FACT CHECK: Has Bernie Sanders Never Donated A ‘Single Dime’ To Charity?

Shane Devine | Fact Check Reporter

Conservative Twitter user Jacob Wohl claimed that Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders has never donated to charity.

“FACT: Bernie Sander [sic] is worth $13 Million, but according to records, he has never donated a single dime to charity,” Wohl tweeted Jan. 24.

Verdict: False

Sanders has donated thousands of dollars to charity in the last several years. While the senator is well off, his estimated net worth falls far below $13 million.

Fact Check:

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, is well known for his criticism of the wealthy. “We live in a nation owned and controlled by a small number of multi-billionaires whose greed, incredible greed, insatiable greed, is having an unbelievably negative impact on the fabric of our entire country,” he told The Real News Network in December.

In response, Sanders’ critics will frequently point out that he, himself, is well off. The Vermont senator owns a summer home, and between book royalties and his congressional salary, has at times earned more than $1 million a year.

While Wohl asserted that Sanders is worth $13 million, OpenSecrets.org estimated that Sanders had a net worth somewhere between $271,033 and $1,153,999 in 2015. Among all senators, he ranked 77th in terms of wealth.

Wohl was also incorrect about Sanders’ history of donations. According to his financial disclosure statements, the senator signed an agreement in February 2011 with Avalon Publishing Group to have the royalties from his book, “The Speech,” go to charity. These proceeds are an ongoing source of charitable giving that have been noted in all of Sanders’ financial disclosures since the book was released.

Disclosure statements for 2011 indicate that he donated a total of $21,810 that year – $20,960 from his book royalties and $850 for an appearance on the talk show “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Senate ethics rules bar members from collecting fees for speeches and other appearances.

His financial disclosures for 2012 show that Sanders donated $5,122 worth of book royalties to charity. His 2013 disclosures specify that Avalon donated $1,506 in speaking fees to the Addison County Parent/Child Center.

Sanders released his 2014 tax return while running for president. The return indicates that he and his wife gave a total of $8,350 to charity, or 4 percent of their income that year. His 2014 financial disclosure form shows $1,017 in speeches for Avalon, which were donated to the same child center from the year before. He donated $850 to the anti-poverty group Northeast Kingdom Community Action for an appearance on “Bill Maher.”

In 2015, he donated another $850 from “Bill Maher.” (Sanders also appears to have donated $3,035 in speaking fees from Avalon.) That year, his campaign rejected a $2,700 contribution from Martin Shkreli, the former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO infamous for hiking up the price of the drug Daraprim, instead donating it to the Whitman-Walker Health clinic in Washington, D.C. “We are not keeping the money from this poster boy for drug company greed,” a Sanders campaign spokesperson said at the time.

In 2016, Sanders donated $4,050 in appearances to charity. The beneficiaries were Burlington Meals on Wheels, the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network and a Virginia food bank, according to The Burlington Free Press. No donations were itemized for 2017.

When Sanders was the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he told a crowd at a fundraising drive that he questioned the “fundamental concepts on which charities are based,” according to a 1981 article from The New York Times. Sanders went on to argue that the government should have control over the social programs typically undertaken by charitable organizations.

Neither Wohl nor Sanders’ office responded to a request for comment.

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Shane Devine

Fact Check Reporter