The Sanders Institute (SI) was a progressive, nonprofit educational organization that was launched on June 7, 2017, by Jane O’Meara Sanders, the wife of longtime U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. At that time, Mrs. Sanders was the subject of an active FBI investigation that centered around a corrupt, multimillion-dollar land-purchase deal which she had orchestrated in 2010 on behalf of Burlington College, where she was serving as president. To help cover SI’s startup costs, Jane and Bernie Sanders personally contributed $25,000 and vowed to make additional donations in the future. Another $190,000 was supplied by Our Revolution, a recently formed organization committed to promoting Senator Sanders’s socialist agendas.
SI’s mission was to “revitalize democracy by actively engaging individuals, organizations, and the media in the pursuit of progressive solutions to economic, environmental, racial, and social justice issues.” Toward that end, the Institute sought to advance a wide array of leftist political agendas and worldviews.
SI claimed that “institutionalized racism has existed throughout the course of American history” and has continued largely unabated – as evidenced by the fact that “there are vast differences in the lives and experiences of individuals from different races in the U.S.” Racism, said SI, thoroughly infests the criminal-justice system, where “racial disparities” abound – e.g., the fact that blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately affected by “mass incarceration,” capital punishment, “felon disenfranchisement,” and “legal restrictions that lock [convicted felons] out of many government jobs and licensed professions.”
In a similar vein, SI described “strict photo identification laws [at polling places], reductions to early voting and same-day registration, and limits on third-party registration” as “concerted voter-suppression efforts” that amount to a racist backlash against “the country’s changing demographics.” Indeed, says the Institute, such measures are “similar to the racially discriminatory Jim Crow laws of the early 20th century.”
Viewing America as a sexist country where women are routinely exploited and abused, the Institute lamented the “wealth and income gap” whereby “women earn 79 cents to the dollar that men earn.” Yet another expression of American sexism, said SI, was the fact that “women are underrepresented [in political offices] at the national, state, and local level,” a situation that would undoubtedly continue unless “structural changes in recruitment, electoral, and legislative rules” were implemented.
SI sought to reduce income inequality on a larger scale by supporting higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and advocating a national minimum wage of $15 per hour. The Institute’s Stephanie Kelton, who served as an economic adviser to Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, traced the roots of America’s extreme wealth inequality back to the Reagan administration, when “cuts to programs aimed at helping the poor and an obsession with deregulation and ‘free markets’ shifted the balance of power toward owners of capital and ushered in an era of increasing insecurity and growing inequality for the working class.”
Regarding education policy, SI opposed the use of public funds for school vouchers designed to enable low-income parents to send their children to private schools rather than to substandard public schools. Moreover – citing Bernie Sanders’s assertion that “higher education should be a right for people who have the ability and the desire” – the Institute maintained that taxpayers should shoulder the entire financial burden of tuition for anyone wishing to attend a public college.
Embracing the notion that the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with all manner of industry and economic activity are the major drivers of potentially catastrophic “climate-change,” SI asserted that “97 percent” of all scientists “believe that human activity is the main cause of current global warming”; that “concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased to unprecedented levels, mostly from fossil fuel emissions since the beginning of the industrial age”; and that because “global temperatures are rising,” “ice sheets are melting and losing mass worldwide.” As temperatures “continue to rise,” the Institute warned, “extreme weather patterns” and “dangerous natural events” would become “more intense and frequent.”
SI called for comprehensive immigration reform that would loosen border controls, increase the flow of foreigners into the United States, protect illegal aliens from deportation, encourage chain migration to “kee[p] families safe and together,” and pave the way toward amnesty for the millions of illegals residing in the U.S. Moreover, the Institute supported the “sanctuary” policies that hundreds of cities and towns have adopted to protect illegal aliens from law-enforcement authorities.
Favoring the establishment of a government-run, single-payer healthcare system, SI claimed that the U.S. “spends much more of its GDP on healthcare,” with poorer health outcomes, than “other developed counties around the world [that] have a single-payer system.”
In addition to the aforementioned Jane Sanders and Stephanie Kelton, SI’s founding fellows also included Robert Reich, Harry Belafonte, Cornel West, Bill McKibben, Danny Glover, Ben Jealous, Nina Turner (a Democratic political analyst), Tulsi Gabbard (a Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii), and Jeffrey Sachs (an economist who once had close ties to the billionaire philanthropist George Soros). To view a list of SI’s fellows as of early 2019, click here.
As of early 2019 as well, SI’s Board members were: Meredith Rose Burak, the director of Global Relations for Asana Bio Group, a cannabinoid-based research and development company; Sara Burchard, a licensed psychologist and former psychology professor; and actor Danny Glover.
Bernie Sanders played no active role in leading SI’s day-to-day activities. Rather, the Institute was run chiefly by Jane Sanders’s son, David Driscoll, who was paid an annual salary of about $100,000. Aside from Driscoll, SI had two paid employees in its first year: Research Director Colleen Lineweaver and Fellows Program Director Ellyn Heald, each of whom earned approximately $75,000 in salary. Lineweaver is the wife of Our Revolution director Shannon Jackson, and Heald is a former actress who first gained political experience as a special adviser to Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign.
From November 29 to December 1, SI held a “Sanders Institute Gathering” where “250 leading progressive minds” convened to “discuss and debate our nation’s most pressing issues and offer innovative solutions.” Among the featured speakers were: Bernie Sanders, Jane Sanders, Cornel West, Abdul El-Sayed, Naomi Klein, Jeffrey Sachs, Cynthia Nixon, Bill McKibben, Bill de Blasio, Ben Cohen, Tulsi Gabbard, Ben Jealous, Danny Glover, Chirlane McCray, Cenk Uygur, James Zogby, and Susan Sarandon.
In March 2019, SI announced that it had stopped accepting donations and would be shutting down its operations, at least temporarily, by the end of May. Against the backdrop of allegations that the nonprofit had blurred the lines between family, fundraising and campaigning, Jane Sanders told The Associated Press that this move was being made “so there could not even be an appearance of impropriety.”