[Read: What killed Burlington College?]
In 2004, Burlington College hired Jane as its president. While she was in that role, the college entered into a $500,000 contract for student activities with Vermont Woodworking School, which was run by Jane’s daughter Carina Driscoll. The contract ended shortly after Jane left the college, in 2011. The college shut down the next year, drowned in financial troubles resulting from a multimillion-dollar loan that Jane had obtained to purchase land for its new campus. The FBI later investigated the deal for alleged fraud, but no charges were ever brought. Jane received a $200,000 severance package that Sanders’s Senate financial disclosure describes as having been for a “sabbatical.” Jeff Weaver, a top adviser to Sanders, has previously told the press that Jane did nothing wrong. Jane, through the campaign, declined to comment.
By 2000, Carina, then serving one term as a Vermont state representative, was also working for Sanders. During the time she was in office, from 2000 to 2004, Sanders’s congressional reelection campaigns paid her $51,032 in salary and expenses, though the payments were irregular—she would sometimes get multiple payments on a single day, and then not get paid for a month or more. (In 2018, Carina ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Burlington with the backing of Our Revolution, the progressive group that Sanders started after the 2016 election, although he is not formally associated with it.) Carina, through Sanders’s presidential campaign, declined to comment.
Starting in the late ’90s, Jane was an alternative commissioner on the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission—a gubernatorial-appointed position on a commision that had been created after Sanders led efforts to dump nuclear waste in a small border town named Sierra Blanca. Jane, who didn’t have experience with nuclear-waste or land issues, was paid roughly $5,000 annually. Not listed on Sanders’s financial disclosures, the payments first came to light when he released several years of their joint federal tax returns in 2016. Sanders’s state tax returns might have more information—but so far, he hasn’t released them, even though he relented last spring and released federal returns that he’d been withholding.
Sanders has also benefited from his campaign account over the years, spending $8,000 in the late ’90s, and then $445,000 in 2015, on purchases of his own book. In his 2016 Senate personal financial disclosure, Sanders said he received only $6,700 in royalties from the 2015 purchase. Other politicians do this—but when, for example, the Republican National Committee bought Donald Trump Jr.’s book in bulk last year, the author didn’t also profit off money raised in his name, with his own authority to spend it.
The personal and professional converged once again after Sanders’s first presidential campaign ended. In 2017, Jane started the Sanders Institute, envisioned as part think tank, part advocacy group. She tapped her son David Driscoll, who had worked as an executive at two private companies, as executive director, and he was approved by the board. He hadn’t worked for a nonprofit before, but was paid a salary of $100,000. The institute raised about $1.2 million, according to tax returns and public statements it released. But neither its full donor list nor the number of donations it received is public. Bernie and Jane Sanders said that they made a $25,000 initial donation, and Our Revolution gave a $105,000 loan. The organization shut down after Sanders began his second race for president; most of its paperwork remains undisclosed. The most significant thing the institute did was host a December 2018 gathering for top supporters and press in Vermont that was essentially an informal kickoff to his anticipated campaign.