Sen. Bernie Sanders, who clashed with the Democratic National Committee during his 2016 presidential campaign and continues to criticize the party, gave $100,000 to the DNC in May to help cover costs from his cross-country spring tour with DNC Chairman Tom Perez.
Sanders and Perez embarked on the nine-state “unity tour” earlier this year after Sanders’ endorsed candidate, Rep. Keith Ellison — who supported Sanders in the 2016 presidential race — lost the race for DNC chairman to Perez. Sanders moved the money from his presidential campaign account to the DNC to help pay for the tour, according to campaign finance records and Sanders spokesman Josh Miller-Lewis.
The rare transfer of money from Sanders to the national Democratic Party comes after the unity tour and addition of Ellison as a “deputy chair” at the DNC, two changes that could signal a thaw in a high-profile, often-icy relationship. Former DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Brazile, who led the DNC after Wasserman Schultz resigned, were both Hillary Clinton allies — a fact that roiled Sanders supporters when hacked emails showed DNC staffers discussing Sanders unfavorably during the primary.
The Sanders campaign also filed a lawsuit against the DNC in 2016, alleging the party wrongly revoked his campaign’s access to voter data during that year’s campaign. The lawsuit had marked a particularly low point in relations between Sanders and the party, which pulled Sanders campaign access to certain databases before the first 2016 primaries and caucuses, after discovering that Sanders staffers had improperly accessed data used by Clinton’s rival campaign. Sanders withdrew the lawsuit last year.
But despite the unity tour and the May donation, Sanders is still outwardly critical of the Democratic Party, which he recently said needs “fundamental change” and "fundamental restructuring." During the 2016 presidential race, Sanders set up a joint fundraising committee with the DNC — but no money ever passed through it.
“The current model and the current strategy of the Democratic Party is an absolute failure,” Sanders said earlier this month, in a speech to a progressive conference in Chicago. “The Democratic Party must finally understand which side it is on, and that cannot be the side of Wall Street, or the fossil fuel industry, or the drug companies.”
During a progressive rally at the end of March, Sanders was equally harsh: “It wasn’t that Donald Trump won the election, it was that the Democratic Party lost the election," Sanders said.
Sanders, who still identifies as an independent, has come under criticism from Democrats for not doing more to raise money for candidates down the ballot and for the national party in the past. The DNC declined to comment for this story.
But Sanders, using his vaunted email list, has thrown significant fundraising support to dozens of individual congressional and legislative candidates over the past year, including Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Zephyr Teachout, the New York Democrat who lost a run for Congress in 2016. And this spring, Sanders campaigned with Rob Quist, the losing Democratic candidate in Montana’s May special election for its at-large House district.
Sanders has $5.3 million in his presidential campaign bank account left over from the last election, in addition to $3.9 million in his Senate campaign account as of the end of March.