By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
A group of Democrats gathered Sunday night at Free Cycles in Missoula to rally for their preferred presidential candidate, one who has based his election on small contributions from what supporters now call the 99 percent.
While Montana’s primary election may still be months away, those who gathered at Sunday’s potluck are pushing for Bernie Sanders, and they’re hoping the state’s delegates are listening.
“At one point, I was making the argument that we need to support whoever won, but I’ve actually kind of shifted,” said Sanders’ supporter Tootie Welker. “We need to become the Tea Party of the left. We need to disrupt and move the party back, even if it means we lose one cycle.”
The state’s 21 pledged delegates on the Democratic side have yet to place their support behind either of the party’s two presidential candidates. But the Sanders campaign is hoping to change that, and it has already establish a presence in the state.
Sanders’ Montana field director Chris Karich met with supporters on Sunday night, where talk of the 99 percent, big money, super PACs and income inequality dominated the conversation.
“Even the Republicans are now talking about income inequality, though I don’t think they’ll do anything about it,” said Welker. “Sanders certainly has brought other Democrats back to the left. There’s a lot of people running across the country who call themselves ‘Bernicrats’ who are taking on his platform.”
According to the Federal Election Commission, Sanders has raised $145,810 in Montana compared to Hillary Clinton’s $93,684. On Sunday night, Sanders’ supporters were invited to make a contribution, however small, on a laptop provided for the event.
To date, according to the FEC, Republican presidential candidates have raised $627,889 in Montana compared to $240,994 raised by Democrats.
“Before Sanders was ever in the race, I was in favor of getting rid of big money in politics,” said Sanders supporter Linda Gillison. “I may vote for Clinton at the end, but it bothers me because I just see the big money there and no real dedication to progressive causes. I don’t think we’ll make any headway in progressive causes until we get big money out of politics, because their causes are never our causes.”
Throughout the campaign, Sanders has repeatedly said that the nation’s political campaign finance system is both broken and corrupt. The system is so flawed, he argues, that super PACs have more money and more influence over campaigns than the candidates themselves.
Many on Sunday agreed that big money in politics favors billionaires and special interests, and they want to see it changed.
“This is the first time I’ve seen people really mobilize and say enough, the system is rigged and the wealthy have way too much power,” said Welker. “Anyone who says money doesn’t impact their vote, they’re full of BS. I’ve seen it happen in Montana.”
While Gillison said she’ll likely support whoever emerges as the Democratic front runner, Welker is taking a “Bernie or bust” approach. Todd Leifer hopes it doesn’t come to that by supporting Sanders from the start.
“He talks about making our tax dollars do more for us as individuals, not just the big guys,” said Leifer. “We pay our money in and we more of it. I feel like he might be the one to make that happen.”