Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren dueled over campaign finance during the December Democratic presidential primary debate, presenting two contrasting visions for campaign fundraising.
Warren attacked Buttigieg for a “wine cave” approach to 2020 fundraising as she touted her decision not to hold fundraisers with big-dollar donors and lobbyists. She has said that such practices encourage a political system awash in special-interest influence.
Instead, Warren said she would fund her campaign through “small-dollar” donations, often made online, by rank-and-file Americans. (Sanders has made a similar pledge to harness only small-dollar donations.)
Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., says he’s happy to accept funding from anyone who wants to help oust President Donald Trump and has stood out in the field as an aggressive fundraiser of both big and small donors.
Here’s a rundown of their back and forth, fact-checked.
Buttigieg: Trump and his allies “have already put together more than $300 million.”
This is true. More than $300 million has been raised so far in 2019 to re-elect Trump to the White House, according to announcements from Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee.
Trump’s re-election campaign says that efforts to impeach Trump have helped Republican fundraising efforts. Trump’s 2020 campaign manager said they raised $3 million in one day alone when the House passed an October resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry.
At the debate, Buttigieg argued that Democrats need to counter with robust money-raising efforts so they’re not trying to fight Trump “with one hand tied behind our back.”
But Warren said the race to raise money can’t involve selling out to the rich and those who are angling for political influence. Warren cited a fundraiser Buttigieg attended in an opulent “wine cave” in Napa Valley, Calif.
Warren: “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.”
This Dec. 16 event did happen largely as Warren described. The wine cave event attracted roughly 150 to 200 supporters who enjoyed an “expansive view over the vineyards of Napa Valley” and a “meticulously decorated Christmas tree,” according to a reporter present.
Such fundraisers aren’t unusual, especially in presidential politics, and politicians of both parties have used fancy fundraising events to separate donors from their money. The Sacramento Bee reported that Buttigieg has attended 63 events in California — the most of any 2020 candidate, according to the newspaper’s analysis of 391 candidate visits to the state. Two-thirds of those appearances have been fundraisers, the newspaper reported.
But the part about the event being closed door isn’t entirely accurate. A pool reporter, Mike DeWald of radio station KSRO, was present for at least a portion of the wine cave event and filed a report that could be used by other publications. However, Warren’s campaign noted that the pool reporter was not permitted to attend the dinner portion of the event.
Buttigieg countered that he was the least wealthy of the Democratic field, drawing a contrast between his personal finances and those of others on the stage, including Warren.
Buttigieg: “According to Forbes magazine, I’m literally the only person on this stage who’s not a millionaire or a billionaire.”
This is a fair summary of Forbes’ reporting. Here’s the net worth of the seven candidates on stage Dec. 19, according to Forbes:
Pete Buttigieg: $100,000
Andrew Yang: $1 million
Amy Klobuchar: $2 million
Bernie Sanders: $2.5 million
Joe Biden: $9 million
Elizabeth Warren: $12 million
Tom Steyer: $1.6 billion
“Mayor Pete has enough money to live comfortably in the Midwest, but he’s still the poorest 2020 contender,” Forbes reported in August.
Warren and her husband, Bruce Mann, have built their wealth through years of teaching, writing and consulting, Forbes said.
Forbes’ analysis included reviews of financial disclosure reports, holdings and debts not listed on filings, and assets owned by the candidates’ spouses and dependent children.
Buttigieg then went on to accuse Warren of hypocrisy.
Buttigieg: “Senator, your presidential campaign, right now as we speak, is funded in part by money you transferred, having raised it at those exact same big-ticket fundraisers you now denounce.”
This point is accurate, and documented in reporting by the New York Times and CNBC, though it’s important to note that Warren has raised more money in 2020 from grassroots donations than from the transferred funds.
The Times and CNBC scrutinized campaign-finance data and records of fundraising events for Warren’s previous campaigns for the Senate, which was before she made her no-big-dollar pledge for 2020.
These news reports found that Warren had held fundraising events for high-dollar donors and lobbyists when she was running for the Senate in 2018. Locales included Boston, Manhattan, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Martha’s Vineyard, and Philadelphia.
Some of the money raised found its way into Warren’s 2020 presidential war chest, since she was able to transfer $10.4 million in leftover funds from the 2018 Senate campaign. Buttigieg’s point was that Warren’s “purity test” in 2020 was made possible by past fundraising practices that she now decries.
The money she transferred gave her a leg up for 2020. But the Warren campaign said that only about $6 million of its 2018 fundraising was raised from “high-dollar” fundraisers, compared to $20 million in grassroots money.
And so far in 2020, Warren has raised three times as much from small donations — donations less than $200 — as she did from the entire $10.4 million transfer.
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