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As Sanders hauls in $25 million, he spends big on private jets and Amazon

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Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders mingled with students after his town hall event at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Photo by Kit Norton/VTDigger

Sen. Bernie Sanders out-fundraised his competitors for the 2020 Democratic presidential nod during the last three months, but he also splurged, spending big on private jets and Amazon — the online retail giant he has repeatedly attacked

According to the latest campaign finance filings, Sanders cut checks totalling $360,350 to Apollo Jets, a private charter service based in New York, for the use of a private jet three times during the third quarter — once in August and twice in September.

In late 2018, the Vermont senator also utilized the private jet service, spending $297,685 to travel across the country stumping for progressive candidates ahead of the midterm elections.

Sanders, who has made addressing climate change a key part of his policy platform, did purchase $4,860 worth of carbon offsets — which fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions — from the Burlington based company Native Energy.

The Vermont senator’s campaign also purchased $93,961 of mostly “office supplies” from Amazon. The Amazon expenditures were slightly down from the second quarter, when his campaign spent more than $130,000 from the online retailer owned by Sanders’ frequent target, Jeff Bezos.

Sanders has been highly critical of Bezos for how he has treated workers at Amazon while also attacking the billionaire for influencing coverage at the Washington Post, which Bezos also owns.

The third quarter saw Sanders bring in $25 million in contributions, far outpacing the rest of the Democratic field. He also currently has $33.7 million of cash on hand, again setting the pace for the presidential hopefuls. 

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is just behind him with $24.7 million in donations during the third quarter. Warren now has has $25.7 million in available cash. 

Pete Buttigieg received $19 million worth of contributions, ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden, who brought in $15.7 million but who only has $9 million cash on hand. California Sen. Kamala Harris, who raised $11.8 million, rounds out the top five.

While most of the other candidates have focused solely on the early primary states, specifically targeting New Hampshire and Iowa, Sanders has chosen a national strategy, setting up campaign infrastructure throughout the Rust Belt and other Super Tuesday states.

After the fundraising deadline for the third quarter ended, Faiz Shakir, Sanders’ campaign manager, told supporters the Vermont senator was “aggressively” building up staff in states beyond Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and California.  

Since July, Sanders spent $185,668 on research and staff in Pennsylvania, $142,926 in New York, $93,706 in Illinois, $35,908 in Michigan $31,906 in Ohio and  $2,700 in Wisconsin, according to the campaign finance data. 

Sanders also invested tens of thousands of dollars in historically Republican states like Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky.

Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Sanders, told the Wall Street Journal in September that campaign events in Red states could help expand the Democratic Party’s base, which is part of Sanders’ strategy.

“Bernie Sanders wants to telegraph that he is prepared for the mantle of leadership, in terms of being the head of the Democratic Party, that he is prepared to expand the reach of the party into every state,” Weaver said to the Journal. “We are no longer going to concede a large number of states to the Republicans.” 

In a recent interview Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College, said Sanders may have to shake up his strategy if he wants to secure a top three finish in the Iowa caucuses.   

“A real challenge for Bernie will be if he continues to show a slight downward trend and Biden and Warren consolidate their position in Iowa, is he going to spend more time in Iowa than he wanted to,” Davis said.

While the Sanders campaign has invested in ground game throughout the country, it has stressed its online presence and has prioritized it above traditional media, only announcing its first television ad-buy of the election cycle earlier this month.

In the third quarter Sanders paid Aisle 518 Strategies, a political consulting firm for progressive candidates, $3.8 million for consulting on digital strategy and for advertising. The firm was started by Tim Tagaris who was Sanders’ 2016 director of digital advertising.

Sanders, who suffered a heart attack earlier this month, returned to the campaign trail after two weeks of recovery for Tuesday’s Democratic debate in Ohio.

The Vermont senator performed well, remaining calm while responding to attacks by moderates on his Medicare for All proposal and dismissing concerns about his health.

During the debate, the Washington Post reported that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., will endorse Sanders this Saturday during a rally in Queens, New York. Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez met in Burlington for breakfast in late September. 

Late Tuesday, the campaign then announced that Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., had endorsed the Vermont senator for president. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., is expected to publicly support Sanders in his bid for the White House, but has not done so at this time. 

Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib are all members of a group of four members of Congress who have been nicknamed the “Squad.”

Read the story on VTDigger here: As Sanders hauls in $25 million, he spends big on private jets and Amazon.

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