According to some polls, Vermont’s junior Senator Bernie Sanders may currently be the most popular Democrat in America. This is despite his catastrophic loss to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary of 2016 and the fact that in his 10-year Senate career, Sanders has only authored three pieces of passed legislation, one of which was the renaming of a post office.
In fact, when one looks at Sanders’ Senate career, one would be hard-pressed to describe the independent candidate-turned-Democrat-turned-independent once again as anything but a crank, a complainer and a blowhard for his long, haranguing speeches and Socialist diatribes.
Although Bernie has attacked rich property owners for owning multiple homes, the Sanders’ own three homes themselves — two condominiums and a house, setting their net worth at close to $2 million. Their family finances are mostly in Sanders’ wife’s name, and it’s been revealed that their stock portfolio is investments in companies that are anything but socially responsible, including Wells Fargo, one of the major banks that funded the North Dakota Access Pipeline and referred to its subprime credit division as “ghetto loans” in internal company documents.
Now, the media has begun to dig in a little bit more into Sanders’ personal and professional life outside the Senate, and the results aren’t pretty. Specifically, in June, both Sanders and his wife Jane retained lawyers over allegations that Jane falsified information on bank loan documents at her previous employer, Burlington College, to attempt to buy property that ultimately bankrupted the school.
If one looks more closely, one finds that Jane Sanders met her husband in 1981, when Bernie was about to become the mayor (by a 10-vote win) of Burlington, Vermont, a city of 42,452 people that Wikipedia describes as “the least populous city in the U.S. [that is] the most populous within a state.” Nonetheless, until last year, Burlington was home to no less than three institutions of higher learning — Burlington College, Champlain College and the University of Vermont.
Jane Sanders worked in the Burlington Police Department in the juvenile division, as well as at a local youth center in the city before serving in the administration of her husband as the director of the Mayor’s Youth Office.
Some say these various “youth centers” served to indoctrinate young people in Bernie’s unique brand of Socialism and views of American history while helping to fuel the Sanders’ personal ambitions. In 1991, when Bernie Sanders was elected to the House of Representatives (where he served 16 years before becoming Senator), Jane worked —often for pay — in his Congressional office.
Despite only having a background in social work, in 1996, Jane was able to be appointed the interim president and provost of her alma mater Goddard College, which is located not far from Burlington in Plainfield, Vermont. She also served on the school’s board of trustees. The college was going through difficult times from a financial perspective, and by multiple accounts, Jane was able to improve the school’s finances, governance and accreditation. “Goddard is at a crossroads now, and they have asked me to change my role and facilitate that journey,” she stated at the time. “I’m here on campus, but I feel like I’m walking on the corpses of those that have been fired.” Record show that Jane continued to work for Goddard until 1998.
In 2004, Jane was hired at a salary of $160,000 per year by Burlington College, a small, private liberal arts school that was founded in 1972 to serve “non-traditional students.” When Jane came aboard, the school had an endowment of only about $150,000. During her tenure, Jane claims she was able to increase fundraising revenue from $25,000 per year to $1.25 million by the time she left the school in 2011.
As at Goddard, Jane had hoped to improve the struggling school’s finances, in this case by purchasing a new building and land for the college that in theory would attract more students to the school (enrollment was roughly 175 students at the time she joined the college). The college was looking forward to increased tuition based on projections that enrollment would rise to 750 based on a new campus physical plant.
In 2010, Jane submitted loan documents stating she was expecting the school to accept $2.6 million in donations that year, but newly released information shows that the total the school raised between 2010 and 2014 was only $676,000. The new property was to be purchased from the local Roman Catholic Diocese.
However, when the school wasn’t able raise the funds necessary to finance the purchase, it forced Jane out prior to declaring bankruptcy. Jane was let go in 2011, but her contract ran through 2013, for which she was paid. She also received a $200,000 severance and a title of President Emeritus from the school. “We reached a decision which I believe is best for both the College and me,” Jane said at the time. “The board and I have different visions for the future, and that’s perfectly fine.”
During Jane’s tenure, more than two dozen members of the school’s faculty and staff had departed, and more than one staffer blamed Jane’s administration, calling the environment on the campus “toxic and disruptive.”
At the time of Jane’s dismissal, 74 of the 175 students at the school and 11 faculty members had signed a petition stating there was a “crisis of leadership” at the institution. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) had expressed its concern that the school had no formal grievance policy for its faculty; Robert Kreiser, the senior program officer for AAUP wrote a letter to Jane to say this was “quite unusual” for any American or college or university.
After the Burlington College debacle, Jane was subsequently appointed to the Vermont Economic Development Authority and managed much of her husband’s 2016 presidential campaign (she continues to own the licenses for the organization), amid persistent accusations that she had moved funds from one of the College’s accounts to another in order to deceive school creditors.
There are also accusations that one of Jane’s daughters from her previous marriage benefitted from the school’s funds and that the Sanders’ personal friend Jonathan Leopold, a local entrepreneur and Burlington city official, also was appointed to various College positions that he was able to profit from.
As recently as February of this year, the Department of Justice was investigating these matters at the College. And it turns out there’s been an ongoing FBI investigation for more than a year, according to the former chairman of the College’s board of trustees. After a Vermont school closes, its records are required to be kept intact, according to Vermont state law. But in September of 2016, there was a burglary during which many nonacademic records were stolen. Other school records were destroyed by the state’s Agency of Education in accordance with a directive sent to it by Burlington College board Chairman Yves Bradley.
Bernie and Jane have now hired two lawyers, local Burlington attorney Rich Cassidy and Larry Robbins, the latter of whom was the former defense attorney for former vice-presidential chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby and jailed Democratic former Congressman Bill Jefferson of Louisiana.
In the meantime, the Sanders’ have blamed the FBI’s investigation on President Trump. “This implication [of our wrongdoing] came from Donald Trump’s Vermont campaign manager,” insisted Bernie Sanders. “It’s from Donald Trump’s campaign manager in Vermont. Let me leave it at that because at this point it would be improper for me to say any more.”
Of course, an FBI investigation has a funny way of altering public perception of a political candidate. One can only imagine more than a few smiles lighting up the face of Bernie’s archival Hillary Clinton and possibly President Trump himself at this point. Time will tell what more the FBI will discover, but for now, the Sanders’ aren’t cooperating with it.