There’s an uncomfortable new optic for Sen. Bernie Sanders, self-described democratic socialist of Vermont.

In  March, he directed $200,000 from his campaign monies to his wife’s think tank, which pays her son a healthy salary, according to Fox News.

Stepson David Driscoll makes $152,653 plus other compensations as executive director of the Sanders Institute, co-founded in 2017 by Driscoll and his mother, Jane O’Meara Sanders.

The recent funds join another $350,000 from the Sanders campaign in 2021 along with $250,000 from a nonprofit headed by James M. Walton, grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton.

The Sanders Institute’s mission 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,” according to its web site.

In 2019, as Sanders was aiming for the Democratic nomination for president, the institute recognized “the appearance of impropriety” regarding funding, so it shut down, the New York Post said at the time.

Later, the Sanders Institute quietly resumed operations, with its 2021 tax filing reflecting 40 percent of its $716,618 in donations going to salary, according to Fox News. Accomplishments have been meager, including some content creation, presentations of two YouTube videos and planning for a meeting that was canceled by the pandemic.

While no doubt legal, there’s no getting away from the bad optics of the Sanders arrangement.

And similar things have been done before. For instance, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) paid her daughter, Karen Waters, well over a million dollars for campaign work from 2003 to 2021.


In 2023, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Miss.) paid $30,000 to her husband, Courtney Merritts, for security services, despite his lack of required licensing. He received over $62,000 the previous year, although Bush and Merritts were not then married.

The campaign of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) spent $3 million on a company owned by Tim Mynett, a man she eventually would marry, although that ceased after they wed.

Back to Sanders and optics — there’s always the contradictory picture of the people’s senator having three houses.

“I wrote a best-selling book,” was a response Sanders once made to the New York Times about the matter.

“If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too,” he said.

Okay, Senator. Point taken.

Also, in harder times for Sanders and his wife, they did some real estate flipping, according to Michael Kruse of Politico, who wrote: “In a strict, bottom-line sense, Sanders has become one of those rich people against whom he has so unrelentingly railed.”

But that’s how socialism works, right? Its top guys tend to get the top benefits. That’s even if, as in this case, the top guy is what is known as — if you’ll forgive the oxymoron — a democratic socialist.

And for Waters and others, gaming the system is nothing for you to be concerned about.

No matter how bad it looks.

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