Pete Buttigieg’s official campaign-finance disclosure records from his first election no longer exist, TYT has learned.
Buttigieg first ran for mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in 2011. He won that race and re-election in 2015. He is expected to kick off his presidential campaign officially with a planned announcement on Sunday in South Bend.
It’s possible, however, that neither his rivals — nor journalists or future historians — will be able to scrutinize the donations he received and expenditures he made in his first successful run for office.
The St. Joseph County Clerk’s office told TYT there are no digital records of the 2011 Buttigieg disclosure forms and any paper copies were destroyed. Indiana law requires officials to retain such records for no more than four years.
Buttigieg’s presidential exploratory committee did not immediately respond to questions about the matter, so it's not yet clear whether he or his mayoral campaign retained copies or originals of the records. Two people with ties to campaigns of Buttigieg’s Democratic rivals in 2011 told TYT that those rivals did not retain copies.
The destruction of county election records — which include ballots for some South Bend office-holders — has been an issue in the past. Reportedly, the election board last year was unable to assess whether absentee ballots were counted in 2015 and 2016 elections because the ballots had been destroyed.
(While Indiana’s election manual requires disclosure forms to be retained for four years, ballots can be destroyed as soon as 22 months after voting, in the absence of pending legal challenges. The state retains digital versions of campaign-finance records online for state-level races, including Buttigieg’s unsuccessful bid to become state treasurer.)
Brendan Fischer, Federal Reform Program director for the Campaign Legal Center, told TYT, “I don't think we can fault South Bend authorities or Buttigieg's campaign for following the law here. But it certainly seems like a good practice for localities to maintain a digital copy of all campaign finance records. This is the case even if Buttigieg were just running for re-election as mayor. Voters in South Bend still deserve to know who supported Buttigieg in his first term!”
Fischer said that such records help voters before they vote, by telling them who supports the candidates. “After the election,” Fischer said, “the reports help the public track whether a politician later takes action to benefit their donors. Sometimes it is only years later that reporters connect the dots between political contributions and favorable treatment, and those stories can only be told if campaign finance data remains available.”
According to Fischer, “Campaign finance record retention is rarely an issue,” although that’s typically more true of state- and federal-level campaigns. The CLC, a nonpartisan advocacy group, serves as a political watchdog with a focus on voting integrity and campaign finance.
Asked to compare Indiana’s practices with other municipalities, the CLC found that Madison, Wisconsin, has a seven-year retention policy, which is longer than Indiana’s but still would not have preserved Buttigieg’s 2011 records through today. Illinois and Washington state both have more stringent retention laws than Indiana for both paper and digital records, the CLC found.
A January 2011 report by the South Bend Tribune — as it appears on an archived version of a Buttigieg campaign site — does give some insights into the early stages of the 2011 race’s finances.
The report on the first filings noted that Buttigieg had "far more small donations from individuals" than his two challengers in the then-upcoming May 3, 2011, Democratic primary. At the time, there was no Republican candidate. (South Bend’s Democratic tilt has historically made the party’s primary the city's de facto election).
In those first reports, Buttigieg disclosed just over $50,000 in donations, compared to $13,377 for his nearest competitor. Buttigieg’s largest donor, a local businessman who was also Buttigieg’s campaign manager, reportedly kicked in $10,000 and an in-kind donation of office space at a building he owned.
Buttigieg last week said he had raised more than $7 million for his presidential campaign in the first quarter of 2019.
Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.
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