Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders steering campaign money to a nonprofit founded by two of his close family members raises ‘legitimate concern,’ according to a watchdog.
Fox News Digital reported last week that the independent senator in January and March transferred $200,000 in donor cash to the Sanders Institute, which his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, and stepson, David Driscoll, co-founded in 2017.
The Sanders Institute appears to perform minimal work while paying out six figures in salary and other compensation to Driscoll, according to its most recent tax forms from 2021.
‘The facts present in this case and the family ties involved certainly raise legitimate concern,’ Kendra Arnold, executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, told Fox News Digital. ‘Obviously, a senator is not allowed to use his campaign to simply transfer large sums of money to family members — regardless of the route the dollars take.’
‘While on its face the percentage the nonprofit paid out in salary alone is not necessarily problematic, legally the issue hinges on whether the salaries were paid for bona fide services at fair market value,’ Arnold said. ‘In other words, if the nonprofit and its executive director are truly producing work and actually earning the money, it is not illegal, but it is frowned upon. On the other hand, if nothing or very little is being done to legitimately earn the money, then it is highly likely a serious campaign finance violation has taken place.’
It’s unclear precisely what the nonprofit has accomplished. In its 2021 tax forms, the Sanders Institute reported dropping $159,885 into developing The Timeline Project, which it described as a ‘policy-focused resource based on Bernie Sanders’ work over four decades’ that would be one of the ‘key pilars [sic] of the website.’
That expense, however, appears never to have transpired. The website does not contain anything along the lines of ‘policy-focused resource’ as described in its documents.
The institute also reported disbursing nearly $89,000 for a news website, a matching amount for social media and content creation, and $17,765 for a gathering that never occurred due to the pandemic.
But despite the content creation costs, many of the blog posts on its website are primarily taken from and credited to other sources. Its YouTube page has uploaded just two short videos this year. Its profile on X, formerly Twitter, also mostly appears to push external news articles and opinion pieces from its fellows.
The Sanders Institute also did not identify sending any grant money to other liberal groups in its most recent tax documents despite Jane Sanders saying its purpose was to ‘revitalize democracy in the support of progressive institutions’ at its launch.
Meanwhile, Sanders’s most recent cash transfers were not the first to his wife and stepson’s institute. In 2021, his presidential committee sent $350,000 to the nonprofit, according to federal filings. The funds accounted for nearly half the $716,000 in donations the group raised that year, while Driscoll collected $152,653 in compensation.
Fox News Digital has yet to receive any answers on the matter. The Sanders Institute never responded to questions about the campaign cash and their work or accomplishments. The Sanders campaign also did not explain why they had wired the donor cash to the institute.