Sanders and Wife Steered Campaign, Nonprofit Money to Family and Friends

Public records show pattern of payments to Democratic presidential candidate’s inner circle
Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane O’Meara Sanders / AP

Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane O’Meara Sanders / AP

BY:

Bernie Sanders and his wife have on numerous occasions steered money from organizations under their control to friends and family members, public records show.

The payments benefitted the wife of the Democratic presidential candidate, his stepdaughter, and the son of a former colleague in city government whom Sanders has described as a close friend.

Sanders, a self-described socialist, is now running for the presidency on an anti-corruption platform, decrying public officials’ attempts to use their positions for personal financial gain.

Following 16 years as a member of the House, Sanders was elected to the Senate in 2006. His political campaigns were an early vehicle for payments to his family members.

According to Jane O’Meara Sanders, the senator’s wife, Sanders’ House campaigns paid her more than $90,000 for consulting and ad placement services from 2002 to 2004. She pocketed about $30,000 of that money.

Her daughter Carina Driscoll, Sanders’ stepdaughter, also drew a salary from the campaign. She was paid more than $65,000 between 2000 and 2004, according to her mother.

After working for the campaign, the senator’s wife would come under scrutiny for expenditures at Burlington College, where she was hired as president in 2004. While she led the school, it paid six-figure sums to her daughter and the son of a family friend.

Burlington College offered its students a study abroad program in the Caribbean, according to tax filings. It reported spending about $47,000 on that program in the tax year beginning in mid-2008.

Around that time, the son of Jonathan Leopold, a Burlington College board member, purchased a small resort in the Bahamas called Andro’s Beach Club and an accompanying hotel, Nathan’s Lodge.

Leopold served with Sanders in the Burlington city government—as mayor, Sanders appointed Leopold city treasurer—before becoming embroiled in scandal involving millions of dollars in payments to a Burlington telecommunications company.

Sen. Sanders has described Leopold as so close a friend as to be considered “family.” He reportedly discouraged Sanders’ socialist impulses early in their careers. Efforts to reach Leopold were unsuccessful.

Shortly after Leopold’s son, also named Jonathan, purchased the resort, Burlington College began writing it large checks for all-inclusive stays for its study abroad students.

The younger Leopold later said during a deposition related to a lawsuit filed by a student who was injured at the rest that he conducted boat tours and snorkeling trips “on behalf of Burlington College.”

From 2009 through 2011, when O’Meara Sanders stepped down as president of the school, it paid the resort about $68,000, according to annual tax filings. The payments stopped the year after she left the position.

Her departure was a source of controversy. She reportedly overstated pledged contributions to the school in order to secure a loan from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington. The diocese lost between $1.5 million and $2 million on the deal, according to local reports.

By that time, the school had paid huge sums to the Vermont Woodworking School, which is run by Driscoll. The college eventually paid the school more than $500,000 for classes at its Fairfax, Vt., campus, about 30 miles from Burlington.

Burlington College even established a Master of Fine Arts program in woodworking with leased space at the school as its major facility.

Tax filings show that the college continued paying the woodworking school in the year after O’Meara Sanders left, but stopped doing so the year after that.

The Sanders campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Lachlan Markay   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Lachlan Markay is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He comes to the Beacon from the Heritage Foundation, where he was the conservative think tank's first investigative reporter. He graduated from Hamilton College in 2009, and currently lives in Washington, D.C. His Twitter handle is @lachlan. His email address is markay@freebeacon.com.

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