I freely admit to having a double standard for Pete Buttigieg. I hold him to higher standards pertaining to fundraising than the ones I have for the other leading candidates. Here’s why.
Let’s begin with the rock Elizabeth Warren dropped in the debate pond, when she said:
So, the mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave, full of crystals, and served $900-a-bottle wine. Think about who comes to that. He had promised that every fundraiser he would do would be open-door, but this one was closed-door. We made the decision many years ago that rich people in smoke-filled rooms would not pick the next president of the United States. Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.
Mayor Pete’s response:
You know, according to Forbes magazine, I am literally the only person on this stage who is not a millionaire or a billionaire. . . . This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass. If I pledge never to be in the company of a progressive Democratic donor, I couldn’t be up here. Senator, your net worth is 100 times mine. Now, supposing that you went home feeling the holiday spirit — I know this isn’t likely, but stay with me — and decided to go onto peteforamerica.com and gave the maximum allowable by law, $2,800, would that pollute my campaign because it came from a wealthy person? No, I would be glad to have that support. We need the support from everybody who is committed to helping us defeat Donald Trump. . . .
Mr. Buttigieg is engaging in a false equivalency. There is no doubt the other Democratic candidates on the stage could afford to write a $2,800 check to Pete’s campaign, but there are three money issues at play in the Democratic primary. They are not equivalent.
We have the issue of billionaires Steyer and Bloomberg, who have enough money to swamp the entire race. Steyer undercut the unique donor requirement by advertising for $1 contributions, Bloomberg will just run television ads around the debates.
The second issue is with folks who can afford to donate $2,800 to the campaign. It’s a significant amount of money, but then again it isn’t, as Ambassadonor Sondland benchmarked the price of a nice European posting at $1 million.
This brings us to the third group. The folks who go beyond the $2,800 maximum, either by hitting up their wealthy friends for $2,800 and filling a room or a wine cave with those folks. They also donate to PACs, inaugural committees, or any of the other routes to bypass the federal limits.
That’s why the wine cave is more significant than Elizabeth Warren’s net worth, and why a $2,800 donation from Elizabeth Warren isn’t in the same league as the wine cave. Seems that the wine cave owners are pretty good and getting pro quo for the quid they raise, including a plum ambassador posting in Austria. According to the Daily Beast:
In 1997, one year after donating hundreds of thousands to Democrats seeking reelection, Kathryn Hall was nominated and confirmed as the U.S. ambassador to Austria, a position for which she had been angling for close to a year.
“Kathryn had begun talking to people in Washington—especially our close friend, then-Senate leader Tom Daschle—about the possibility of being appointed to an ambassador position,” the couple recount in their book A Perfect Score: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st-Century Winery, which documents their rise from mere real estate and financial tycoons to esteemed vintners. Among her qualifications: she had lived overseas, spoke German, and “enjoyed foreign affairs.”
“An ambassadorship isn’t something you apply for,” the Halls write. “You seek out people who are involved in the administration and let them know that you would be interested. Then you try to push that effort along any way you can.”
The posh posting isn’t the only reward for big money donors. There are big donors who don’t want a posh posting abroad, but want to influence public policy in a new administration. Consider someone like billionaire hedge fund manager John Petry. He’s one of the original founders of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), which Diane Ravitch describes as “the organization of hedge fund managers that funds charter supporters across the nation.” Petry and his friends were also behind a boatload of out-of-state money dedicated to the Massachusetts charter school ballot question in 2016., and flooded Colorado with donations to influence their elections.
When Mayor Pete was criticized for his lack of fundraising transparency, he released a list of his bundlers. Oops. He forgot to list 20 of his top fundraisers, including John Petry. That’s not all. Vice reports that Mayor Pete has been holding private fundraisers with a number of prominent charter school supporters.
Are John Petry and the charter school supporters just a group of altruistic donors, or is there a reason why they are gathering and bundling for Buttigieg? Who knows? Buttigieg doesn’t have a record on state and federal issues, so he doesn’t have a track record on issues that would concern Democratic primary voters. Michael Bennet and Cory Booker are off the stage, in part because their history of supporting school privatization doesn’t play well with a Democratic primary electorate.
That’s why there is a double standard. That’s why it is important to pay more careful attention to Buttigieg’s donors. We know where Bernie and Elizabeth stand. Pete? Not so much. That’s why we need to pay attention to who he stands with.