Bernie Sanders likes to sell himself as the panacea of campaign finance reforms. He rails all day against the horrific Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court.
It turns out, however, he may just be protesting a little too much. In February, the Federal Election Commission sent the Sanders campaign two letters breaking down the campaign's possible illegal and foreign contributions. Both letters - one addressing the campaign's quarterly report for the quarter ending in December and another addressing the campaign's January report point out two overriding themes in Sanders' campaign finance trouble besides for the fact that they don't seem to be able to add (in both letters, FEC noted the Sanders' campaign's problem balancing the ledger): illegal over-contributions and donations from foreign addresses not properly accounted for to confirm their US citizenship.
Bernie's campaign line has been to dismiss these concerns. So many people are donating to us, they say, it's mighty hard to keep the books straight on all of them.
But as the deadline for the Sanders campaign to respond to its first FEC notice nears on March 17, that explanation is woefully inadequate. As more and more states vote, voters deserve to know, definitively, whether Bernie Sanders is accepting illegal campaign donations from foreign nationals, and just what is keeping them from implementing a technologically simple check on who's donating how much money.
Since October of 2015 to the end of January, the FEC counted a total of 665 potentially illegal foreign donations to the Sanders campaign, and hundreds of donors who have exceeded their contribution limits. The FEC noted more foreign contributions in just the month of January than in the previous three months combined, and has flagged over 3,500 contributions as over-limit. Through the end of December alone, the Sanders campaign had collected more than $23 million in donations without sourcing them or certifying that those came from donors whose aggregate total giving is below $200.
For someone so interested about campaign - and even non-campaign - contributions to other candidates, the American people deserve to know where Sanders' money is coming from. And no, Bernie's signature, dismissive diatribe of "our money comes from people giving $27" is just not cutting it anymore.
This is not Bernie Sanders' first federal campaign. He's been in elected federal office for 25 years.
The most benign of all possible explanations for these questions raised by the FEC on Sanders' campaign finances is an astounding level of incompetence. The checks on whether someone is giving more than the amount allowed and to issue refunds are for the most part not dependent on the number of contributions a campaign is receiving. The same technological check would run on everyone, whether the number of donors is 10,000 or 3 million. Failing to implement that check properly or the failing to report it to the FEC properly is utterly incompetent. The failure to collect data on and/or report the data on contributions originating overseas is even more ridiculous.
Bernie Sanders keeps putting out numbers on how much money he raised this night or that night, this month or that quarter. Right now, all we have is their word for it. Right now, there remains at least $23 million - nearly a quarter of Bernie's total haul as of last reporting - completely unaccounted for. Right now, there are nearly 700 contributions from people who, for all the FEC knows, could be foreign nationals. And the FEC continues to find new problems with every report.
Because of Bernie Sanders' boasting about how much money he is raising, it is a fact that his campaign has plenty of money to hire a competent accounting and technology team. It also appears that he has both, given their social media campaigns and the speed with which they announce their fundraising totals by the night, including the precise number of donors and the average contribution down to the penny. It is a legitimate question, then, to ask why his campaign cannot keep the books in order when it comes to actual official reporting. It is a fair question to ask whether a candidate presiding over a campaign getting consecutive FEC notices with threats of audits can be entrusted with the United States Treasury.
Democratic voters deserve answers. The American people deserve answers.