his solution to the problem would be, and Sanchez seemed to approve of it.
SANDERS: Rick, let me just add- you know, people are shaking their heads at home. The answer- and I know many people are not comfortable this- the answer, in my view, has got to be public funding of elections.
SANCHEZ: I think you make a great point. You know what? I want to pick up [on] that part of the conversation. I’m going to stay on this thing. This show- this show- this little Sanchez show that we’ve got every day from 3 to 4- this is a very important topic, and we are dedicated to staying on this. I want to get you back- maybe like a guy like Reich- Robert Reich or someone. We’re going to have a discussion about the possibility of public financing and if that may end up being cheaper for you and me and other Americans. Thank you sir- thanks for coming on.