Senator Bernie Sanders believes that the super-rich and large corporations are actively working against working class Americans and in an interview with CBS News compared some of the ultra-wealthy to drug addicts. Ending corporate greed was the theme of a five-stop, two-day swing through Iowa this week — marking his return to a first in the nation state since suffering a heart attack 25 days ago.
"There's always been greed in this country — no question about it. But I think 40, 50 years ago, the big money interest in this country made a decision that they were going to go to war against the working families of this country," Sanders told CBS News in an interview Friday.
"I think there has been a decision on the part of corporate America and the corporate elite that says, 'We want it all,'" he said.
According to a September report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the wealth gap between rich and poor Americans is the largest it's been in 50 years. On the trail with Bernie Sanders, that disparity is discussed on nearly constant refrain.
To rebalance the gap, Sanders' campaign earlier this month introduced a plan for "corporate accountability and democracy" which would raise federal income tax on major Americans corporations, including Amazon, GM, and Delta, from their current rate of zero. The plan would also make it more difficult for large businesses to merge and widen the reach of anti-trust laws.
Sanders also has a plan to implement a wealth tax, which would, according to the campaign's economists, in 15 years reduce the average billionaire's wealth by 50%.
In addition to restructuring corporate tax law, Sanders has the "Workplace Democracy Plan" aimed at elevating workers voices by ensuring 45% of board members are employees. The senator would also have workers establish unions with just a majority vote, including federal employees.
Sanders wants to change the way corporations do business, but he also believes a shift needs to occur in American values.
"We have to change, in a very fundamental way, the priorities of our nation," he said.
Asked by CBS News how that notion squares with the concept that the United States is the "land of opportunity" where anyone has a chance to accrue great success and wealth, Sanders said that there is a difference in ambitions between the working class and the rich.
"In the same way that we look at some people who are alcoholics, some people who are drug addicts, I think [the ultra-wealthy] are addicted to money. And I think a billion for some of them is not enough, they need 5 billion. And 5 billion is not enough, they need 50 billion. 50 billion's not enough, they need 100 billion dollars. And in order to get that money, they are prepared and do terrible things to working people," Sanders said.
"Greed for some of these people has literally become a religion — 'I need more, more, more.' Like a drug addict. And I think that that kind of greed has led to corruption. Where it's not just greed, you have industries like the pharmaceutical industry, who not only charge us by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, they engage in price fixing and collusion. Everybody knows that they are being sued for billions of dollars by state's Attorneys General for actually selling opioids that they knew were addictive just so that they can make more money. They're killing people to make more money."
The senator considers President Trump to be an example of that wealth-driven corruption.
"Most people do not want to step on other people as they advance to the top. We have a president who, when he was in the private sector, lied and cheated and stole in order to make his money. I don't think that's where most people are," said Sanders.
Corruption, says Sanders, runs through American politics as well.
"Candidates need money in order to run their campaigns. I think what you're talking about is how democracy in America has been fundamentally corrupted. Citizens United made a bad situation worse, but you now have multi billionaires who are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns to elect candidates who represent the rich and the powerful," said Sanders.
The Vermont senator has run a campaign funded fully by individual contributions. He outraised all of his Democratic competitors this past fundraising quarter and has the most cash on hand of anyone in the field. Since his campaign launched in February, Sanders has raised $61.5 million from a total of 3.3 million individual donations.
Sanders told CBS News that his grassroots funded campaign is what he is most proud of.
"We don't sit in rich people's living rooms to raise money," he said. "I am a candidate of the working class. I come from the working class. That is my background, that's who I am. And that is the kind of president that I will be. I'm not there to represent the wealthy and the powerful – they're doing fine. I am there to represent the working class, the middle class, in this country.
While Sanders isn't fundraising in "rich people's living rooms", he takes issue with former Vice President Joe Biden's approach. Sanders elevated critiques of Biden this week in Iowa after one of Biden's campaign managers embraced the idea of needing an independent super PAC in order to financially compete with President Trump's reelection campaign funding.
"I don't have a super PAC. I don't want a super PAC. I don't need a super PAC," Sanders told voters in Marshalltown, Iowa, on Friday.
Biden ended the third quarter with $9 million cash on hand versus Sanders' field-leading $33.7 million.
It is Sanders' belief that "corporate elites" not only take advantage of the working class, but also work to obtain political power through lobbying and campaign fundraising, "to protect the wealthy and the powerful."
His willingness to strip wealth away from the country's top earners has not made Sanders the most popular among the some of America's wealthiest entrepreneurs. Earlier this year the campaign published a list of "anti-endorsements", a group of multi-million and billionaires with attributed quotes expressing concern or displeasure with Sanders' platforms. "We welcome their hatred," Sanders wrote on the campaign's website, quoting President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
When asked if the senator had any concerns his policies would stifle the American economy or even close wallets for charitable donations, Sanders said he had zero fear that cracking down on the ultra-wealthy would hurt the poor or working class.
"When you raise wages to a living wage, when you end homelessness in America, when your end hunger in America, as we must do, poor people are not going to need charity. They're going to have dignity, they're going to have jobs, they're gonna have education. That's the direction we have to go in," said Sanders.