What Bernie Sanders said about not being a billionaire

Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders gather at a watch party for a presidential debate at Wynn Las Vegas on Oct. 13, 2015. (Getty Images)
Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders gather at a watch party for a presidential debate at Wynn Las Vegas on Oct. 13, 2015. (Getty Images)

We already know that Bernie Sanders is the only self-proclaimed socialist in the 2016 presidential campaign, but is he also the only non-billionaire?

That’s what many of you heard him say during the first Democratic debate, and many of you wondered if it it was true.  

That’s what we thought, too, until we replayed the tape. He was actually making a compound statement that highlighted the Vermont senator’s unique position in the White House race.

"I think there is profound frustration all over this country with establishment politics," Sanders said on Oct. 13. "I am the only candidate running for president who is not a billionaire, who has raised substantial sums of money, and I do not have a super PAC."

Let’s parse out this three-part claim one at a time.

Of course, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump will be the first to tell you that he’s indeed a billionaire, and he’s the only billionaire out of the 15 Republicans and six Democrats running for president.

For the record, all but three candidates are millionaires, according to an analysis by Forbes. With a net worth of $700,000, Sanders is actually less of a pauper than Florida Sen. Marco Rubio ($100,000) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (who reports a net worth of $0).

Out of the remaining 20 candidates whose net worths don’t end in nine zeros, Sanders is one of four without his own super PAC, as we noted in a previous fact-check. The others are Democrats Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee and Lawrence Lessig. (Trump, the sole billionaire, is also PAC-less).

That’s where the third part of Sanders’ claim comes into play: fundraising totals. Sanders has indeed raised "substantial sums." Here, we’re looking at money the candidates have raised directly for their campaigns not money raised on their behalf through super PACs. Through June 30, Sanders raised more than $15 million — that puts him ahead of every candidate except Clinton who posted fundraising totals through the second quarter of 2015. (We should note that July-September fundraising totals should be coming soon.)

Put it all together and here’s what Sanders’ claim looks like — relying on analysis from Forbes on the candidates’ net worths, and super PAC and fundraising information from the Center for Responsive Politics:

Candidate

Net worth

Super PAC(s)

Fundraising total (through June 30, 2015)

Donald Trump

$4.5 billion

 

$1.9 million

Carly Fiorina

$58 million

Carly for America

$1.7 million

Hillary Clinton

$45 million

Priorities USA Action

$47.1 million

Lincoln Chafee

$32 million

 

$28,000

Ben Carson

$26 million

One Vote PAC

$10.6 million

Jeb Bush

$22 million

Right to Rise

$11.4 million

George Pataki

$13 million

We the People, Not Washington PAC

$255,000

John Kasich

$10 million

New Day for America 2016

$0

Mike Huckabee

$9 million

Pursuing America's Greatness

$2.0 million

Jim Gilmore

$7 million

Growth PAC

$0

Jim Webb

$6 million

 

$0

Bobby Jindal

$5 million

Believe Again

$578,000

Ted Cruz

$3.5 million

Keep the Promise

Keep the Promise I Keep the Promise II Keep the Promise III

$14.3 million

Chris Christie

$3 million

America Leads

$0

Rand Paul

$2 million

Concerned American Voters

America's Liberty

Purple PAC

$6.9 million

Rick Santorum

$2 million

Working Again

$660,000

Lindsey Graham

$1 million

Security Is Strength

$3.7 million

Bernie Sanders

$700,000

 

$15.2 million

Marco Rubio

$100,000

Conservative Solutions PAC

$9.8 million

Martin O’Malley

$0

Generation Forward

$2.0 million

Lawrence Lessig

Unknown

 

$0

 

As a standalone statement, Sanders’ suggestion that he’s the only candidate that is not a billionaire is clearly incorrect. But in the context he presented it, among a litany of three points, his statement gains considerable more support.