FIRST ON FOX: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders quietly funneled $200,000 from his campaign’s coffers to his wife’s nonprofit institute, which appears to do very little work and pays six figures worth of compensation to her son, Fox News Digital has found.
The independent senator’s committee cut two $100,000 checks to the Sanders Institute for reported charitable contributions in January and March, its Federal Election Commission records show. The expenditures are the largest from the Sanders campaign to any entity this election cycle.
The senator’s wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, and stepson, David Driscoll, co-established the Sanders Institute in 2017 to act as a think tank to promote progressive voices, the Washington Post wrote at its launch.
“The purpose is to revitalize democracy in the support of progressive institutions,” Jane Sanders told the Post. “Our feeling is at our point in time, our country is at a crossroads, and people are engaged in a political process that can be opaque.”
“A vital democracy requires an informed electorate, civil discourse, and bold thinking,” she continued. “So we put together this team to focus on issues, but not in a partisan way, not in a way that just focuses on the latest crazy thing. It will not be about Trump; it will be about the issues facing the country.”
Just two years after its launch, in 2019, the institute announced it would suspend operations as Sen. Sanders sought the Democratic nomination for president to avoid the “appearance of impropriety” and presumably to take away a line of attack from his rivals over its money.
The institute has since quietly resumed operations while seemingly sidestepping media attention. Its latest publicly available tax forms from 2021 show the nonprofit burnt nearly 40% of its donations on salaries while appearing to conduct minimal work and having very few identifiable accomplishments.
The tax documents indicate that the progressive lawmaker’s stepson is the big winner of the operation. In 2021, the institute raised $716,618 and drove $257,000 into wages, including $152,653 in salary and other compensation to Driscoll, who acts as its executive director. He identifies the role as his primary job on his LinkedIn profile after previously working outside the political world as the global director of team and media for Burton Snowboards.
In 2021, the institute also reported spending $159,885 on developing The Timeline Project, which they 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.” Additionally, they disbursed nearly $89,000 for a news website, an identical amount for social media and content creation, and $17,765 for a gathering they had to cancel due to the pandemic.
The institute, however, appears to have little to show for the money it drove into its projects. Nowhere on its website is a “policy-focused resource” as described for its top program expense, and its blog posts from its fellows are primarily cross-posted from other sources.
Its YouTube page has uploaded just two videos this year, both of which are quick messages from their fellows, including Washington Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal. Its profile on X, formerly Twitter, also mainly appears to push outside news articles and opinion pieces from its fellows.
And despite Jane Sanders’ insistence she wanted to support other progressive organizations at the time of its launch, her institute has failed to do so – at least monetarily. The nonprofit reported no grants to other liberal groups in its tax records from 2021.
The Sanders Institute also does not disclose its donors on its tax forms. Despite this, Fox News Digital has identified its primary cash sources from the year of its most recent documents.
A search of FEC records shows that Sen. Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign sent $350,000 to the institute in April 2021. A nonprofit called Wend II Inc added $250,000 to build “content capacity” that year, according to their own tax forms. Wend II Inc’s director is James M. Walton, the son of James Carr Walton, one of the wealthiest businessmen in the world and an heir to the Walmart fortune.
The two donations accounted for roughly 84% of the $716,000 the Sanders Institute raked in throughout 2021.
The Sanders Institute, meanwhile, has previously come under the spotlight over its operations from local outlets.
In 2018, VTDigger reported that the think tank had little to show during its first year, including sparse original content. They also found that much of it was recycled from other sources, much like it remains today.
Sen. Sanders’ campaign and the Sanders Institute did not respond to Fox News Digital’s inquiries by press time.