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Bernie Sanders' Campaign Makes $350,000 Donation To Relaunch Sanders Institute

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking at the opening night of the Sanders Institute's conference.
Liam Elder-Connors
VPR File
Sen. Bernie Sanders is seen here in November 2018. The senator's presidential campaign gave $350,000 to the Sanders Institute in April to relaunch the organization that suspended operations in early 2019, when Sanders launched his second presidential bid.

Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign has given $350,000 to a think tank established by members of his family.

On April 1, the Bernie 2020 campaign made the donation to the Burlington-based Sanders Institute, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The Institute previously said it had suspended operations in early 2019, to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest with Sanders’ presidential campaign. A spokesperson for Sanders’ campaign said the donation will be used for a relaunch the Institute.

“This was done as part of ending the campaign, and it's part of the transition from winning votes to educating people about Sen. Sanders' agenda,” said Mike Casca, Sanders' communications director. “The Institute’s going to use the resources to ensure the movement built by the campaign continues.”

According to Casca, both the campaign and the Institute agreed the money won’t be used to pay the salaries or benefits of Sanders’ family members. The contribution was listed as a charitable donation on the campaign’s filings to the Federal Election Commission.

In a statement, Shana Frahm, a spokesperson for the Sanders Institute, said the Institute will begin work on an archive for the Sanders campaign and family.

"As the Senator's campaign transitions away from the electoral process, the Sanders Institute is dedicated to informing and educating people about the important issues of our time, and is honored to have these vital resources of the progressive movement to ensure a legacy that is actively carried on by advocates, organizers and public servants in the years to come,” Frahm said.

The Institute said it has begun hiring, and plans to begin work on a video series and conference later this year.

The Sanders Institute had nearly $17,000 in assets and no liabilities as of the end of 2019, according to its tax filings.

The Sanders Institute was founded in 2017 by David Driscoll and his mother Jane O’Meara Sanders, Sen. Sanders’ wife. The think tank sought to carry on the vision of Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid. Its mission statement says its goal is to “revitalize democracy by actively engaging individuals, organizations and the media in the pursuit of progressive solutions to economic, environmental, racial and social justice issues.”

More from VPR: Sanders Institute Conference Aims To Unify Progressive Movement

The Institute held a conference in Burlington in late 2018, featuring speakers including Sanders, Jane O’Meara Sanders, Dr. Cornel West and Susan Sarandon. The conference was criticized at the time by racial justice advocates in Vermont, who said they were excluded from the event.

Just a few months later, the Institute’s leaders announced it would no longer accept donations and would wind down its operations as Sanders mounted his second bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. The move was taken to “avoid confusion or even the misperception of any overlap between the organization and the campaign,” according to a March 2019 press release.

Its website remains available to view, and after a two-year hiatus, the Institute began posting on its Facebook and Twitter accounts in May, primarily sharing articles and links from news outlets and activists.

As of last month, Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign account had $1.6 million on hand. Another campaign account, Friends of Bernie Sanders, had $9.3 million in its coffers as of the end of March.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp@TheHenryEpp.

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Henry worked for Vermont Public as a reporter from 2017 to 2023.
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