2016 Presidential Run Saw Sanders's Income Skyrocket

Sen. Bernie Sanders / Getty Images
April 16, 2019

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) saw his personal income skyrocket during and after his bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

On Monday, Sanders released more than a decade of tax returns in a gambit to pressure President Donald Trump to do the same ahead of the next presidential election.

"Senator Sanders believes it is a privilege to live in the United States and he believes it is patriotic to pay the taxes that support our country," Faiz Shakir, Sanders 2020 campaign manger, said in a statement. "As a strong proponent of transparency, the senator hopes President Trump and all Democratic primary candidates will disclose their tax returns."

The disclosure, however, inadvertently grants credence to claims raised by Democrat competitors that Sanders is now part of the 1 percent—those making $480,930 or more annually—he continues to excoriate. Sanders's desire to distance himself from his newfound wealth was evident on Monday.

"These tax returns show that our family has been fortunate," Sanders said. "I am very grateful for that, as I grew up in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck and I know the stress of economic insecurity."

A closer look at the returns indicate that Sanders and his wife Jane moved far away from "economic insecurity" because of the senator's White House ambitions.

In the lead up to the 2016 campaign, the couple's income was steadily on the decline. Their total income ranged from a high of more than $324,000 in 2011 before shrinking to a low of $205,000 in 2014.

The decline is likely attributed to Jane Sanders' being ousted from her $160,000 a year position as president of Burlington College in September 2011. Sanders lost the job after questions arose concerning her conduct in a lucrative land deal on behalf of the school and attempts to secure a $6.7 million bank loan. The land deal and other financial obligations undertaken by Jane Sanders eventually forced the college to shutter its doors in 2016 and became the subject of a subsequent federal investigation.

After Jane Sanders's ouster from the college, the couple appears to have relied solely upon the senator's $174,000 congressional salary and a "small antique business" for income. According to their tax returns for 2012 and 2013, the business consistently operated at a loss. It appears to have been dissolved after 2013 as it does not appear in filings after that year.

The couple's financial situation began reversing in 2015 when Sanders launched what was initially viewed as a long-shot challenge to Hillary Clinton. That year, Sanders and his wife reported a total income of more than $240,000. One year later, while Sanders was locked in fierce contest with Clinton for the Democratic nomination, the couple's total income jumped to more than $1.07 million. The couple's 2016 tax return indicates massive profits—more than $796,000—generated from sales of Sanders's book, Our Revolution, were behind the increase.

Even though he lost the Democratic nomination, Sanders saw his total income only grow. In 2017, Sanders and his wife reported earning more than $1.15 million. The income came primarily from lucrative book deals and royalties. The senator made more than $855,000 off his 2017 book Where We Go From Here. Meanwhile, his wife earned more than than $106,000 through her own book contract. (The book's publication status is unclear as of press time.) Book royalties continued to fuel the couple's 2018 income, which was more than $566,000.

Despite Sanders's income rising exponentially, the senator's charitable giving remained relatively meager. As first reported by The Daily Beast, Sanders charitable giving averaged 2.26 percent over the last decade. In 2014, when Sander's income was its lowest, the senator donated $8,350 to charity. That sum rivaled the $10,600 Sanders gave to charity in 2016 when his income hit the million dollar mark.