Sanders boosts Senate re-election war chest to nearly $4M

Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders. File photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., continues to pull money into his Senate campaign account ahead of what is expected to be an easy re-election in 2018 should he run for a third term.

Sanders raised nearly $216,000 in the first three months of 2017. His Senate account holds nearly $3.88 million, according to an April 15 report filed with the Federal Election Commission.

In comparison, during the first three months of 2011 — ahead of Sanders’ previous Senate run — he raised $767,517. His overall cash reserves were much lower in 2011, however, hovering at just over $1 million.

Sanders raised more than $5.5 million in his 2006 Senate run against Republican Rich Tarrant. But a top Vermont Republican Party official recently told Vermont Public Radio that fielding a candidate against Sanders in 2018 is “not really on our immediate radar.”

The senator enjoys enormous popularity in the Green Mountain State. According to recent polling, he is the highest-rated U.S. senator among constituents, with a 75 percent approval rating. The democratic socialist notched 86 percent of the vote in Vermont’s presidential primary in March 2016 and grabbed 18,000 write-in votes during the general election.

Even though it’s more than a year until the 2018 election, Sanders spent $127,931 in the first three months of this year. The biggest beneficiary was Revolution Messaging, a digital political agency that worked on Sanders’ presidential campaign. Between January and the end of March, the organization was paid $32,500 for digital fundraising and website services.

From January to March, Sanders also spent thousands on travel for political rallies across the country, including in Texas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Utah and Georgia.

In early March, Sanders spent $919.51 for an “event site rental” at The Monocle, an upscale seafood and steak restaurant in Washington, D.C. It’s unclear whether the event was a fundraiser and who attended.

Sanders staffers did not return email and phone requests regarding the FEC financial reports.

Only two of the itemized donations in Sanders’ Senate report came from Vermont residents. The bulk of the money flowed from donors across the country, from Tennessee to California.

Sanders also received donations from two political action committees in the first quarter of the year. He took $5,000 from the America Works PAC, which is associated with progressive Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, and $1,093 from the League of Conservation Voters PAC.

FEC rules give flexibility with Senate campaign accounts, and Sanders could transfer money from his Senate account to his presidential account if he decides to run again in 2020. The Vermonter could also tap into his residual presidential campaign funds should he run for Senate re-election in 2018, though he would have to follow various FEC limits on donors.

Sanders’ presidential account is still active and holds more than $5.3 million. The account, called Bernie 2016, has ceased fundraising but continues to pay off campaign debts, including residual printing, travel, housing and software costs. Between Jan. 1 and March 31, Sanders paid $177,471 in debts.

A January investigation by the Center For Public Integrity found that Sanders’ presidential campaign had outstanding security bills with municipal police departments across the country. Sanders’ April 15 report shows nearly $450,000 in remaining debts, much of which is owed to police departments.

The amounts owed are often in the thousands of dollars. The city of Vallejo, California, for example, claims the Sanders campaign owes it $28,702 in security costs for a campaign event.

Vermont’s two other congressional representatives also have copious amounts of campaign cash for their potential re-election bids.

Democratic Rep. Peter Welch — who is up for re-election in 2018 — has nearly $1.92 million on hand, while Sen. Patrick Leahy — who won’t face re-election until 2022 — has just over $1.94 million in campaign funds.

In the first quarter of the year, Leahy raised $81,485, while Welch took in $28,095.

Jasper Craven

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