Pete’s Billionaires: The Elite Donors Buttigieg Has Embraced And Defended
Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg declared during the Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire, “We need a politics that is defined not by who we reject but how we bring everybody into the fold.”
Buttigieg’s statement was a response to Senator Bernie Sanders, who challenged the many billionaires who have donated to his campaign.
In the post-Citizens United era, billionaires have not struggled with exclusion from the “fold” of campaigns. There are plenty of ways for elites to “invest” their wealth and influence politics.
Buttigieg’s campaign policy director is Sonal Shah, a former vice president at Goldman Sachs. The Intercept reported she has headlined “high-dollar fundraisers across the country.” Her touring “wipes out the line between policymaking and solicitation of campaign contributions” that tends to exist.
The meetings with “high-level donors” occurred throughout the fall and winter on a weekly basis. Some examples of meetings include “pancakes in Newton; cocktails in Tulsa, Austin, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, or Manhattan; lunch in Chicago; or video calls with Shah” in which investors can buy access to the campaign.
According to a Forbes report from December 21, Buttigieg has received donations from at least 13 “big-money donors who gave exclusively to him — by far the most of any Democrat running for president.” Forbes found “40 billionaires and their spouses, who have contributed to Buttigieg’s campaign.”
Between the primary and general election the federal campaign contribution limit is $5,600. Most of the billionaires who donated to Pete For America donated the legal maximum one can give to a candidate committee.
Many of the billionaires who support Buttigieg regularly contribute tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, to the DNC and state party committees. They are fixtures in the donor class that props up the Democratic Party, and they are a part of why the more things change, the more things stay the same.
Several have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hillary Clinton and Super PACs connected to her and various corporate Democrats. That includes the Common Ground PAC, which is Senator Tim Kaine’s centrist project.
A Billionaire Who Has Helped Fuel A Global Housing Crisis
Jonathan Gray, a billionaire who is president and chief operating officer of Blackstone Group, contributed $2,800 to Pete For America on May 20, 2019. Gray oversees hotel, industrial, office, retail, and residential properties in the United States, Asia, and Europe.
Blackstone is a multinational private equity firm that has fueled a global housing crisis. In 2019, Leilani Farha, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, singled out the firm for “massively inflating rents and imposing an array of heavy fees and charges for ordinary repairs.”
“Shamelessly, some of the same Wall Street firms that tanked the dream of homeownership for millions of American families are now the country’s biggest landlords — profiting off the destruction they caused, Senator Elizabeth Warren declared on Medium. “In the wake of the 2008 crisis, private equity firms like Blackstone went on a shopping spree, snatching up apartment complexes and single-family homes that had been foreclosed.” The firm has lobbied against legislation that would protect renters.
Michael Sonnenfeldt is a billionaire who chairs two separate investment firms, MUUS & Company and Tiger 21. He donated $5,600 to Pete For America on July 1, 2019.
Sonnenfeldt also contributed $25,000 to the Democratic Majority For Israel’s Super PAC, which funded ads against Sanders in Iowa that sleazily invoked his heart attack against him. He is on the advisory council for the Israel Policy Forum, a centrist think tank that supports the “security and well-being of the State of Israel.”
He is part of the board of the Center for New American Security (CNAS) as well. CNAS is a hawkish think tank that receives funds from Northrop Grumman, Chevron, Goldman Sachs, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, BP America, JP Morgan, the Charles Koch Foundation, Citigroup, ExxonMobil, Elbit Systems, General Dynamics, Boeing, and DynCorp.
Marc Lasry is a hedge fund billionaire, who founded Avenue Capital Group. He was previously described as the “Clintons’ favorite fund manager.” He donated $2,800 to Pete For America on May 13, 2019.
Lasry invests in the “debt of distressed companies,” and he took President Donald Trump’s casino business, Trump Entertainment Resorts, “into and out of bankruptcy” around 2010.
In 2018, Lasry aligned with the Trump administration’s energy policy, and over the objections of the Navajo, he moved to save a coal plant from shutting down. The plant was notorious for turning Navajo sacred land into a toxic dumping ground.
Lasry oversaw an investment fund for natural gas fracking. During the 2016 election, with the oil and gas industry slumping, he helped bundle $270,000 for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and was confident good times would return for the industry.
Avenue owned $513 million in debt accrued by the publisher of the National Enquirer. In 2011, Lasry pressured the Enquirer to kill potentially unfavorable stories about the Clintons.
A Neoconservative Hedge Fund Billionaire Who Has Funded Israel Lobby Organizations
Seth Klarman is a hedge fund billionaire and Never Trump Republican, who has recently contributed millions to Democratic Party super PACs and candidate committees. He donated $5,600 to Pete For America on May 24, 2019.
As Max Blumenthal previously highlighted for Mondoweiss, Klarman has funded a “host of neoconservative Israel lobby organizations, including Trump’s favorite think tank, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the Israel Project, the Middle East Forum, WINEP, and the David Project, which tried to block [the] construction of mosques” in Klarman’s hometown of Boston.
Klarman also owned $911 million in Puerto Rico debt, as of July 2017. He objected when Trump pledged to wipe out the U.S. territory’s debt in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and penned an investor letter against debt forgiveness.
He was a top donor, who donated $1.5 million to Pacronym, the super PAC linked to Acronym, which is the group that launched Shadow which gave Iowans an app for the Iowa caucuses that was untested and failed.
As the CEO of Baupost Group, a Boston-based hedge fund, Klarman has invested in liquid natural gas companies like Cheniere Energy and Antero Resources.
Mimi Haas is a billionaire widow of Peter Haas, who was the CEO of Levi Strauss & Company. She donated $2,800 to Pete For America on May 2, 2019.
Haas contributed $600,000 to Pacronym. She contributes tens of thousands of dollars annually to Democrats, including the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
A Hedge Fund Billionaire In The Fracking Business
Glenn Dubin is a hedge fund billionaire who co-founded Highbridge Capital and sold the firm to JP Morgan in 2004. He donated $2,800 to Pete For America on May 20, 2019.
Dubin is the co-chair of Castleton Commodities International (CCI), a “global merchant energy company.” CCI’s assets have included coal terminals, heavy investments in fracked gas, and Morgan Stanley’s global oil merchanting business.
The Wall Street Journal reported in 2017 that Haynesville Shale, “one of fracking’s hottest spots a decade ago,” was “making a comeback.” Dubin’s company spent “more than $1 billion to buy 160,000 acres from Anadarko Petroleum Corporation’s Haynesville land in East Texas, where it operated nearly 2,000 wells.” It later received an equity investment from Tokyo Gas America Ltd., the biggest utility in Japan and one of the largest LNG [liquefied national gas] players in Asia.”
After 40 years of hedge fund management, Dubin retired in January. His retirement came after the media focused on his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, an American financier who was convicted of sex offenses. Epstein was found dead in jail in 2019.
Reed Hastings, the billionaire CEO of Netflix, co-hosted a fundraiser with Buttigieg in December 2019. In 2016, he spent $100 million to promote charter schools. He donated $5,600 to Pete For America on April 14, 2019.
Asked about Hastings in December, Buttigieg defended the billionaire donor. “There are 700,000 donors to my campaign. Some of them may disagree with me on some of those issues, but my stance will not change, including my support for teachers and my support for labor.”
Reid Hoffman is the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn, which he sold to Microsoft for $26.2 billion. He donated $2,800 to Pete For America on September 9, 2019.
Tara McGowan, the CEO of Acronym, indicated investment from Hoffman was crucial to the launch of her group. And, as Blumenthal detailed, Hoffman invested in American Engagement Technologies, which provided $100,000 to New Knowledge in order to wage a disinformation campaign called “Project Birmingham.” This effort used Facebook and Twitter to make it seem like Russians were promoting Republican Roy Moore’s Senate campaign.
Additionally, a report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) called attention to Hoffman’s role in trying to rehabilitate Epstein’s public image after he was convicted of offenses involving sex with children.
Daniel Lubetzky is the billionaire co-founder of Kind Healthy Snacks. He also is on the advisory council for the Israel Policy Forum and the board of directors for the pro-Israel group, the Anti-Defamation League. He donated $2,800 to Pete For America on June 27, 2019.
The Son Of Rupert Murdoch
On March 12, 2019, James Murdoch, the son of Rupert Murdoch, donated $2,800 to Pete For America. His billionaire family is known for a media empire that includes Fox News. He is a member of the board of CNAS, and as the executive chair of News International, he was implicated in a phone hacking scandal in the United Kingdom in 2011.
Frederic Luddy, the billionaire co-founder of the software company ServiceNow, donated $2,800 to Pete For America on April 12, 2019. He appears to be a Never Trump Republican. Records show he contributed to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s Republcian presidential campaign in 2015. He is also a major supporter of Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican in Nebraska.
The late Bob Tisch founded the Loews Corporation, which is “active in insurance, drilling rigs, natural gas pipelines, and hotels.” He had a stake in the professional football team, the New York Giants.
Jonathan, Laurie, and Steven Tisch inherited their wealth from him. In 2019, they contributed $2,800 on July 8, February 25, and April 24 respectively.
A foundation overseen by Jonathan Tisch contributed $100,000 to the Democratic National Convention’s Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee. The family is known for investing in the Democratic Party.
Wendy Schmidt is a billionaire and the wife of Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google. Eric currently serves on the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Board.
She donated $5,600 to Pete For America, and following Buttigiege’s “wine cave” fundraiser, she co-hosted a coffee fundraiser, where donors who contributed $2,800 could buy an “intimate meeting with Mayor Pete.” Multiple wealthy Silicon Valley donors attended.
On “Fox News Sunday” on February 9, Sanders contended, “If you do, as Mayor Buttigieg does, take huge amounts of contributions from the CEOs of the pharmaceutical industry, from financiers in the fossil fuel industry, from the insurance companies, from Wall Street, does anyone seriously believe that you’re going to stand up to those powerful entities and represent working people?”
At Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire on February 7, Sanders read headlines from media coverage of Buttigieg’s support among the billionaire class: “Iowa Caucus Leader Pete Buttigieg Has Most Exclusive Billionaire Donors Of Any Democrat” (Forbes), “Pete Buttigieg tops billionaire donor list” (The Hill), and “Pete Buttigieg Takes Lead as Big Business Candidate in 2020 Field” (Fortune).”
Warren challenged Buttigieg during a Democratic debate in December. “The Mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine. Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the President of the United States.”
In response to criticism, Buttigieg maintains he is “building a campaign that’s not defined” by who the campaign rejects. “It’s defined by belonging. It’s defined by inclusion. It’s defined by pulling together a coalition to get the job done.”
Several Blackstone Executives Support Buttigieg
Beyond the individual billionaire donors, Buttigieg has accepted at least $30,000 from Blackstone executives. They lead a firm well-respected among the billionaire class.
All of these individuals in leadership positions contributed $2,800 or more to Pete For America:
Joan Solotar — Global Head of Private Wealth Solutions
Peter Koffler — Senior Managing Director/General Counsel for Hedge Fund Solutions Group
Michael McRaith — Managing Director of Insurance Solutions
Michael Nash — Senior Managing Director/Chair of Real Estate Debt Strategies
Sean Klimczak — Global Head of Infrastructure
Christopher James — Senior Managing Director/COO of Tactical Opportunities
Byron Wien — Vice Chair of Private Wealth Solutions Group
Kathleen McCarthy — Global Co-Head of Real Estate
Bennett Goodman — Chair of Business Development Company (who retired in August)
Not only is Blackstone responsible for fueling a global housing crisis, but it also is a “driving force behind Amazon deforestation,” according to The Intercept.
“Hidrovias do Brasil, a company that is owned in large part by Blackstone,” runs an Amazon shipping terminal. “Another Blackstone company, Pátria Investimentos, owns more than 50 percent of Hidrovias, while Blackstone itself directly owns an additional roughly 10 percent stake.”
As the Intercept’s Ryan Grim reported, Hidrovias is a partner in the privatization and development of hundreds of miles of B.R.-163 highway. “Developing the roadway itself causes deforestation, but more importantly, it helps make possible the broader transformation of the Amazon from jungle to farmland.”
Deforestation intensifies warming in the Amazon region. The Rainforest Alliance estimates deforestation is responsible for 10 percent of the world’s emissions. It also greatly impacts indigenous communities, who live in and around forest regions.