The Truth of the Matter: The best legal form of siphoning

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If there is anyone reading this column who might have donated$5, $10, or $25 to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, you may want to take note of what goes on at a house at 4507 Penwood Drive, Alexandria, Va.

The 1988 vintage, 2,700 square foot, $550,000 house, located on a cul-de-sac in a subdivision just off a major highway, is also the legal address for a media company that was created on April 8, 2014, Old Towne Media LLC. It is not clear as to who actually owns Old Towne Media LLC, but what is clear is that it is located in Shelli Hutton-Hartig's home. Working out of the home alongside Hutton-Hartig is Barbara Abar Bougie. Both are very close friends of Jane O'Meara Sanders. Collectively, they were responsible for close to $90 million in revenue that came to the company from the Sanders presidential campaign.

In essence, it was the job of Hartig and Bougie, acting though the Old Towne Media LLC, to redistribute a substantial portion of the $90 million plus to newspapers, TV/ radio stations, and Internet outlets. The money was to pay for the promotion of the Vermont Senator's presidential campaign message. The key words here are "substantial portion."

According to recent reports and reports as far back as April of this year in VTDigger, The Washington Post, and Slate Magazine, "substantial portion" amounts to approximately $76.5 million or about 85 percent of the funds transferred to Old Towne Media LLC. It is generally accepted that the company placing the ads retains 15 percent as a commission. And of course, this begs the question of where the balance of the funds, $13.5 million, ended up.

There is a partial answer and, according to a statement in Slate Magazine, Tad Devine, a senior and longtime Sanders consultant, about $4.8 million was paid to his firm, Devine Mulvey Longabaugh, for video productions along with splitting a commission with Old Towne Media LLC.

Every four years, in national politics and in between in state races, billions of dollars are collected from contributors. The bulk of the money that pours in to all candidates is spent on consultants and advertising. It has been reported that the Sanders campaign spent the highest amount of any candidate on advertising (indeed it accomplished getting his message heard).

A question raised is why did his campaign officials feel that it was necessary to place the funds with a company, not two years in business, with no employees, working out of a private residence in Alexandria, Va.? According to the 2016/17 Vermont Business Directory, there are 62 long established advertising/media firms in Vermont. Were any of them given an opportunity to do the ad placements? Also, did his campaign use Vermont banks for the depositories of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in campaign contributions?

These questions pale next to the big question which state and national media are trying to get answered-who owns Old Towne Media LLC? . Another question is who will be the recipients of the millions of dollars of commissions still left in the company now that the campaign has come to an end? Legally, the balance does not have to be returned to the campaign's accounts in that it has been earned by Old Towne Media LLC.

Sanders' campaign should be given credit (and Gov. Dean's before him) for the electorate to send in their $5, $10, and $25 amounts. What these contributors don't know (or maybe they just don't care) is that millions of dollars were siphoned off and given to friends for "services," consultants for so called "fees."

If it turns out that Jane O'Meara Sanders is in fact a member (owner) of the Old Towne Media LLC upon the distribution of the millions still in the company, would she consider making a donation to her previous employer, Burlington College?

— Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington


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