The Panama Papers Let Bernie Sanders Finally Tell America "I Told You So"
The Panama Papers — a collection of more than 11 million leaked documents that have led to accusations of money laundering, tax evasion, and hidden financial interests among several world leaders and their associates — show one of the darker possibilities of free trade agreements. Sen. Bernie Sanders has been an outspoken opponent of several free trade agreements throughout his career, including a 2011 agreement with Panama that may have made it easier for wealthy people in the United States to stash money offshore. The Panama Papers could boost Sanders' campaign, because they attest to some of his core messages.
In a statement on the Panama Papers, Sanders said:
I was opposed to the Panama Free Trade Agreement from day one. I predicted that the passage of this disastrous trade deal would make it easier, not harder, for the wealthy and large corporations to evade taxes by sheltering billions of dollars offshore.
The Panama Free Trade Agreement was pursued by President Barack Obama to make it easier to sell American goods within Panama. However, the International Business Times reported that the agreement made it more difficult for the United States to do anything about illegal activity, such as tax evasion within Panama. Speaking on the Senate floor in 2011, Sanders cited the words of Citizens for Tax Justice's senior counsel Rebecca Wilkins, arguing that Panama had all the characteristics of a tax haven:
A tax haven ... has one of three characteristics: It has no income tax or a very low-rate income tax; it has bank secrecy laws; and it has a history of noncooperation with other countries on exchanging information about tax matters.
As allegations of corruption and financial crimes flow in the aftermath of the Panama Papers' release, Sanders' prescience on the matter of the Panama Free Trade Agreement could benefit him in his 2016 bid for the Democratic nomination. This is especially true considering that his opponent in the race, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, supported the agreement when serving as secretary, Mic reported.
The Panama Papers scandal gives serious weight to several of Sanders' core messages, including the widespread nature of corporate fraud, tax injustice that benefits the wealthy, and the need for trade agreements that protect American workers and disallow abuses such as those alleged in the Panama Papers. Sanders has continually drawn a distinction between himself and Clinton on the issue of free trade, noting that he has voted "No" on several trade agreements that Clinton at one time or another expressed support for (though she wasn't in office for all of them), including North American, South Korean, Colombian, and Australian agreements in addition to the Panama deal.
The Panama Papers are a real "told you so" moment for Sanders. The repetitiveness of the senator's stump speech about the 1 percent and corporate greed has become the butt of many a joke during the race, but this scandal is a reminder to people that the problems Sanders is talking about are very real. His record shows that he has foresight concerning trade agreements, which stand not only to affect American jobs, but also to perpetuate tax injustice. The outrage of the American people in response to the Panama Papers may very well tip some voters to Sanders.