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Did Bernie Sanders Illegally Use Campaign Funds to Take Family to Italy?

Bernie Sanders has been under Federal Election Commission (FEC) investigation for months due to numerous campaign finance violations.  In the most recent FEC letter to the Sanders Campaign dated 3/30, Sanders is warned of an audit if his campaign does not provide requested details by the deadline of 5/4.  (FEC letters: 2/112/25, 3/30)

In April, the Bernie Sanders campaign issued a press release announcing that Sanders had accepted an invitation from the Vatican: “U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday accepted an invitation from the Vatican to attend a conference hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on social, economic and environmental issues.”

Controversy surrounded the trip.  In an interview, Bernie misrepresented the invitation as one extended by Pope Francis: “This is an invitation from the Vatican, from a Pope that I have enormous respect for…”

Margaret Archer, President of the Academy, said that Sanders went around her to get an invitation to the conference in order to win the Catholic vote in the US Presidential primary:  “Sanders made the first move, for the obvious reasons.  He may be going for the Catholic vote but this is not the Catholic vote and he should remember that and act accordingly…His use of it is clearly a pretext…there will be nothing of policy relevance.”  

The Chancellor of the Academy said he extended the invitation to Sanders but declined to say whether Sanders requested the invitation.  Sanders wasn’t able to arrange a personal meeting with Pope Francis, but was able to greet him in the hall as he was leaving to catch a flight to visit refugees.  Pope Francis was quick to dismiss rumors that a pre-arranged meeting took place:  “When I came down, I greeted him, I shook his hand and nothing more. This is called good manners and it is not getting involved in politics.  If anyone thinks that greeting someone is getting involved in politics, I recommend that he look for a psychiatrist.”

Soon, we will find out if Bernie Sanders used campaign funds to finance the trip to Italy.  Monthly Campaign Finance Reports for April are due on 5/20.  On April 15, Bernie and Jane Sanders along with 10 additional family members including grandchildren, chartered a private Delta flight to Italy on a Boeing 767 jet.  The average cost of chartering an aircraft of this size is over $10,000 per hour.  The total cost of the private flight, local transportation, food, and accommodations for one night would have been well over $100,000.  

Campaign Finance Laws clearly state that candidates are prohibited from using campaign funds to finance non-campaign related trips or vacations.  Campaign Finance loopholes were closed in recent decades due to rampant abuse.  Politicians were using leftover campaign funds to purchase luxurious personal items like cars, designer clothing, Super Bowl tickets, real estate, and vacations.  There have been ongoing reports of campaign funds being used to provide lucrative salaries to family members who “worked” on campaigns.  

In 1979, Congress barred the use of campaign funds for personal use, but because ‘personal use’ was not clearly defined, politicians continued to use campaign funds for personal items.  In 1995, the FEC added campaign finance regulations that defined personal use as follows:  “…any use of funds in a campaign account of a present or former candidate to fulfill a commitment, obligation or expense of any person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign or responsibilities as a Federal officeholder.”

Prohibited personal use includes:

§30114. Use of contributed amounts for certain purposes

(b) Prohibited use

(1) In general

A contribution or donation described in subsection (a) shall not be converted by any person to personal use.

(2) Conversion

For the purposes of paragraph (1), a contribution or donation shall be considered to be converted to personal use if the contribution or amount is used to fulfill any commitment, obligation, or expense of a person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s election campaign or individual’s duties as a holder of Federal office, including-

(A) a home mortgage, rent, or utility payment;

(B) a clothing purchase;

(C) a non-campaign related automobile expense;

(D) a country club membership;

(E) a vacation or other non-campaign related trip;

(F) a household food item;

(G) a tuition payment;

(H) admission to a sporting event, concert, theater, or other form of entertainment not associated with an election campaign; and

(I) dues, fees, and other payments to a health club or recreational facility.

If Bernie Sanders were competing with Matteo Renzi for the position of Prime Minister of Italy, there would be no question about the use of campaign funds to give a 10-minute speech at a small conference at the Vatican.  Given that he is running for President of the United States, there is no way to justify spending hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars for a lavish family trip to Italy on a private jet.

Not only did the Academy President express confusion about how the conference was relevant to Sanders’ campaign, Sanders’ top advisors agreed that the trip was not political.  Sanders Senior Advisor, Tad Devine said, “This is not going to be a political speech.  We’re not looking at this through a political lens.”

Campaign Manager, Jeff Weaver, said, “There are some things that are above politics and this is one of those.  This is an opportunity for him to speak at the Vatican on the signature works of his life.”

If the trip was not political, but simply provided an opportunity for Sanders to speak about the “signature works of his life,” the opportunity would have existed “irrespective of candidate’s campaign or responsibilities as a Federal officeholder.”  Sanders could face additional FEC investigations when finances are reported next month.

6/4: View this Article for Update

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7 thoughts on “Did Bernie Sanders Illegally Use Campaign Funds to Take Family to Italy?

  1. I’ve said it from the start: Bernie is a snake oil salesman. For the life of me, I don’t understand how anyone cannot see that! Now here’s the proof. I just feel sorry for his followers who believed his lies that he was trustworthy, honest, and “pure”. I guess they’ll soon enough have to come to terms with the fact that he’s none of the above and that they’re been fleeced.

  2. Such a double standard! If Hillary did what Sanders did vacationing in Rome. She would be harassed endlessly. A double standard for men !

  3. When will the bern-out-bots see this con artist for what he really is…I hope the parents of these fools stop giving them money to pay for “vacations” for this OLD FART!!

  4. You mean took his family on a lavish 24 hour vacation filled with meetings and press conferences. You make me laugh.

    1. Instead of sending Bernie Sanders money, we should be donating that money to local organizations that care for the hungry and homeless. What a bunch of suckers.

    2. His illegal use of $367,000 campaign contributions for a phoney baloney trip to Italy is against the law. But that has never stopped him before. He has 2 NGO s under his wife’s birthday name that funded him personal spending money. No NGO s exist. He pays his wife $80,000 month out of campaign monies as a “Consultant.”. What a scam!!!

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