Pete Buttigieg Skirts Own Lobbyist Contribution Ban

Mayor Pete accepted $2,800 from state lobbyist after returning donations from federal lobbyists

Pete Buttigieg
Pete Buttigieg / Getty Images
July 25, 2019

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg accepted the maximum allowed $2,800 contribution from Alfred Ronan, an Illinois lobbyist whose firm pleaded guilty to federal bid rigging charges, despite swearing off lobbyist money.

The mayor of South Bend, Ind., began his campaign as the only "top tier" candidate seeking donations from the lobbying industry, but he quickly reversed course, announcing on April 26 that he would no longer accept donations from federal lobbyists and would return the $30,250 he had already taken.

Although his campaign finance disclosures show he returned federal lobbyist money since making the pledge, Buttigieg has not returned the $2,800 donation from Illinois lobbyist Ronan.

Ronan, characterized in an Associated Press report as the "consummate insider," launched his own lobbying firm, Ronan Potts LLC, after serving as a Democratic member of the Illinois House of Representatives. The firm in 2004 pleaded guilty in federal court to using sealed bid information to win one of its clients an $11.5 million contract to renovate Chicago's McCormick Place convention center, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Ronan's firm admitted it received sealed bid information on the project from Scott Fawell, a longtime aide to former Illinois governor George Ryan (R.), and then advised its client, Jacob Facilities Inc. of St. Louis, to lower its bid. Jacob Facilities eventually secured the contract to oversee the $800 million expansion project, and paid Ronan's firm a $67,000 fee.

His firm agreed to forfeit the fee it received, pay a $350,000 fine, and accept two years of probation.

While Ronan himself denied personal wrongdoing in the case, his close ties to Fawell, who was sentenced to six and a half years in prison for federal racketeering charges, are well documented. According to reports, Ronan's name appeared "over and over" on lists of Fawell's political favors, and the two roomed together on a 2001 fundraising trip for Gov. Ryan, who also served prison time on federal corruption charges.

Buttigieg's initial acceptance of lobbyist money put him at odds with the rest of the Democratic field. While Buttigieg did refuse donations from corporate PACs, many candidates, including Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, also refused money from federal lobbyists, and Elizabeth Warren banned private fundraisers altogether.

Buttigieg did not follow suit. Just days after his campaign announcement on April 14, NBC News obtained a Buttigieg fundraiser invitation hosted by lobbyist and 2016 Hillary Clinton bundler Steve Elmendorf. Elmendorf also appeared on Buttigieg's initial list of bundlers.

As coverage of the $5,600-a-head fundraiser increased, Buttigieg's campaign announced he would no longer accept donations from federal lobbyists, and would return the $30,250 he had already taken. As a part of the pledge, Buttigieg removed Elmendorf's name from the fundraiser invitation and bundler list.

Ronan has continued to work as a lobbyist in Illinois since the bid-rigging incident, representing a number of private and public-sector clients including a group of strip club owners.

He was also a top fundraiser for disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's campaign. Blagojevich (D.) is currently serving 14 years in federal prison for corruption and extortion committed while in office.

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