Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent-turned-Democratic Senator from Vermont, proudly states pervasively that he does not have a super PAC (sorry, Supah PAC), and he’s not beholden to Wall Street ties in the same fashion as Hillary Clinton. That’s true. There is no Bernie super PAC per se, but he does benefit from the super PACs within his coalition. Moreover, he’s benefitted from Wall Street contributions and regularly attended retreats hosted by their lobbyists, according to the Wall Street Journal:
Yet the Vermont senator has benefited from at least $1.5 million in backing from super PACs and from political groups that don’t have to fully disclose their donors, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.
As a member of Congress, he regularly attended retreats with Wall Street lobbyists and other donors, and as a candidate for the Senate, he benefited from money that indirectly came from them. Last year, he directly accepted about $55,000 in Wall Street contributions for his Democratic presidential campaign, FEC filings show.
He may not have formed one of his own, but Mr. Sanders is getting help from National Nurses United for Patient Protection, a super PAC that gets its money from the nation’s largest nurses’ union, with nearly 185,000 members.
The union doesn’t have to disclose its donors, but a spokesman said the super PAC money comes exclusively from members’ dues. Representatives from the union have frequently joined the senator at events and this week launched a bus tour across South Carolina ahead of the state’s Feb. 27 primary.
Mr. Sanders has also regularly attended the DSCC’s retreats, either during the winter in Florida or during summer on Martha’s Vineyard, including one as recently as July. Guests at the retreats are donors who have donated the maximum amount to the party, or raised more than $100,000. Many attendees are lobbyists, lawyers and members of the financial industry.
Several donors who have attended the retreats said Mr. Sanders fully participated in the events, including socializing, and didn’t take the opportunity to tell Wall Street lobbyists that, as he says on the stump, their industry’s business model is fraud.
The Sanders campaign was apt to note that Wall Street donations to Mrs. Clinton are astronomically larger, but the fact that Sanders is casting himself off as the financial industry’s worst nightmare might be a bit undercut. Yes–he didn’t take that much money directly from Wall Street, but it doesn’t negate that fact that he’s benefitted from moneyed interests that he rails against and through labor unions’ super PACs. It won’t shake the confidence of Sanders' legions of supporters, but it’s not accurate for him to say that he’s totally independent of an industry, or campaign finance system, he often berates as evil incarnate. It’s fine, Bernie. Sometimes you need to get your hands dirty to do some good–just be a little more honest about it.
Just stick to hitting Hillary as being the more establishment candidate (which has the added benefit of being true), noting the disparities in political dividends you each receive from super PACS and Wall Street donations. You seem to be reaping more support by doing that than this now completely irrelevant debate over who is more progressive. You both have super PACS and Wall Street money–directly or indirectly–floating around as you campaign.
This post has been updated.