Critics say Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is too liberal, but he's gaining in polls against presumed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. On Monday, he took his campaign to Illinois.
In 1964, Sanders graduated from the University of Chicago in a ceremony at the on-campus Rockefeller chapel. Now as a U.S. Senator from Vermont, Sanders returned to students packing the pews to hear him speak.
"Let me be as blunt as I can in telling you what many of you already know," he said to a supportive, applauding audience." And that is, as a result of the disastrous Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, the American political system has been totally corrupted," he said.
Sanders says the decision to to lift contribution caps, under the idea that spending equals speech, undermines the foundations of American democracy.
"No nominee of mine to the United States Supreme Court will get that job unless he or she is loud and clear that one of their first orders of business will be to overturn Citizens United," he said.\
Sanders' remarks come after record-setting spending in Illinois last year, largely due to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's largely self-funded campaign. Rauner and his affiliated PACs are expected to pump a lot more money into next year’s state legislative races.
Sanders bemoaned low voter turnout, and he encouraged students to get involved in the political process. He said he spent a lot of time at the university library reading (though he joked that it was often not the material he'd been assigned to read for class), and that he learned about organized labor, democratic socialism and his fight for social justice through his experience on protesting against racially segregated housing; but he spoke of one "painful" memory: "of coming here as a young man from a family that did not have a lot of money, a family whose mom and dad did not go to college. And suddenly interacting with a whole lot of young people whose families did have money, whose families were often professional."
Sanders has advocated for free tuition and public universities. During his speech he remarked that while he didn't know the tuition tag at the University of Chicago (the school's website lists it as $44,178 for this academic year), he bet that it is less than the cost of imprisonment; Sanders went on to call for a reduction in the number of prisoners and was critical of mandatory sentencing.
Sanders says when he was a University of Chicago student, he never would have imagined that America would elect a black president in his lifetime, or that same sex couples would be able to marry, but he told the student audience that they have more work to do.
"Today in America the very rich are becoming much richer, almost everybody else is becoming poorer, and we need your help to create an economy that works for all of our people, not just the one-percent," he said during his 40-minute speech.
Sanders is campaigning for the public financing of elections, a 15-dollar minimum wage, and paid family medical leave.