Sanders can gain ground by zeroing in on corruption

Sanders can gain ground by zeroing in on corruption
© Greg Nash

Corruption has emerged as a top issue for American voters and Democratic presidential candidates must tackle it head on. 

Research from Center for American Progress Action Fund shows more than 50 percent of both Republicans and Democrats indicated corruption to be their biggest concern for the federal government. 

Then the 2018 midterms came around, and the under-reported story was the fact that (with historic lows of public trust in government) voters passed more anti-corruption and pro-democracy reforms at the state-level — in “red” and “blue” states alike — than at any time in U.S. history. What’s more? Over 80 percent of all voters (including 84 percent of independents) now want these reforms passed at the federal level.


Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary Environmental activists interrupt Buttigieg in New Hampshire Pence to visit Iowa days before caucuses MORE (D-Mass.) capitalized on the opportunity to present a masterful “plan for that:” less than a month ago, before her largest crowd yet, she pledged and unveiled a manifesto to fix corruption first, if elected president. Ever since, her star has been rising.

South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegThe Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary Environmental activists interrupt Buttigieg in New Hampshire Pence to visit Iowa days before caucuses MORE was the first presidential candidate out of the gate to pledge to #FixDemcoracyFirst — which we know to be two-sides of the same coin (fixing democracy and fixing corruption) — many other Democratic presidential hopefuls have since pledged to fight corruption on Day One. 

And Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record The Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary MORE (I-Vt.)? Despite his first-in-class small-donor-powered fundraising operation, his poll numbers continue to drop while Warren’s are surging. He’s also yet to officially pledge to #FixDemocracyFirst. Sanders should join his cohorts and re-establish himself as America’s anti-corruption leader by pledging to tackle corruption not only as a platform issue, but as his first issue.

Hopefully, Sanders sees that attempting to fix any other issue — from health care to education, taxes to the environment —  without first breaking special interests’ grip on the system is not possible.

He seems to be getting closer to this realization: On Monday, he announced a bold plan to get corporate money out of politics that starts with a ban on corporate contributions to next year’s Democratic Party Convention and all related committees, if he’s the nominee. And, to be fair, he was the first to sign onto a “Fix Democracy” pledge in 2016 — but so much has changed since then. We have learned of unprecedented millions being purged from the rolls since 2016 — which has not been addressed during the debates.


Sanders has a prime opportunity to break this silence during the upcoming Oct. 15 debate. For too long, candidates have put democracy reform in their platform, as he has (even without mentioning voter purges or their proven countermeasure, Same Day Registration), but have not put it as the first issue, understanding that all other issues are affected by corruption. Getting corporate money out of politics is a start, but it is clear voters need more. 

Indeed, without pledging to address corruption first, it may be impossible to win the presidency. No Democratic nominee for president has won a majority of the white vote in the past 50 years, and the 2016 election was determined by less than 80,000 votes across 3 states. There’s literally no path to victory without the black and brown vote.

Sanders was definitely on the right path at the last presidential debate, when he said that every issue we care about is blocked by corruption. But if he’s really committed to getting his poll numbers back on track, he’d do well to make the case as to why the next president must fight corruption. In the wake of the first presidential election without the full protection of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the future of our nation depends on the next president being committed to this cause and fix democracy.

Renaldo Pearson is the director of external affairs for RepresentUs, the nation’s largest grassroots anti-corruption campaign. He just walked over 700-miles, culminating with a sit-in and his arrest on the Capitol steps, to highlight our broken and corrupt democracy. In 2018, RepresentUs helped pass 23 anti-corruption measures — a historic year for the movement.