Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Bernie Sanders thinks Wall Street owns the Clintons

REUTERS/Randall Hill
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking at the NBC News-YouTube Democratic presidential candidates debate in Charleston, S.C., on Sunday.

During Sunday night’s Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina, Bernie Sanders made one basic argument for why America needs to put him in the Oval Office. Not quite this explicitly, but almost, Sanders asserts:

The game is rigged by the Big Money. Millionaires and billionaires and Wall Street banks and Fortune 500 corporations and Chatsworth Osborne Jr. (that’s a Dobie Gillis reference) own American politics in ways that guarantee they cannot lose and almost always win, which means ordinary Americans almost always lose. The Big Money guys are too big to fail and too big to jail, so even if they collude in a way that crashes the U.S. economy, they don’t go broke and they don’t go to prison.

Wall Street controls not only the Republican Party (the semi-official party of fat cats) but has also bought insurance by corrupting important elements of the Democratic Party, including Hillary Clinton, at least according to Sanders (and I don’t mean to imply by that phrasing that I find his argument absurd).

In case you think I’m exaggerating the fundamental nature of this argument, here’s one of several quotes from the debate, starting with a question from NBC moderator Lester Holt:

HOLT: Senator Sanders, you released a tough new ad last week in which, without mentioning Secretary Clinton by name, you talk about two Democratic visions for regulating Wall Street. “One says it’s OK to take millions from big banks and tell them what to do. My plan, break up the big banks, close the tax loopholes and make them pay their fair share.” What do you see as the difference between what you would do about the banks and what Secretary Clinton would do?

SANDERS: Well, the first difference is I don’t take money from big banks. I don’t get personal speaking fees from Goldman Sachs.

What I would do is understand that when you have three out of the four largest banks today, bigger than they were when we bailed them out because they were too big to fail, when you have the six largest financial institutions having assets of 60 percent of the GDP of America, it is very clear to me what you have to do.

You’ve got to bring back the 21st century Glass-Steagall legislation and you’ve got to break up these huge financial institutions. They have too much economic power and they have too much financial power over our entire economy. If Teddy Roosevelt were alive today, the old Republican trust-buster, what he would say is these guys are too powerful. Break them up. I believe that’s what the American people want to see. That’s my view.

Buying elections

Over the course of the evening, Sanders made several references to the SuperPAC and Citizens United-bedeviled campaign finance structure, like this one: “We have a corrupt campaign finance system where millionaires and billionaires are spending extraordinary amounts of money to buy elections.”

And when he says that his campaign “is about a political revolution to not only elect the president, but to transform this country,” he means quite clearly that the kind of change he recommends, the kind that would help the lower and working and middle classes, cannot be enacted by political leaders who are indebted to Wall Street.

Lest there be any doubt, the person to whom he was alluding, who does get money from big banks and speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, is Hillary Clinton, who in 2013 — the year she left her position as secretary of state — was paid $675,000 by Goldman Sachs for three speeches (part of a total of $2.9 million she received as personal income for giving 12 speeches to Wall Street banks).

And, according to the same article linked to above, Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, earned $17 million in talks to banks, insurance companies, hedge funds, real-estate businesses and other financial firms. Altogether, the couple is estimated to have made more than $139 million from paid speeches in an eight-year period.

Maybe you believe Wall Street pays all that money just to hear good speeches. Maybe you don’t. Sanders at least wants you to wonder about it.

The race between Sanders and Clinton has been civil. They generally do not make personal attacks on each other and frequently express respect and friendship. Compared to the all-out war for the Republican nomination, the race on the Dem side — including last night’s debate — is a model of substance, civility and factual accuracy.

And yet, it is not possible avoid the conclusion that Sanders believes Hillary Clinton is too corrupted or compromised by the Wall Street money she and her husband have been paid to be the person who would govern in the interest of what the Occupy Wall Street movement used to call “the 99 percent,” or whom Sanders likes to address as “brothers and sisters.”

There were, of course, a lot more subjects discussed last night, most of them worthy of discussion and many of them worth considering for Democrats trying to decide whom to support for the nomination.

There is the question of which Democrat would be most likely to win in November and which candidate would have the skills to smuggle some of their policy preferences past the gridlock in Washington.

But I’m determined to keep this piece fairly short and, to me, the most interesting, slightly-below-the-surface argument made by candidates is Sanders’ claim that Clinton has been bought and he is unbought.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (33)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 01/18/2016 - 09:22 am.


    What’s to wonder?

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/18/2016 - 09:31 am.

    Too big to jail

    When Mrs. Clinton said (referring to the Wall Street types) that “no individual is too big to jail” there was an uncomfortable murmur from the audience that she pretended not to notice and with which I laughed out loud.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/18/2016 - 03:10 pm.

      I’m Pretty Sure

      The murmuring in the room was people that know Hillary Clinton is a wealthy-hating socialist who is bent on destroying all forms of capitalism in the good ole US of A. So of course we all know she couldn’t be beholden to Wall Street. I just can’t figure out why those foolish wall Street execs don’t see that, and have paid her hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees.

  3. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 01/18/2016 - 09:46 am.

    I think Wall Street

    owns most politicians (and I’m not alone). If I could completely ignore every other aspect of Donald Trump, his ignorance (not intellectual, but media-wise) of Wall Street could be appealing. I can’t focus quite that much, though, and I find pretty much everything else about him repulsive (and I’m not so naive as to believe that Trump doesn’t deal extensively with Wall Street, anyway).

    What’s nice is that Bernie Sanders couldn’t give two hoots about what makes Wall Street happy. What gives me a certain amount of glee is that he appears to grumpily wad up the whole concept of Wall Street having power in the government into a crumpled ball and toss it away with disdain. I think we need that. We’re discovering that America can recover from a crashed economy without Wall Street–Wall Street broke it, but we can fix it. With all the jittery fluctuations in “the market,” jobs continue to march upward and consumer confidence continues to get more optimistic. Despite all the best efforts of Wall Street to drag the economy back into doubt, America is recovering. We have room for a president who doesn’t bow to Wall Street because Main Street is where Americans live.

    Eric–I am hoping that I can say “I told you so” and soon. Until very recently, pretty much all of MSM decided that Hillary is THE Democratic candidate for president, and you followed. I know I’m not the only liberal (and I actually lean fairly right, as many liberals go) to hope that Bernie is an option on the final ticket because Hillary would be status quo, at best, and a step backward (or two) at worst. Though not as depressingly backward as the best of the GOP candidates. But, I have actually heard conservatives get interested in Bernie. They’re not sold on him, of course. Still…even to consider a (democratic) socialist! I think you and the MSM have severely (to quote a famously eloquent president) misunderestimated him.

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/18/2016 - 09:47 am.

    The reality

    is a continuum, not a (false) dichotomy.
    Clinton clearly has more and closer ties to the banking/investment industry than Sanders does.
    However, I’m sure that he has some, and will listen seriously to proposals and arguments from banks. He wouldn’t be doing his job (as a Mayor and Senator in the past; possibly as President) if he didn’t.
    So it’s a question of degree, not of moral purity.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/18/2016 - 05:13 pm.

      And to add to this

      ‘Wall Street’ is not a monolith — it’s many firms with overlapping but competing interests.
      I don’t know of any single firm tied to Hillary the way Ted Cruz and his wife are tied to Goldman Sachs.

  5. Submitted by joe smith on 01/18/2016 - 09:57 am.

    Of course Hillary is too close to Wall Street, they have made a fortune off speaking to the “evil bankers, insurance companies, hedge funds” or many other industries they publicly bash but privately profit from. Hypocrisy at it’s highest form. I see the gloves are off now that that the Democratic Socialist is beating her in Iowa and New Hampshire.

    I have laughed for months now hearing the liberals going off on the GOP race and claiming unity on the Dem front. My response has been you have Hillary who is being investigated by the FBI and Bernie who is a self avowed Socialist, who is driving that clown car?

  6. Submitted by James Hamilton on 01/18/2016 - 09:58 am.

    Who should have been jailed and

    for what crimes?

    It’s often said that Wall Street executives and CEOs avoided jail following the collapse of our economy in 2008. Yet, I’ve never heard names or specific charges that should have been brought and by whom (state or federal).

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 01/18/2016 - 10:40 am.

      Oblique Favorite

      Jon Corzine

    • Submitted by Mike Schumann on 01/18/2016 - 11:21 am.

      Who Should go to Jail

      A good start would be to go after all the people that perjured themselves forging and robo signing documents to support all the foreclosure actions.

      That’s just the most obvious tip of many icebergs.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/18/2016 - 01:32 pm.


        It’s a good start, but we all know that the ones who actually got prosecuted would be the low-level employees who did the physical forgeries. Their superiors will be able to claim that they never ordered any perjury, no sir, not us, and there was no reason to think anything was amiss. A few clerks and assistants would do a few months and have felony convictions on their records, while the ones who really profited will skate..

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/18/2016 - 11:29 am.

      What Crimes?

      Therein lies the problem. As then-Senator Obama said at the time, the problem was that what Wall Street did was, for the most part, perfectly legal.

      Of course, heaven forfend we should over-regulate our job creators. Heck, even suggesting that is probably going to hurt their feelings (Go ahead, boys–go Gault. That will fix us!).

    • Submitted by Mike martin on 01/19/2016 - 01:08 am.

      Who goes to jail

      Why was that in the S&L crisis, which was much smaller than the 2008 financial crisis, people actually went jail but no one went to jail over 2008 crisis. Is is because Obama’s Secretary of Treasury was from Goldman Sachs and Obama took millions of contributions from Wall Street.

      Rating Agencies rating junk as AAA see the 60 minutes piece on this
      CEOs & other senior execs lying about how safe these toxic mortgages were for “widows & senior citizens to invest in
      CEOs & CPA lying about Big Bank profitiabilty and financial strenght
      Fannie & Freddie going bankrupt

  7. Submitted by Tim Smith on 01/18/2016 - 11:38 am.

    was there a question?

    Senator Sanders again states the obvious and Hillary and her supporters are hypocrites. This is news?

    Love your typical smug line “model of civility, substance and factual accuracy”. As Mark Twain said: Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.

    Or Nietzsche: There are no facts, only interpretations.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/18/2016 - 02:03 pm.

      Just the Facts

      If the “typical smug line ‘model of civility, substance and factual accuracy'” is incorrect, perhaps you would care to tell us how. Of course, if we’re being truly “factual,” you might explain how the comparison to the Republican debates fits in with the “distorted” facts.

      I know it’s an article of faith among conservatives that the media is unforgivably biased against conservatives and in favor of liberals, but it would be instructive to see how. Or is that question somehow unfair?

  8. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/18/2016 - 12:24 pm.

    Let’s keep in mind, too, that Senator Bernie Sanders has a set of possible solutions to the problems with Wall Street running the country and its elections. That’s what the whole GOP side has refused to address, and has therefore no solutions to offer. I doubt that Hillary Clinton’s preferred solutions go as far as Sanders’s do, and the public senses that she really cannot bite the [Big Money] hands that feed her the way that hand needs to be bitten.

    Bernie Sanders is a results-oriented politician and effective legislator. Lots of us are very enthusiastic about him, and don’t see the debates doing anything but enhancing his candidacy. He’s solid.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/18/2016 - 01:25 pm.

      The question is

      whether a Republican controlled Congress would pass even Clinton’s proposals.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/21/2016 - 08:36 pm.

        Ah yes!

        PB nails it:
        That 229 year old problem, got all them senators and congressman that will have a piece of the plan, as well as the soft handed silky tongued k-street folks.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 01/19/2016 - 02:32 pm.

      He seems to be that.

      I am not a Socialist, either democratic or vanilla, one scoop or two; however, I do appreciate Sen Sanders’ attempts to offer clearly opposing arguments in this fairly disgusting election year positioning.

      I do also believe Hillary Clinton too often operates like a faulty pressure gauge displaying too many false readings.

      I’m also ignoring much of the Republican spit ball contest, at least until three or four are left standing.

      We have six months of domestic and foreign surprises to come before summer, so I prefer to be mostly amused by the preliminary posturing.

  9. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/18/2016 - 02:25 pm.

    The concept of “ownership”

    …can be something of a red herring. For one thing, if Hillary Clinton is “owned” by Wall Street, what contextually-accurate term should we use to describe the GOP field, whose allegiance to Wall Street interests has been demonstrated repeatedly during the Obama Presidency? I have a couple in mind, but I don’t think they’re appropriate for what might be a “family” news site on the web. My bias is that Paul Brandon’s 9:47 AM comment is likely true. It’s not a rigid dichotomy we’re talking about when it comes to examining who is most influenced by a political power player. As Paul suggested, it seems more a matter of degree, rather than a question of “Is (s)he, or is (s)he not?” I can’t imagine anyone getting very far in the presidential nomination procedure who has no relationship whatsoever with financial institutions beyond having a checking account at one, and, also as Paul suggested, listening to policy proposals is part of the job, whether those policy proposals come from political allies, enemies, or those considered “neutral.”

    Among the several things that puzzle me lately, one is the aspersions cast at the Clintons, by many who like to call themselves “conservative,” for behaving – you’ll pardon my use of the term – like Republicans. They have cashed in, based on their previous position(s) as well as on their myriad Capitol Hill connections. While I don’t find that especially honorable in a strictly Puritanical sort of way, the Clintons do not strike me as worse in that regard than many a former officeholder, regardless of political party. One might, for example, point to Sarah Palin as someone who has made at least a small fortune from connections she made while a candidate. I’ve not heard either one speak in person, but my guess is that Mrs. Palin is not notably more eloquent as a speaker than is Mrs. Clinton. My former schoolteacher guess is that she is less so.

    I’m also inclined to lean toward Rachel Kahler’s take on the Sanders campaign. He strikes me as a grumpy old man, not nearly as likable as either of the most recent Presidents, but while likability may be an important ingredient in getting elected (not a trivial consideration), I’m not sure it has much to do with devising effective policies, and I agree that Hillary, at least so far, strikes me as the status quo, while Bernie might be a step forward, and the GOP field is a “Throw down your weapons and run from the field of battle” flight backward.

    Connie Sullivan has also hit on a Sanders advantage. At this point in the campaign, none of the GOP candidates have addressed the issue of the influence of People of Money on our electoral process. As she said, they therefore have no solutions. Much the same could be said of health care. The Republican House has passed dozens of bills to repeal the ACA, but several years after it went into effect the GOP has produced exactly – zero – alternatives to a program that has brought health care to millions of people who had none previously. Since a “free market” has never existed in health care, the mouthing of that “free market” phrase by Republican candidates in a health care context means nothing.

    There remains the issue of electability, and that one won’t go away any time soon. Sadly, there’s no one in the GOP that this former moderate Republican can support – everyone is trying to be more extreme right-wing than their neighbor on the debate stage. On the Democratic side, I remain a fence-sitter for the time being.

  10. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/18/2016 - 04:00 pm.

    So your’e saying he’s got a chance….

    The interesting fall out of the GOP’s new love affair with candidates having no track record of political accomplishment is that it leaves an opportunity for some one as far to the left as Sanders to get elected.

    Sanders beats Trump 54% to 39%

    HuffPost Model Estimate
    Bernie Sanders 46.4%
    Ted Cruz 43.1%

    And a Sanders Rubio contest also slightly favors Sanders.

    GOP take hope though: Public Policy Polling finds Jeb beating Sanders….

    And in the course of digging this up I came across my favorite poll question for 2016 to date:

    Question 5
    Paul Ryan is growing a beard. Do you consider this a sign that he is converting to Islam?

    7% Paul Ryan growing a beard is a sign that he is converting to Islam

    82% Paul Ryan growing a beard is not a sign that he is converting to Islam

    11% Not sure

  11. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 01/18/2016 - 05:22 pm.

    It is all irrelevant.

    I love both Hillary Clinton and Bernie as candidates, but neither one of them is going to change anything without a sea change in Congress. You have to get the money influence out before you can tackle health care reforms or financial inequities.

    This effort to crowd source and produce a bill to bring us back to the democratic republic we could not keep could get us the Congress we need to accomplish reforms:

    Check it out. If I were healthy enough and had more disposable income, I’d March with them

  12. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 01/18/2016 - 10:43 pm.

    Owned by?

    A slave is owned by his master. Guys who are registered lobbyists for the financial services industry are owned – they are paid spokespeople. Bill and Hillary are temps – giving well paid speeches, just like many former Washington types. As for Bernie, he had stayed elected by voting with the gun lobby, whose tools of the trade kill 30,000 Americans each year. Perhaps he isn’t quite as pure as his most ardent supporters believe.

    He clearly has a lot of great policy positions, but as Obama demonstrates, making a good argument is not the same as closing the sale by getting legislation through Congress. That takes diplomacy, resilience and the ability to compromise. Sanders is no more interested in compromise than the Tea Party Republicans. If I am wrong, please submit some evidence.

  13. Submitted by Joseph Brunoli on 01/19/2016 - 08:40 am.

    Bernie is absolutely right about Goldman Sachs

    Check out this story about the amazing and pernicious links between Goldman Sachs and the Democratic Establishment.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/19/2016 - 10:51 am.


    I suppose we have to try to separate Hillary from her Husband, but every time the Clinton’s had a chance to choose sides they’ve gone with Wall Street. Remember who dismantled the financial regulations back in the 90s? Hillary says we have the power to break up the big banks but she’s not promising to do it is she? Who is Hillary condemning for allowing the big banks to grow into even bigger banks?

    Hillary has a documented history of sitting down with those she claims to be opposing and letting them design her policy, this goes all the way back to her attempt at health care reform. If she’s true to form she’ll sit down with the big bankers and let them design their regulatory regime and then call it a “consensus”.

    And finally she’s taking money from these guys, you don’t take their money and then attack them once you get elected. Hillary tries to make a big deal out of the hedge funds attacking her, well everyone is attacking Bernie.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/19/2016 - 02:34 pm.

    I think it’s pretty clear…

    Hillary Clinton see her mission as one of protecting established entities from progressive challenges like Bernie’s, she clearly isn’t telling us she’s going to mount any progressive challenges, she’s never done that. The Neo-Liberal cloth from which Hillary is cut simply doesn’t think in terms of big challenges, they don’t recognize systemic problems, they think they tweak system. It’s a fundamentally conservative perspective masquerading as liberalism. She’s even promising not to raise taxes now.

  16. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/21/2016 - 08:48 pm.

    Jesus Christ:

    Couldn’t get it done, maybe Bernie can!

Leave a Reply