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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, is introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., during a campaign rally in New York City. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, is introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., during a campaign rally in New York City. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, is introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., during a campaign rally in New York City. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher March 9, 2020

Bernie Sanders has taken corporate lobbyist money — in small amounts

If Your Time is short

  • Sanders is well known for eschewing campaign contributions from big-business interests.

  • But there have been instances where lobbyists representing corporations or industry groups have donated to his presidential and Senate campaigns.

Bernie Sanders is fond of calling his presidential campaign a grass-roots movement that rejects money from big-business interests.

But one of the Vermont senator’s top supporters, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., went a step further than the candidate himself in describing his disdain for corporate cash.

"One major reason I support Bernie is his consistency when things are hard. Not only does Bernie reject corporate money in 2020, he’s also never taken corporate lobbyist money in his *entire political career*," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, using asterisks for emphasis. "He is a real one. And in politics, that is nearly impossible to find."

Sanders never once took corporate lobbyist money? That’s not the case. 

During the 2016 presidential campaign, when Sanders finished as runner-up to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, it was reported that Sanders had received money from nearly two dozen registered federal lobbyists, including one from the National Mining Association. 

And figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan nonprofit that tracks federal campaign contributions, show Sanders has received $3.35 million from "lawyers and lobbyists" since 1989.

"Corporate lobbyist" isn’t a precise term. But we can check Ocasio-Cortez’s claim based on whether Sanders has ever taken contributions from lobbyists who represent corporations, even if they amount to only a tiny percentage of all his campaign money. 

In fact, there have been a number of such instances, dating back more than a decade.

In his current campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Sanders has received contributions from at least two federally registered lobbyists. They include $100 from EY lobbyist Dave Koshgarian, whose clients include Boeing Co., MetLife Inc. and New York Life Insurance; and $27 from Netflix lobbyist Josh Korn.

The center told us it has not done a more complete analysis of lobbyist contributions to Sanders.

But we found that some larger donations were made in previous campaigns. 

Featured Fact-check

Among those listed in Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission:

  • Oscar Ramirez, then a lobbyist with the Podesta Group: $650. Ramirez’s 2016 clients included Google holding company Alphabet, Oracle Corp. and the American Health Care Association, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

  • Michael Correia, lobbyist for the National Cannabis Industry Association, whose members include corporations: $500.

  • Amanda Aspatore, lobbyist for the National Mining Association, which represents corporations involved in mining: $250.

Sanders campaign spokeswoman Sarah Ford told the Washington Post in September 2019: "In 2016, we held zero closed-door fundraisers with high-dollar donors and accepted no donations from corporate PACs, corporate lobbyists or super PACs."

There are also a number of corporate lobbyists who gave to Sanders in his campaigns for the Senate. Some examples:

  • Jeffrey Forbes, whose 2006 clients included AT&T, Northwest Airlines and Amgen Inc.; 2006 contributions: $2,000

  • Martin Paone, whose 2009 clients included the American Council of Life Insurers, the American Petroleum Institute and Anheuser-Busch InBev; contributions in 2009 ($500) and 2011 ($1,000).

  • William Frymoyer, whose 2006 clients included the U.S. Business & Industry Council, the Florida Trade Council and Gates Corp.; contributions in 2006: $250.

Representatives for Ocasio-Cortez and for Sanders’ campaign did not reply to our requests for information.

Our ruling

Ocasio-Cortez said Sanders has "never taken corporate lobbyist money in his entire political career." 

In at least a few cases during his campaigns for Senate and president, Sanders did accept contributions in the hundreds of dollars, or thousands, from registered lobbyists who represent corporations.

We rate the statement False.

Our Sources

 

Twitter, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, tweet, Feb. 20, 2020

Email, Dan Auble, senior researcher for Center for Public Integrity, March 4, 2020

Center for Public Integrity, "The lobbyists who love Bernie Sanders," March 31, 2016

Center for Responsive Politics, "Sen. Bernie Sanders — Vermont," accessed Feb. 27, 2020

Center for Responsive Politics, "Lobbyist Profile: Dave Koshgarian," accessed March 4, 2020

Center for Responsive Politics, "Lobbyist Profile: Josh Korn," accessed March 4, 2020

Center for Responsive Politics, "Lobbyist Profile: Jeff Forbes," accessed Feb. 27, 2020

Center for Responsive Politics, "Lobbyist Profile: Bill Frymoyer," accessed March 3, 2020

Center for Responsive Politics, "Lobbyist Profile: Martin Paone," accessed March 3, 2020

Federal Election Commission, Bernie Sanders Senate campaign report of Martin Paone ($500), Oct. 5, 2009

Federal Election Commission, Bernie Sanders Senate campaign report of Martin Paone ($1,000), Sept. 23, 2011

Federal Election Commission, Bernie Sanders Senate campaign report of William Frymoyer donation, June 21, 2006

Federal Election Commission, Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign report of Oscar Ramirez donation, Feb. 9, 2016

Federal Election Commission, Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign report of Michael Correia donation, Dec. 31, 2015

Federal Election Commission, Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign report of Amanda Aspatore donation, Oct. 20, 2015

Federal Election Commission, Bernie Sanders 2006 Senate campaign report of Jeffrey Forbes donations, accessed Feb. 27, 2020

Center for Responsive Politics, "Lobbyist Profile: Amanda Aspatore," accessed Feb. 27, 2020

Center for Responsive Politics, "Lobbyist Profile: Michael Correia," accessed Feb. 27, 2020


Center for Responsive Politics, "Lobbyist Profile: Oscar T Ramirez," accessed Feb. 27, 2020

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Bernie Sanders has taken corporate lobbyist money — in small amounts

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