Bernie Sanders short on campaign funds, big on ideas

Nobody will be asking Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) how he made his money nor how beholden he is to his corporate donors: He’s short on both commodities.

That’s not to say Sanders is a political naif or unfamiliar with the world of campaign fundraising. But his money profile isn’t much like most others in the crowded presidential field. In his career he has raised at least $19.5 million, including $7.2 million for his last Senate bid in 2012, in which he steamrolled an opponent who only brought in just $135,000. But, the vast majority of his funds come from individuals, and also (at least recently) from small donors — those who give $200 or less.

There are no lavish foreign donors to whom he owes favors. But he personally owes Visa quite a bit — possibly putting him more in line with the average American.

Sanders was first elected to Congress in 1988 and spent 18 years in the House before winning a Senate seat in 2006; he won reelection in 2012. He’s raised $19.5 million in the course of his congressional tenure, not counting the funds he raised for his first race. Since 2009, Sanders has raised $8.1 million, of which 93 percent came from individual donors. Those giving $200 or less provided 61 percent of that ($4.9 million).

Compare that to the numbers posted by Sanders’ Senate colleague from Vermont, Patrick Leahy (D). Leahy raised $4.5 million over the last five years, with 67 percent coming from individual donors. But only $90,000 of that came from small donors.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — who had been rumored to be considering a run as the liberal counterpoint to presumed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton — raised 97 percent of her funds in the last five years from individual donors, but only 47 percent of her total came from small donors.

In Clinton’s last five years in the Senate, she also raised 93 percent of her cash from individual donors, but the large/small donor ratio was reversed — 77 percent of her cash came from large donors, and just 28 percent from the $200-and-under set.

Sanders has also raised about $520,000 from PACs in the last five years, the majority of it from labor union PACs. In fact, out of the top 20 sources of donations to Sander’s campaign, 12 were labor unions.

On Friday, Sanders said he had raised $1.5 million in his first official day as a presidential candidate, a number that’s impossible to confirm until July when his presidential campaign files its first disclosure.

There is scant information on other candidates’ early fundraising, but according to a disclosure made by the presidential campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) — who declared his candidacy in time to have to file a first-quarter FEC report — he raised $589,000 in donations from individuals giving donations of more than $200 in his first full day as a candidate, and $1.8 million from donors giving less than $200 in the first eight days of his campaign.

There’s no way to know when those donations were made, but well could have come in his first day. In total, Cruz raised $4.3 million in his first eight days.

Personal Wealth

While Clinton battles critics and the press on questions about her plentiful personal wealth and whether or not special interests helped enrich her family or her husband’s charitable foundation while expecting favors returned, Sanders will likely have no such issues. According to his most recent personal financial disclosure, which covers the 2013 calendar year, Sanders has a net worth of $330,000 — a number that has been shrinking in recent years, in sharp contrast to most members of Congress.

Sanders’ biggest listed asset was an investment in a mutual fund valued at between $50,000 and $100,000, and the only investment in a single stock was one worth less than $1,000 in IBM.

On the liabilities side, Sanders listed owing between $25,000 and $65,000 on two different Visa cards.

Bold Issue Positions

While Hillary Clinton has tried to avoid being nailed down on specific policy ideas, Sanders has a lifetime record advocating peace, shared prosperity with working families, legislating expanded Social Security benefits, making the rich pay a fair share of the tax burden and protecting the environment.

Sanders has long stood apart from typical politicians. As mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and later as a congressman and senator, he identified himself as a democratic socialist.

The label may scare off some Cold-War era voters but in practice, it represents the major thrust of American policy from the advent of the Great Depression until President Ronald Reagan reversed course in the 1980s. The economic injustice that followed Reagan suggests that Sanders had the right idea.

Despite his lack of funding from millionaires and billionaires, Sanders has a strong message that could garner support among Americans. He would break up the biggest banks because hs says no corporation should be ‘too big to fail’ and he would impose stiff penalties on polluters.

Sanders would stop waging war as America’s first reaction to overseas disputes but he would do a better job of taking care of veterans wounded in service to their country.

Instead of paring down programs that help people, Sanders wants to expand Social Security with a higher retirement ages and fatter checks for retirees. He would fund those benefits by making the richest Americans contribute to Social Security.


These popular ideas make economic sense, so it is possible that this dark horse candidate would be the Democratic nominee.

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