Transparency: Buttigieg bundler exposes pay-to-play scheme for donations

A top fundraiser for Pete Buttigieg’s campaign offered access to the candidate in exchange for a donation. The proposition has been exposed – an email to a wealthy supporter from a Buttigieg bundler was reviewed by Axios and the Campaign Legal Center, a campaign finance watchdog. The plea for a campaign contribution in exchange for access to the candidate couldn’t be more clear.


“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,” the fundraiser, H.K. Park, wrote in an email to the donor, which was reviewed by Axios.

Yeah, the message is clear. Hurry, before Pete gets too popular. Don’t just be one in a crowd of donors.

During the last Democrat debate, Elizabeth Warren went after Buttigieg for what she claimed is a lack of transparency in his fundraising efforts. How’s this for transparency? Inadvertently or not, Mayor Pete’s campaign is doing what most campaigns do. It is not at all unusual for a carrot to be dangled in front of a potential donor with deep pockets. That carrot is usually to imply that the candidate will be happy to pick up the phone when the donor calls him or her. What is unusual here is how the leaked email has exposed the Buttigieg campaign for operating in standard swamp fashion. Buttigieg campaigns on being a fresh, new voice. There is nothing fresh or new about hitting up the wealthy for donations in exchange for easy access to the candidate.

Elizabeth Warren tore into Mayor Pete for high dollar fundraisers like the one in the now-famous wine cave. It turns out that Senator Warren has her own history with expensive wine but that didn’t stop her from bashing Buttigieg. No one’s saying which campaign is behind the leaked email from Buttigieg bundler H.K. Park but it didn’t magically happen.


Mayor Pete is ahead in Iowa, at least for now. He needs to tighten up his operation and ride his current wave of voter interest. The last thing he needs is to look like every other status-quo politician who allows donors to buy influence. It is a widespread practice that isn’t usually exposed to the general public. You want transparency? This is a whole new level of transparency.

Park is a bundler for Buttigieg from The Cohen Group, the Washington, D.C.-based defense counseling firm where the South Bend, Indiana, mayor used to work. Park is considered one of Buttigieg’s top fundraisers ― those who have raised at least $25,000 for him ― according to his campaign’s website.

I’m surprised no one’s hair is on fire for the connection to the defense industry. Isn’t that comparable to working for the devil himself to the left? Maybe Mayor Pete gets a pass since he’s a veteran. The prospective donor wasn’t pleased with the email. Maybe he/she is the one who gave the email to Axios.

“It’s very telling and concerning that one of the campaign’s major bundlers would talk like that,” said the donor, who asked not to be named.

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

“If that’s the way he’s operating,” the donor added, “it’s in the public interest for people to know what’s being said.”


Excuse me if I’m cynical about the donor’s displeasure. Giving a candidate a large donation in exchange for future accessibility is the reason most wealthy donors give donations. No one is new here. It’s the same reason that donors give money to more than one candidate – they cover their bases until the eventual nominee is named. Whether the donor is a leader in the business world or an independently wealthy politicial activist, the implied access is key. In this case, it’s just all out in the open now.

The Buttigieg campaign is throwing the bundler under the bus, now that the fundraising efforts are exposed. Technically the email didn’t come directly from the campaign but it came from a top fundraiser. Fundraisers don’t operate in a vacuum, they operate in conjunction with the campaign. Campaign ethics and principles come from the top.

“The email in question is not from our campaign,” Buttigieg spokesperson Sean Savett told HuffPost. “The stakes in this election are clear and stark ― we have one shot to defeat Donald Trump. Pete believes we can’t go into the fight of our lives with one hand tied behind our back. That’s why whether you can give $3 or $300, whether you are a Democrat, Independent or Republican, if you are ready to defeat Donald Trump, we welcome you to our campaign.”


This publicity comes at a particularly inopportune time. Mayor Pete prides himself on his foreign policy experience as a veteran. His campaign announced this morning that he now has the support of more than 200 foreign policy experts. That is a direct slam against Joe Biden if you ask me. Biden was supposed to be Obama’s foreign policy expert though Republicans know that Joe’s been historically wrong on the subject for 40 years. Remember, last month Biden dusted off John Kerry and brought him out on the campaign trail to vouch for Biden’s foreign policy expertise. I know. John Kerry, the man who gave away the store to Iran in exchange for a very bad nuclear deal. Mayor Pete is directly challenging Biden here. Many of the experts are Obama administration alumni.

It’s another way for the South Bend, Ind., mayor to take aim at Joe Biden as his list includes a diverse group of Obama administration alumni described as the “next generation of foreign policy leaders” by the Buttigieg campaign’s foreign policy head.

Buttigieg, who served in Afghanistan as a Navy intelligence officer, has faced skepticism about his foreign policy chops as mayor of the fourth-largest city in Indiana.

So, today while the Buttigieg campaign is eager to tout the letter of support released by the foreign policy advisers, it will also be putting out the fire created by the fundraising bundler. Welcome to the top tier in Iowa, Mayor Pete. We’ll see how long he lasts.


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David Strom 5:30 PM | June 18, 2024