Bernie Sanders Buys $575,000 Summer Home, Prompting Controversy

Senator Sanders' purchase of a $575,000 beachfront summer home generated some controversy, but many details were elided in secondary reporting about it.

  • Published 10 August 2016
  • Updated 5 February 2019
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On 8 August 2016, Vermont-based outlet Seven Days published an item to their “Bernie Beat” section about the senator’s recent purchase of a four-bedroom, beachfront summer home in that state. According to the original report, former Democratic presidential contender Sanders and wife Jane O’Meara Sanders bought a lakefront home in North Hero, on the shores of Lake Champlain:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the proud new owner of a summer home in the Champlain Islands, Seven Days has confirmed.

The Burlington resident plopped down nearly $600,000 on a lakefront camp in North Hero.

Sanders’ new crib has four bedrooms and 500 feet of Lake Champlain beachfront on the east side of the island — facing Vermont, not New York. The Bern will keep his home in Burlington and use the new camp seasonally.

The piece discussed locals’ affinity for the state’s Congressional representative, interest in his rise to national political prominence, and enthusiasm for his new proximity to them. But the details of the report were widely aggregated in pieces highly critical of the senator’s new home purchase:

Maybe it was a post-election pick-me-up. Perhaps it had long been discussed. But certainly it surprised the 99 percent of Americans who can’t afford a third home.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, bought a summer house on Vermont’s Lake Champlain Islands, according to multiple reports. The $600,000 beachfront residence in North Hero, Vt., is the newest addition to the couple’s collection of homes in Burlington, Vt., and Washington.

Sanders, a socialist, campaigned against income inequality, targeting the 1 percent richest Americans.

Others contrasted the house’s value with Sanders’ net worth:

The great thing about being an avowed socialist is that you get to posture as a self-righteous man of the people without foregoing the benefits of wealth. Take the case of Bernie Sanders, whose self-reported net worth was $528,014, yet who just spent a reported $600,000 on a summer “vacation home” with 500 feet of lake frontage on gorgeous Lake Champlain.

What kind of elderly couple spends more than their net worth on a vacation home? Certainly, at a minimum, we can say a couple with no financial worries.

A number of Twitter users insinuated Sanders had funded the purchase of the house via campaign donations:

However, the original Seven Days report included information on how the Sanders’ afforded the summer home. O’Meara Sanders said that she had inherited a vacation home in Maine, but the family was unable to make use of it due to its distance from their primary residence in Vermont, so she sold it and used the proceeds to finance the purchase of a more suitable vacation home in North Hero:

“My family had a lake home in Maine since 1900, but we hadn’t had the time to go there in recent years — especially since my parents passed away,” she said. “We finally let go of it and that enabled us to buy a place in the islands — something I’ve always hoped for.”

A separate outlet addressed rumors that Sanders had somehow banked campaign donations and used them for personal gain:

The thing is, candidates don’t just get to pocket all their extra donation money when they drop out.

“Here’s what a campaign committee is allowed to do with any lingering cash: it can donate the funds to charities or political parties; it can contribute $2,000 per election to other candidates; and it can save the money in case the candidate chooses to run again.”

The Burlington Free Press shed light on the truth of the matter, revealing that the money for the summer home came not from campaign donations, but from at least three sources.

Jane Sanders said she and her husband paid cash — $575,000 — for the four-bedroom summer house they recently bought in North Hero on the Lake Champlain shore. She said she sold her share of her family’s long-time vacation home in Bridgton, Maine, to her brother for $150,000, added some money from her retirement account and from an advance her husband got on a book he is writing to come up with the money to buy the couple’s third home.