After Claiming Victory in Iowa, Buttigieg Takes Heat for Alleged Campaign Finance Violations

Warren accuses former mayor of illegal coordination with dark money group

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg / Getty Images
February 6, 2020

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has been accused of breaking campaign finance law in the wake of his self-proclaimed victory in the controversial Iowa caucuses.

Buttigieg campaign strategist Michael Halle touted the candidate's veteran status in a tweet, writing that "Pete's military experience and closing message work everywhere especially in Nevada where it's critical they see this on the air through the caucus." Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D., Mass.) campaign raised concerns that the message was an attempt from the Buttigieg campaign to coordinate with VoteVets, a progressive dark money group that has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars supporting the former South Bend mayor in early primary states.

"Was this meant to be a DM or did you mean to tweet out this instruction to your super PAC?" Warren campaign manager Roger Lau tweeted in response to Halle. Warren doubled down in a fundraising email Thursday, calling out Buttigieg by name and citing Halle's tweet as "a prime example of just how easy it is for campaigns to exploit our broken campaign finance laws."

Liberal critics have taken issue with Buttigieg's handling of the controversial Iowa caucus after the former mayor declared victory in the state before data errors prevented a single vote from being officially counted. Though Buttigieg claimed his campaign was "going on to New Hampshire victorious," he is now in a virtual tie with Vermont senator Bernie Sanders (I.) with 97 percent of the vote released.

The Buttigieg campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Under campaign finance law, candidates are prohibited from coordinating with outside groups, including super PACs that are not bound by fundraising limits. The mention of Buttigieg's military career ruffled feathers among Democrats who saw it as potential outreach to the veteran group.

"Pete Buttigieg's campaign, and a few other campaigns in this race, are being boosted by the support of Super PACs and the bigwig donors who can donate millions to them," Warren's fundraising email says before highlighting Halle's tweet. "It's illegal for candidates and Super PACs to coordinate strategy with one another. But we saw this tweet from one of our opponents' senior strategists, and we wanted to make sure you saw it."

The Warren fundraising email said Halle's tweet "will be picked up by outside groups working on Pete's behalf."

Andrew Yang's campaign manager Zach Graumann also took issue with Halle's tweet, replying "Yikes."

VoteVets denied coordinating with the Buttigieg campaign, but Buttigieg spokesman Chris Meagher welcomed the group's support.

"If the largest progressive veterans group wants to help spread the word about his service, we welcome it," Meagher said.

Warren has made criticism of money in politics a fixture of her campaign, touting her "100% grassroots" funding and ban on "private closed-door fundraisers." Though the Massachusetts senator claimed in her email that she "doesn't accept help from Super PACs—or PACs of any kind," Warren is backed by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. The group, which has supported Warren since her 2012 Senate race, accused the former South Bend mayor of tarnishing his image by accepting VoteVets's support.

"Pete entered the race as a Boy Scout but has corrupted his brand by becoming the candidate of big-money corporate donors," cofounder Adam Green said in a statement. "It's a slap in the face of campaign finance law to so brazenly and unethically direct a Super PAC how to spend on his behalf—all while leaving New Hampshire to do big-money New York fundraisers."

The Warren campaign did not respond to a request for comment.