UPDATE 12/15/20: The Washington Post reports that Biden will nominate Pete Buttigieg to serve as Transportation Secretary. This blog will be continuously updated as new information comes to light.
CNN reported last weekend that Pete Buttigieg is now a top contender for Secretary of Transportation in the Biden Administration (among other high-profile names, including Eric Garcetti, Gina Raimondo, and the infamous Rahm Emanuel). Earlier reports indicated Buttigieg had been considered for Ambassador to China and turned down the position of Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget because he “wanted a real Cabinet position, not a staff-level job” (we beg to differ as to the OMB’s importance!).
Buttigieg’s tendency to shift policy positions based on the preferences of large donors remains a significant concern if he were chosen to head a Cabinet department. In addition to his well-documented flip-flop on Medicare-for-All, Buttigieg quietly dropped key policy promises from his 2020 campaign stump speeches after wealthy donors expressed their displeasure with them. He was also less-than-straightforward in disclosing his 2020 campaign’s donors — the Revolving Door Project previously caught Buttigieg omitting more than 20 bundlers from a December 2019 list of his campaign’s top financial supporters.
Buttigieg’s campaign policy director Sonal Shah (a former Goldman Sachs and Google executive whose market-centric vision of change we have previously written about) regularly headlined high-dollar fundraisers for wealthy donors (whom the campaign tellingly called its “investors”). By tapping his national policy director to oversee big donor fundraisers, Buttigieg eroded what had typically been a dividing line between campaign policymaking and solicitation of campaign contributions.
The industry connections of Buttigieg’s donors are of even greater concern. According to FEC data collected in the Revolving Door Project’s Presidential Power Map, Buttigieg’s 2020 campaign raked in large contributions from top executives at major technology and defense corporations like Google (from whom he received over $44,000), Apple (from whom he received over $16,000), Amazon (over $12,000), and Raytheon (over $8,000). Public disclosures show that all four of these companies have repeatedly lobbied the Department of Transportation in the last year. Other major corporations whose executives donated to Buttigieg include Walmart and Allstate, as well as several members on the boards of Boeing, JetBlue, and American Airlines (all of whom, again, have lobbied DOT in the last year). Bradley Tusk, a former lobbyist for Uber who made more than $100 million helping the rideshare giant expand operations in New York, was one of the Buttigieg campaign’s top fundraiser hosts.
Buttigieg offered a curious response to critics who said he was too closely tied to the corporate elite, saying the donations did not have a corrupting influence and were “necessary to defeat Trump.” Jacobin’s Luke Savage found Buttigieg’s arguments laughable, calling them “transparent political opportunism masquerading as hardheaded political realism” and “a grotesque leveraging of the language of inclusion in defense of America’s billionaires and their right to flood the democratic process with campaign contributions.”
If he is selected for Transportation Secretary, Buttigieg may face strong pushback from major transportation labor unions for his prior management consulting work at McKinsey & Partners. TWU International President John Samuelsen warned recently against the nomination of an anti-labor and pro-privatization DOT nominee, saying of contender Rahm Emanuel, “[he’s] horrible from a trade union perspective […] I believe he would seek to privatize public systems, and he would side with the airlines in every labor fight.”
Beyond his time advising Canadian supermarket chain Loblaws on pricing strategy, Buttigieg’s consulting work for McKinsey included serving on a team of consultants that advised the United States Postal Service (USPS) on partial privatization and the replacement of its unionized workforce with non-unionized labor. He also served on a McKinsey team that advised Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan on mass layoffs, sparking a lawsuit and scathing anti-privatization report from Michigan’s Attorney General.
The next Transportation Secretary will have many critical issues to tackle, from undoing the damage wrought by Elaine Chao, to regulating a bailed-out and scandal–ridden airline industry, to overseeing developments in the rideshare economy, corporate retail logistics, and autonomous vehicles. A nominee connected to major industry donors will undermine public confidence in President-elect Biden’s stated goal to “make government work for everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected.”
We have high hopes that Biden will select someone for the position who will put working people — rather than big tech companies and wealthy donors — first. The position of Secretary of Transportation should not be a political consolation prize. It should be granted to someone with actual expertise and passion for transportation issues, not politicos who claim Biden owes them a favor.