Bernie Sanders, the former US presidential candidate, has vehemently denied reports that he is a millionaire. In a New York Times interview, he insisted that neither he nor his wife was worth $2m, reports said. Sanders released 10 years of tax returns on Monday, confirming earnings of just over $1m in 2016, largely due to book sales. He has proposed a range of measures to tackle income inequality, including a $15 hourly minimum wage and improving the rights of workers to form and participate in trade unions.
Sanders said he did not imagine that submitting his tax returns was going to unearth a scandal. He acknowledged that they showed he was an author, and made some money. In 2016 he made $1.06m, but had far smaller earnings in other years, such as $240,622 in 2015. Sanders told the newspaper that he regarded himself as “a millionaire” based on his recently disclosed earnings, adding that he did not believe in “the bookkeeping fiction” that considers a person a billionaire only once they have amassed $1bn. Together, the Vermont senator and his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, reported earnings of $1.7m in the year 2017, up from about $1m in 2016.
Sanders’ comments came amid concern from his supporters that his newfound wealth could undermine his message of standing up for the working class. Some mediamen have argued that the broader issue is a distraction, with Sanders’ proposal for higher taxes on the ultra-rich ignored in favour of his personal wealth. However, the admission could show that Sanders learned from the 2016 campaign, when his feud with at least one billionaire family drew accusations that he was indulging in class warfare. Sanders has been on a tour of states that will hold early presidential primaries in 2020.
In a statement released accompanying Sanders’ tax returns, his campaign called on President Donald Trump to follow suit, noting that the president had promised to release his own tax returns while running for office in 2016, but has failed to do so. In 2016, Hillary Clinton, Sanders’ chief rival for the Democratic nomination, released her tax returns in April, before the New York primary. Trump won that state easily, but the issue of his refusal to release his returns remained a topic of furious debate for the rest of the campaign.