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(Part II) Your Complete, One Stop Guide to Why Buttigieg is the Wrong Choice

This was originally one long article but I’ve updated it and broken it into three parts. Read Part I in this series right here.

4. His advisors tell us who he is. Believe him.

There are a number of things to not like about Buttigieg’s team (his national policy director is a Google executive, for example, and a climate change advisor has taken fossil fuel money), but let’s just look at two key advisors.

Lis Smith, his senior campaign advisor for communications, is best known for helping a group of rogue New York state Democrats who caucused with Republicans to keep the GOP in power in Albany even though they had fewer seats. That betrayal blocked for years any hope of passing progressive legislation such as early voting, automatic voter registration, the Women’s Equality Act, and paid family leave.

That’s right: the person Buttigieg hired to help run his campaign — out of all the campaign consultants in the country — used to make her living keeping elected Democrats out of power, undermining our democracy.

Smith also worked on the deeply unethical Andrew Cuomo campaign, and used the misogynistic “angry woman” trope against Cynthia Nixon. Smith is widely known as being a terrible person who attacked Hillary Clinton days after Clinton became the official nominee:

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Buttigieg should fire Smith immediately or explain why he won’t.

Mark Zuckerberg, who said he would “go to the mat” to fight Elizabeth Warren if she were elected, is a friend of Buttigieg and has advised him on campaign staff. Facebook, of course, has the power to help any candidate friendly to the interests of billionaires, just as they deviated from their policies to help Trump. Here’s Sarah Jones from a piece you really should read in full:

“On [Zuckerberg’s] watch, Facebook heedlessly spread right-wing hate speech around the world, lied about the reach of its video ads, and violated the privacy of its users while claiming publicly to protect them. Zuckerberg himself considered giving away user data to reward some corporate partners and Zuckerberg’s personal friends, as NBC News reported in 2018.

If Zuckerberg’s actions bother Buttigieg, he doesn’t show it. Instead, Zuckerberg and other corporate executives know they can count on the mayor’s selective concern for the public good. It’s a reciprocal arrangement. While candidates like Sanders and Warren tout the power of small donors and swear off big-money fundraisers, Buttigieg embraces them. Democrats won’t defeat Trump with “pocket change,” he said derisively last week…”

Conclusion: Hiring is a reflection of character and worldview. There are doubtless many great people working on the campaign, but Pete Buttigieg has hired an unprincipled bulldog who has worked against the interests of Democratic voters, raising the question of whether he himself is more ambitious that principled. He’s being guided by Zuckerberg, one of the true enemies of American democracy. (He’s also backed by a strangely high number of members of the intelligence community.) This is not a man who is going to confront the runaway power of corporate America.

5. His donors and fundraisers are billionaires and bankers.

For a mayor with very little experience, Buttigieg is taking in huge amounts of cash from top executives at the world’s biggest companies, some of whom are literally buying special access to the candidate. His backers include:

39 billionaires.

94 bundlers who are each raising $25–250K or more from other wealthy Americans. David Moore writes, “Some are registered lobbyists, while others are “shadow” federal lobbyists, with executive titles like “government relations” at heavy-lobbying firms.”

Members of his National Investors Circle, an aptly named group that offers those who raise $250K or more special access, “including quarterly briefings with Buttigieg, monthly briefings with senior campaign officials and access to ‘Speaker Series conversations’ and other events.”

Pete’s PAC, which Kevin Robillard reports was supposed to help other Democratic candidates but has instead used most of the funds for his own presidential campaign staff.

McKinsey friends. Four immigration rights groups have called on Buttigieg to return donations from McKinsey employees, but he has declined to do so.

Two of Brett Kavanaugh’s lawyers, who co-hosted a fundraising event. The money has been returned, but the campaign has not explained how they could have not known of the work done by their well-known event co-hosts.

Blackstone Group executive vice chairman Hamilton “Tony” James, a Buttigieg fundraiser who helps Mohammed bin Salman get even richer. The American Prospect writes of James, who was a contender for Treasury Secretary under Hillary Clinton, “Perhaps he is aiming there again? From that position, James would have vast power to slow progress on any number of fronts himself, including on housing policy.”

Dick Fuld, who helped take down Lehman Brothers and the economy.

Pharmaceutical executives, CommonDreams reports, “Such as the chief corporate affairs officer at drugmaker Pfizer, the president of Astex Pharmaceuticals, a state lobbyist for Biogen, a vice president of public policy at Novartis, and the deputy vice president at the nation’s largest pharmaceutical trade association, PhRMA….” (His campaign was at one point the only one to accept money from lobbyists, but is now careful to not accept money from currently registered lobbyists.)

Bradley Tusk, “Silicon Valley’s favorite fixer,” who managed Bloomberg’s third campaign and lobbied against regulations on Uber.

William Rahm of Centerbridge Partners, which Congressional candidate Melissa Mark-Viverito callsa vulture fund that has shamelessly made a fortune off the backs of the people of Puerto Rico for years.” Mark-Viverito has called for Buttigieg to return donations from Rahm and others like him.

Kissinger Associates vice-chairman and co-chief executive Joshua Ramo, who helps run the firm founded and run by war criminal Henry Kissinger.

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix and a major proponent of charter schools, who hosted a fundraising event for Pete this week. Buttigieg has been “vague” on charter schools, and as Rachel Cohen writes in VICE, “Buttigieg’s financial ties with the charter school community raise questions about what policy positions he might adopt if ultimately elected president.”

Camilo Barrera Acosta, an outspoken critic of teachers and teachers unions and one of Pete’s bundlers.

Steve Elmendorf, a lobbyist who works for organizations working to defeat Medicare for All, for the oil company BP, and many more.

There are hundreds of other predatory capitalists backing the mayor.

Who gives to a candidate matters, of course. Some examples:

  1. Buttigieg was a supporter of Medicare for All as late as February, before he started taking Big Pharma and health care money and began attacking Warren and Sanders for supporting it.
  2. According to the New York Times, “Multiple financial bundlers told the campaign that the Supreme Court and Electoral College proposals were not popular, according to people familiar with the discussions. Mr. Buttigieg has since quietly dropped them from his stump speech.”
  3. Ben Mathis-Lilley of Slate writes that “He’s hired two staffers at Mark Zuckerberg’s recommendation and attacked Warren’s call for breaking up Facebook as premature.”

Buttigieg, who took lobbyist money when he first ran for mayor and gave city contracts to some of those donors, quietly stopped disclosing the namesof his bundlers and fundraising event hosts after some bad press coverage. In other words, the campaign, which promised in April to “be transparent about it,” became less transparent as time went on.

But Elizabeth Warren recently said he should “be releasing who’s on his finance committee, who are the bundlers who are raising big money for him, who he’s giving titles to and made promises to.”

Here’s an irritated Pete Buttigieg doing his best Bill Belichick impression as he tells reporters he’s not sure if he will reveal the names of his bundlers:

A day later he had reversed his stance and said he would release the names. But note that transparency is not his first move; it comes when he feels enough heat. And it’s problematic: Politico reports that the list of bundlers Buttigieg released recently was incomplete.

In the days since Buttigieg has been forced to allow the press into some of his events, it’s become more clear why he resisted (and why his transparency has limits). In one recent week he had four fundraising events in the Bay Area that were attended by dozens of Silicon Valley billionaires.

Here’s the bigger point. Ever since Bill Clinton and the days of the DLC, Democratic candidates have been swimming in cash from wealthy Americans. But it’s come at a steep price for poor and working people, who have been abandoned by the party. What would Buttigieg do? The American Prospect (read the full article) provides a clue:

Recently, Buttigieg expressed solidarity with Uber drivers protesting the company for an end to pay cuts and the implementation of a drivers’ bill of rights. Three weeks later, he attended a fundraiser co-hosted by Uber executive Chelsea Kohler.

Times have changed. The earth is on fire, people are dying because they can’t afford insulin, and companies like Facebook have undermined our democracy. There is no world in which a president can please billionaire donors and also serve the millions of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck.

This isn’t even complicated. Buttigieg knows about the corrosive nature of money in politics. He’s just decided it’s the only way he can become president.

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Pete in a “wine cave” with his billionaire backers.

Buttigieg’s donors know that he’s selling access. Axios reports that one fundraiser, H.K. Park, wrote to prospects, “If you want to get on the campaign’s radar now before he is flooded with donations after winning Iowa and New Hampshire, you can use the link below for donations.”

Peter Beinart writes, “a Buttigieg presidency could further divide America vertically, between people near the top of America’s ostensibly meritocratic system, and those who feel looked down upon by an elite they view as insular and corrupt.”

Conclusion: Which donors from which major corporations would be in a Buttigieg cabinet? We have no idea. What is clear is that billionaires and hedge fund managers do not throw money at political newcomers without an assurance of a solid return on their investment.

Pete Buttigieg wants to be seen as a new voice in politics, but we now know it’s possible to run a people-powered campaign and not be beholden to corporations. It’s frankly embarrassing that Pete Buttigieg is touting himself as something fresh and new. He’s just a young Joe Biden, running on pure ambition, taking the money, evolving his positions to please his donors, and using Republican talking points to attack progressive rivals.

6. His record on race has drawn sharp criticism.

Buttigieg has admitted to not knowing about segregation in his community , but when he was running for mayor in 2011 he had very strong opinions on why black kids don’t succeed in school:

Michael Harriot, in his powerful piece in The Root, writes,

“This is not a misunderstanding. This is not a misstatement. Pete Buttigieg went to the best educational institutions America has to offer and he — more than anyone on the goddamned planet — knows that everything he just said is a baldfaced lie.”

Of his ignorance of the segregation right around him, in the city in which he grew up and now runs, Zak Cheney-Rice concludes:

“It’s hard to avoid concluding that Buttigieg’s “illusion” about desegregation is the same willful sort indulged by white people the nation over. It’s the sort that lets him remark off-handedly that achievement gaps stem from a lack of evidence that education pays dividends for black children, then admit years later to knowing little about the actual problem until long after being entrusted with fixing it.”

Buttigieg had an opportunity to step up for justice in 2014 when, after Eric Garner’s death and the Notre Dame women’s basketball team began wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts, a South Bend police officer began selling “Breathe Easy, Don’t Break the Law” shirts that seemed to mock Garner’s last words. Members of the South Bend city council asked the officer to stop selling the shirts, but Buttigieg remained neutral and even found a way to say that Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter are actually pretty similar.

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Buttigieg remained neutral about this shirt.

And when he’s not being cowardly about race, he’s betraying a remarkable level of either ignorance or dishonesty about it, take your pick. Either way, he is completely wrong about the history of slavery in this country.

As recently as last week, more evidence came out about racism in Buttigieg’s police department. Buttigieg is silent on the matter.

Perhaps because of this record, Buttigieg has polled poorly among black voters. He released his Douglass Plan for Black America in July, and the Washington Post reported that “Buttigieg persuaded hundreds of prominent black South Carolinians to sign onto the plan even if they are not supporting Buttigieg himself.” He then released an “open letter” listing a number of prominent black supporters, implying that they had endorsed his campaign. But The Intercept reported in November that many were unaware that their names were on the letter:

“The blowback came immediately. [Columbia City Councilwoman Tameika] Devine, who has not endorsed a candidate yet in the presidential election, told The Intercept that she did not intend her support for the plan to be read as an endorsement for Buttigieg’s candidacy, and believes the campaign was “intentionally vague” about the way it was presented….

[state Rep. Ivory] Thigpen, meanwhile, has endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, and was startled when he learned the campaign had not only attached his name to the plan, but also listed him as one of three prominent supporters atop the letter….“I actually had not circled back to give them a quote, so I was alarmed and very much surprised to see, particularly, the headline as such because I do think it muddies the water, I do think it was a misrepresentation, and it easily could have confused a lot of people as to where I stood.”

On December 4th, Buttigieg tried again to prove his bone fides on race by promoting what his campaign called a “special announcement” from black South Bend leaders. A protest broke out at the event, the mayor’s campaign tried to blame a “white” Sanders supporter, and BLM South Bend responded:

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Conclusion: Buttigieg talks about how he wants to bring the country together, but he has so far failed to bring his own small city together. His critics believe he has not done nearly enough, through his leadership and policies, to create racial justice, and BLM South Bend has gone so far as to call for his resignation. The Washington Post reports that even his “Friends and colleagues describe him as a man still forming a sensibility about African American issues and culture, a work-in-progress.” He is polling at 0% among black voters. For the good of the country, he should continue his learning somewhere other than in the White House.

Pete Buttigieg is pure ambition, a perfect match for the rich and powerful who know he will evolve his positions to match their interests. Read Part I in this series here, and Part III right here.

Written by

Writer, filmmaker, consultant to organizations working on climate change and justice issues.

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