The Sanders Institute, a public policy group started by the wife and son of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, said Thursday it would suspend operations amid Sanders’ presidential campaign.
“When Bernie decided to run again, and announced it on Feb. 19, we thought it was better in today’s politics to definitely stop taking donations,” said Jane O’Meara Sanders, the senator’s wife and political adviser, in an interview. “We stopped taking donations right away, so that nobody could think they had access or could gain favor to Bernie by giving to the Sanders Institute.”
She said the board had acted in late February at the urging of their son, David Driscoll, the institute’s executive director. The news was first reported by The Associated Press.
The institute, begun in 2017, was envisioned as a wellspring of progressive policy that would build on Sanders’ agenda. The couple drew criticism over the involvement of Driscoll, who had previously served as an executive at Burton Snowboards and Nike. Last year, Driscoll was paid about $100,000, and the institute raised $730,000, Jane O’Meara Sanders said.
She defended her son’s role.
“Dave founded the institute. He’s raised the money to keep it going,” she said, adding, “When you found something, how can it be nepotism?”
Driscoll, as part of a broader statement released by the institute, said he decided to recommend the pause in operations because “continuing our active role in policy development may create the false impression that the institute is part of the campaign.”
“We are taking this step in keeping with that core principle of good governance,” he said.
The move came less than a month after Bernie Sanders announced he would run for president again, a step that led to fresh inquiries about the institute and its practices. The New York Times had called and emailed the institute and its staff several times this week without response, and had asked the Sanders campaign earlier Thursday to answer questions about the institute and its work.
Bernie Sanders had been a critic of the Clinton Foundation during the 2016 presidential election, saying he had a problem with the potential conflicts of interest created by raising money from foreign governments. The Sanders Institute has not released its donors, but operated on a much smaller scale.
Jane O’Meara Sanders said the suspension was unrelated to the Clinton Foundation or the controversy that had enveloped President Donald Trump’s foundation, which was forced to shutter by the New York attorney general’s office.
“We didn’t think about the Clinton or the Trump foundation,” she said. “We just thought, I’m going to be very active” in the campaign, and “it’s just too mushy — it could become too mushy. We wanted to safeguard it. It’s a suspension, not a shutdown.”
The institute’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,” according to its website. Besides a three-day gathering of progressive activists last year, it gave funding to fellows and produced policy videos.
Jane O’Meara Sanders emphasized that the suspension was only temporary.
“The work will definitely come back,” she said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.