By Don Keelan
The press in Vermont continues to give Bernie Sanders, the state’s U.S. senator and 2020 presidential candidate, a free pass when it comes to asking the questions that linger from the last campaign.
There are five that have continued to go unanswered, and out-of-state media sources are also attempting to seek answers.
Question 1. Is Old Towne Media still doing the media buying for the 2020 Sanders presidential campaign, and if so, who are the owners of this company? In the 2016 campaign, this Alexandria, Virginia, company, located in a single-family house, might have placed over $82 million in media purchases and could withhold roughly 15% to 17% as commissions. This translates to close to $14 million. Where did the funds end up?
Bernie Sanders is exceptional in getting tens of thousands of donors to contribute $5 and $10 to his campaign (as of Jan 2020, $132 million was raised). But what is little known is that his campaign also gives millions of campaign funds to consultants who are close family friends.
Question 2. In 2010 or shortly thereafter, did Bernie Sanders or any of his family and or staff bring pressure to Burlington’s People’s United Bank to approve a $6.5 million loan for Burlington College? At the time, Jane Sanders was president of the college and in the process of purchasing its headquarters property, overlooking Lake Champlain, from the Catholic Diocese of Burlington for $10 million.
The loan from the bank should never have been made in the first place. The college’s financial statements did not support such a loan, small private college student enrollment was forecasted to have a major decline, and most importantly, the college’s pledges that were reported to the bank were substantially bogus and absent of any independent verification by the bank.
Question 3. Was pressure ever brought upon the Vermont Educational & Health Buildings Finance Agency to provide their imprimatur on the $6.5 million bond deal with People’s United Bank? The agency’s approval of the transaction enables the lender to have the bond interest to be received from Burlington College tax-exempt, which made the loan more attractive to the bank.
Question 4. Why hasn’t the Sanders campaign used Vermont banks as the depository for its fundraising receipts? In the 2016 Sanders for president campaign, close to $166 million was spent. As of January 2020, approximately $132 million has been raised from donations. If these funds were to have been deposited in Vermont’s banks, it would have gone a long way in helping the Vermont economy.
A request for clarification from the Sanders Vermont campaign headquarters was made but no response was received.
Question 5. Vermont is home to at least five dozen marketing and advertising companies. Why is it that none of the campaign’s media buying is placed with these in-state firms? Why are Bluewest Media, Aisle 518 Strategies, and Act Blue receiving so much of the campaign’s dollars?
It is no mystery that the dollars don’t leave the Sanders’ campaign treasury without first getting the blessing of Bernie, and especially Jane Sanders.
Let’s not be naive when it comes to the once-every-four-years presidential primaries and elections. We hear the public pronouncements of Medicare for All, gun control, taxing the very rich, ending racial injustice, combating climate change, and on and on. However, there is also the “hidden side of campaigning,” and that is where tens of millions of dollars are up for grabs and political consultants and media buyers are lined up — it is a huge pay day for many.
Sanders has been consistent for all the years he has been in politics. Not only is the message the same, but he also makes sure that family and friends do well and are taken care of, especially when millions of dollars are available to legally do so.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.