It’s time to take a serious look at Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s fundraised money.
A small town, gay, millennial mayor from the Midwest out-raised twenty-four competitors in Quarter 2, including six sitting Senators and the former Vice President. In Quarter 3, even though Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders raised more than Buttigieg, he still had raised the most of all presidential candidates without transferring in money from previous campaigns. So, we need to ask: Where is this money coming from?
There are several repeated narratives in the public that we will need to examine: Pete accepts money from PACs, Pete is independently wealthy, Pete has the backing of billionaires. Let’s take a deep dive from the Center for Responsive Politics.
One potential answer to the question of how this once dark-horse candidate is now in the top tier would be to argue that Political Action Committees or PACs have invested heavily in Buttigieg. There is one organization that seems to have helped Pete, run by his former chief of staff Michael Schmul: Hitting Home PAC.
Hitting Home PAC began in the 2018 election cycle when Pete Buttigieg ran to lead the Democratic National Committee. When he lost that contest, the PAC shut down and spent about four hundred thousand dollars to support twenty-two Democratic candidates for the House, including Amy McGrath and Dan McCready, and Democrat Joe Donelly for Senate. The group accepted money from a number of consolidated sources, including Pinterest, Vanderbilt University, and Pete Buttigieg’s mayoral campaign fund. It did not support Pete in the race as he was the middle of his second term as Mayor of South Bend.
In the 2020 cycle, Hitting Home PAC had raised just under six thousand dollars when Buttigieg decided to shut it down. It does not, however, seem that any of that money was given directly or indirectly to Pete for America.
There is no evidence that any other PAC has given to the Pete Buttigieg campaign.
Pete Buttigieg has, however, swayed the most billionaires to support his campaign. Twenty-three billionaires have contributed to the campaign. 25,197 donors have given more than $200, which ends up making up about half of his total fundraising income. So far, 234 people have maxed out their giving for this year at $5600, raising 1.3 million dollars, or just under 2% of his total donations raised. If the twenty-three billionaires have each given the maximum legally allowed, their combined donations would be $128,800, or the amount of money the Buttigieg campaign raised every 8 hours in the second quarter.
Taken as a whole, Pete Buttigieg’s average donation in Quarter 3 was $32 from 580,000 donors. Pete trailed only Sanders in unique donors (1.4 million, average of $18), and surpassed the nearest competitor Warren by seventy-thousand individual contributors (509,000, average of $48).
Could it be Buttigieg’s previous campaign funds? In Quarter 2 after hearing about Buttigieg’s fundraising haul, Bernie announced a six million dollar transfer from his Senate campaign to grab headlines as the highest fundraiser. Warren and others have bolstered their numbers with transfers as well. Unlike older politicians, there is no evidence Pete has transferred in significant donations from previous elections to cushion his presidential warchest.
Could it be Buttigieg’s own wealth or campaign funds? Several candidates are self-funding, and stay in the race due to personal fortunes. And Pete is notoriously the poorest candidate running, with a two-person income at around $100,000. Three candidates, Tulsi Gabbard, Tim Ryan, Julián Castro, are worth between five hundred thousand and one million dollars. Every other candidate running, including Sanders, Warren, Biden, and John Delaney are millionaires. One Democratic candidate is a billionaire.
As a progressive, Pete Buttigieg’s numbers are nothing if not impressive. The ability to raise such large amounts of money from a vast audience, one including all stratum of American society, will serve the Democratic Party well moving forward. He has not taken money from PACs, and the only lobbyist money given to the campaign was returned. Pete has lived up to the highest ethical bar we should expect from any candidate we hope to win the White House.