Buttigieg, Warren debate money, influence

Mayor questions senator’s purity tests

WINE CAVES don’t win purity tests, but can they win an election?

Perhaps the reference to the wine cave wasn’t the best look for Mayor Pete, but he bounced back from it pretty well. It was the slugfest everyone was waiting for, between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, at the sixth Democratic debate in Los Angeles.

Polls, including one from Iowa State University-Civiqs, have Buttigieg leading the pack in Iowa at 24 percent of the vote, trailed by Sen. Bernie Sanders at 21 percent, and Warren at 18. Former vice president Joe Biden was fourth at 15 percent. 

After remaining out of the fray for most of the first five debates, Buttigieg decided to come out swinging, tussling with Warren over her “purity tests,” namely her stance that candidates should be raising money from grassroots donations, not through high-priced exclusive fundraisers.

Buttigieg, 37, recently had such an event in Napa Valley, something Warren pointed out. “The mayor just held a fundraiser in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine — think about who comes to that,” Warren said. “Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.” 

Warren’s decision to denounce traditional closed-door fundraisers was met with initial skepticism, but her campaign’s fundraising game has not suffered, with the 70-year-old senator raising $24.6 million in the past quarter, making her second to Sanders on that front.

Buttigieg had a comeback ready. “I am literally the only person on the stage who is not a millionaire or billionaire,” Buttigieg said. “This is the problem with issuing purity tests that you yourself cannot pass. If I pledge to never be in the presence of a progressive Democratic donor, I could not be up here. Senator, your net worth is 100 times mine.”

He added, for good measure: “I’m not going to turn away anyone who wants us to help defeat Donald Trump,” he said.

“I do not sell access to my time,” said Warren.

“As of when Senator?” Buttigieg retorted.

“If you want to donate to me fine, but don’t come around later asking to be named ambassador. Because that’s what goes on in these high-dollar fundraisers,” Warren said.

Buttigieg pointed out Warren’s campaign account contains money acquired long ago by those very same standards, specifically $10 million raised while she was running for Senate.

“Did it corrupt you, senator? Of course not,” Buttigieg said. “So to denounce the same kind of fundraising guidelines that President Obama went by, that Speaker Pelosi goes by, that you yourself went by until not long ago to build the Democratic Party and build a campaign ready for the fight of our lives — these purity tests shrink the stakes of the most important election.”

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Freelance reporter, Formerly worked for CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Is his point a good one? President Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee bagged $125 million in the third quarter of this year. On impeachment day, he pocketed another $5 million. In a system that relies heavily on the existing infrastructure of big money in politics, Trump is rapidly out-fundraising the top Democratic candidates. 

Despite the well-intended structural overhaul that Warren is proposing, and now personally living in her campaign, the money question will eventually become one of the main factors in who can beat the president.