Unlike most politicians, Bernie Sanders becomes increasingly impressive the more you learn about him. Forget for a moment whether you think the tax dodging strategies popularized by the Panama Papers are ethical or not, it’s important to note that Bernie Sanders publicly warned about an expansion in such behavior all the way back in 2011. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pushed for legislation that made such controversial strategies easier, under the guise of “free trade” with Panama.
First, here’s what Senator Sanders had to say on the matter in 2011:
The man’s prescience is remarkable. As his votes against the Patriot Act, Iraq War and banker bailouts demonstrate, Bernie Sanders has been on the right side of history on all the major issues of the 21st century. In contrast, Hillary Clinton has been on the wrong side of history on pretty much everything.
Years before more than a hundred media outlets around the world released stories Sunday exposing a massive network of global tax evasion detailed in the Panama Papers, U.S. President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed for a Bush administration-negotiated free trade agreement that watchdogs warned would only make the situation worse.
Soon after taking office in 2009, Obama and his secretary of state — who is currently the Democratic presidential front-runner — began pushing for the passage of stalled free trade agreements (FTAs) with Panama, Colombia and South Korea that opponents said would make it more difficult to crack down on Panama’s very low income tax rate, banking secrecy laws and history of noncooperation with foreign partners.
Even while Obama championed his commitment to raise taxes on the wealthy, he pursued and eventually signed the Panama agreement in 2011. Upon Congress ratifying the pact, Clinton issued a statement lauding the agreement, saying it and other deals with Colombia and South Korea “will make it easier for American companies to sell their products.” She added: “The Obama administration is constantly working to deepen our economic engagement throughout the world, and these agreements are an example of that commitment.”
Critics, however, said the pact would make it easier for rich Americans and corporations to set up offshore corporations and bank accounts and avoid paying many taxes altogether.
“The FTA would undermine existing U.S. policy tools against tax haven activity,” warned consumer watchdog group Public Citizen at the time, saying the agreement would encourage corporations to thwart any U.S. efforts to combat financial secrecy. The group also noted that U.S. government contractors, as well as major financial firms supported by taxpayer bailouts, stood to gain from the trade deal’s provisions that could make it harder to crack down on financial secrecy.
Despite the warnings from watchdog groups, some Democratic lawmakers urged the Obama administration to aggressively push for the Panama agreement. According to a 2009 email sent to Clinton by her top State Department aide, high-ranking then-Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., was pushing for passage of the Panama and Colombia free trade pacts, and Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said “the president had to lend his star power to pushing them through.” Obama ultimately did just that, hosting Panama’s president at a 2011 Oval Office event touting the proposed trade pact.
Beyond once again illuminating stark differences between Hillary and Bernie, this episode also demonstrates how dishonest politicians like Obama and Clinton frequently use “free trade” language to push forward crony legislation that has little to do with trade.