Saturday December 1, 2012

Last month, Bernie Sanders won re-election to the U.S. Senate. In doing so, he will add another 6 years to his 3 decades of public service, that had its beginnings, in 1981, when he was first elected Mayor of Burlington.

When his term ends, in 2018, Senator Sanders will be 77 years old. Will he be thinking of passing on the gavel at that time? If he does contemplate retirement in 2018, I have several suggestions on what he might do with the $4 million his campaign fund has on hand today. It is an enormous sum by any Vermont election standard and which vastly exceeds anything he might require and most likely will only continue to grow larger.

Before I propose my ideas I should describe the environment in Bennington County for which Bernie could be of enormous assistance.

Historically, Bennington County, is one of the most economically disadvantaged counties in Vermont. It also ranks low when mental and physical health issues are measured -- with depression among its citizens above the state average.

Is it any wonder, then, that the county has numerous nonprofit organizations? And for many of them, their sole mission is to mitigate the social, physical and financial effects of addiction, abuse, poor nourishment, lack of heating fuel and winter clothing and sub-standard housing.

Each one of the nonprofits, is trying to do a Herculean task with limited resources -- in dollars, volunteers and staff.


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What they all have, in abundance, are the needs of their constituents.

My observation, is that the scope of the nonprofit mission, is not commensurate with the financial capital that is required to adequately execute their mission. And it is here where Bernie could be of great help.

If in 2018 Sen. Sanders wishes to run for the U.S. Senate, the only cost he will incur is that of filing the papers to have his name placed on the ballot. He is so popular among the Vermont electorate he does not need to spend one dollar in getting his message out. Instead, he should give away the $4 million that will just sit in a bank until 2018 and beyond.

I am not suggesting that the full sum which is currently on hand should come to Bennington County's nonprofits -- an allocation plan could be devised. Just think of the impact 15 percent ($600,000) could have on the needs of Bennington County and spent on the following:

1). 64,000 gallons of heating fuel, $190,000; 2). 1,500 pairs of children's mittens, $10,000; 3). 1,000 winter adult jackets, $50,000; 4). 30,000 meals for homebound seniors, $150,000; 5). 10 annual scholarships to Southern Vermont College, $130,000; 6). Placement for 28 days, for 14 individuals at a drug addiction rehab center, $70,000. Total: $600,000.

This is solely the impact of utilizing 15 percent of the $4 million in campaign funds now in a bank account -- can you imagine how far reaching an impact there would be if the total fund was to be distributed throughout Vermont?

Of course, we would want the Senator to not run afoul of the campaign finance regulations -- but he is a lawmaker and he can make it happen. Also, he might have to obtain clearance from his contributors -- most of whom were individuals and labor union associations, who would certainly not object to having their unused political contributions reallocated to such a worthwhile cause.

Bernie, in Bennington County, so few are being asked to do so much for so many. Realistically, your $4 million-plus campaign fund, which can only grow from here, can be used so wisely and effectively. Not every politician is in such an enviable position as you are. Therefore, I urge you to do something really bold -- give it away.

Don Keelan writes a bi-monthly column and lives in Arlington.