Bernie Sanders Goes After Pete Buttigieg's Backing From Wealthy Donors

He decried the influence of money in politics, including Buttigieg's backing from billionaires and Michael Bloomberg spending his own fortune on the race.

MANCHESTER, N.H. ― Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took a swipe at his 2020 rivals Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg on Friday, saying they are corrupting the political system by encouraging big money in politics. 

“We have a corrupt political system,” Sanders said, declaring “the future of democracy is at stake in this election.” 

Sanders made his remarks at the “Politics and Eggs” breakfast, a tradition at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College. 

He added that while Bloomberg ― the former mayor of New York City and a billionaire ― was entitled to run for president and is a “smart guy,” the way he was going about it was basically buying the election. 

“He is spending hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to buy the election,” Sanders said. “There’s something wrong with that. ... How do we feel about living in a so-called democracy when a billionaire ― multibillionaire, 55 billion ― can spend unlimited sums of money?”

He then went after Buttigieg, reading off headlines about Buttigieg that showed his backing from billionaires ― “Pete Buttigieg tops billionaire donor list,” “Pete Buttigieg lures even closer look from Wall Street donors following strong Iowa caucuses performance” and others. 

“I like Pete Buttigieg,” Sanders added. “But we are in a moment where billionaires control not only our economy but our political [system].”

Buttigieg addressed the issue of money in politics on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” Thursday, saying he is “not a fan of the campaign finance system we have today.” 

“I’m also a fan of beating Donald Trump,” he said. “And what we’ve got to do right now ― first of all, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is not exactly an establishment fundraising powerhouse, right?”

“And I will make exactly one promise to anybody, whether they’re giving three bucks online or the maximum allowable by law ― and the promise is I’m going to take that contribution and I’m going to use it to build the campaign that’s going to defeat Donald Trump so that we can actually get the reforms that this country needs,” Buttigieg added. 

Sanders often decries the effects of money on the political system, but his remarks were some of his most direct criticisms of Buttigieg, reflecting increased tensions between the candidates as the Democratic primary moves into the voting period. Despite the messy Iowa caucus results, both Sanders and Buttigieg appear to be coming out of that contest on top, with roughly the same number of delegates ― although Sanders has declared victory, noting that he won more of the popular vote. 

Buttigieg has been among the front-runners, but his showing in Iowa nevertheless took many people by surprise. He’s likely to face more attacks from his rivals due to his new status at the presidential debate in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Friday night. 

“I think tonight’s debate is probably the most consequential debate that we’ve had in the primary, ever,” New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley said Friday, citing the closeness of the race and the number of candidates who remain viable. 

“I think it’s going to be quite interesting because any slip-up will be disastrous to any one of them. Any catchy comment could give them meteoric rise,” he added.

At the Democratic presidential debate in December, Sanders also jabbed at Buttigieg for his support from billionaires, saying that he and former Vice President Joe Biden were popular with wealthy donors. 

“So, Pete, we look forward to you ― I know you’re an energetic guy and a competitive guy ― to see if you can take on Joe on that issue,” he quipped. “This is why three people own more wealth than the bottom half.”

In November, Forbes counted 40 billionaires who have donated to Buttigieg and 44 to Biden. Sanders alone has refused to accept contributions from billionaires, going as far as to return a $470 check from Marta Thoma Hall, a Sanders supporter married to a billionaire.

“Are you on the side of a working class of this country, which has been battered for the last 45 years? Are you willing to take on the greed and corruption of the billionaire class and the 1%, or will you continue to stand with the big-money interests? That is what this campaign is about,” Sanders said. 

At the event Friday, there was a bit of a disconnect between the senator’s fiery remarks and the banners of the event’s corporate sponsors on the wall ― Comcast, Bank of America, Dominion Resources and others. The opening speaker also asked people to appreciate the good work of these “corporate citizens.”

This story was updated with Buttigieg’s comments to Colbert and remarks from the New Hampshire Democratic Party chair.

Igor Bobic contributed reporting.