Buttigieg Fundraising Consultant Offered Influence to Wealthy Donor in Email

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks during a campaign event where he is endorsed by actor Kevin Costner, at a high school in Indianola, Iowa, U.S. December 22, 2019. (Rachel Mummey/Reuters)

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is facing criticism for an email one of his top fundraisers sent out that appeared to peddle influence to wealthy donors in exchange for cash contributions.

“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,” read the email, which was sent by H.K. Park of the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm The Cohen Group and obtained by Axios.

The Cohen Group is listed by the Buttigieg campaign as one of its top fundraisers, or those who have raised at least $25,000 for the South Bend, Indiana mayor’s campaign.

The potential donor was reportedly concerned about the nature of the campaign solicitation, saying it smacked of pay-to-play tactics.

“It’s very telling and concerning that one of the campaign’s major bundlers would talk like that,” the donor, who chose to remain anonymous, told Axios. “If that’s the way he’s operating, it’s in the public interest for people to know what’s being said.”

“What would this suggest about the way he’s going to interact with Silicon Valley if the implication is pay-for-play?” the donor added.

The Buttigieg campaign has pushed back on pay-to-play accusations, arguing that the email did not come directly from the campaign and does not represent anything other than an early call to support the candidate.

“The campaign did not see or authorize the language in this email. But it is ridiculous to interpret it as anything more than asking potential supporters who may be interested in Pete to join our campaign before caucusing and voting begins,” Buttigieg campaign spokesperson Sean Savett said. “We are proud to have more than 700,000 donors who have already donated to our campaign, and the only promise any donor will ever get from Pete is that he will use their donations to defeat Donald Trump.”

The fundraising technique, called “bundling,” is an example of the kind of high-dollar strategy that fellow Democratic 2020 candidates Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren have disavowed. During Thursday’s Democratic debate, Warren went after Buttigieg for holding a private fundraiser in a wine cave with wealthy donors.

“The mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine,” Warren said, referencing an opulent Napa Valley fundraiser Buttigieg attended earlier this month. “Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.”

Buttigieg hit back, reminding Warren that she held high-dollar fundraisers herself during her campaign for Senate and transferred the resulting funds to her presidential campaign.

“This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass,” the mayor said.

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