Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg came under fire from progressives after claiming in a series of tweets Thursday evening that his rival for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination Sen. Bernie Sanders is being backed by "nine dark money groups" and likening the Vermont senator to billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
"Say our name, Pete Buttigieg," tweeted the Sunrise Movement. "We dare you."
The former mayor's comments were aimed at bolstering donations ahead of the Super Tuesday contests on March 3, when 14 states will vote in the Democratic primary.
"With Michael Bloomberg in the race, and with nine dark money groups supporting Bernie Sanders, the goal posts have changed," Buttigieg said of his campaign's need to raise more money.
The nine groups, as the Democratic Socialists of America pointed out in a tweet, are grassroots organizations powered by "POC, immigrants, youth, working class people, and democracy defenders."
What scares Mayor Pete?
So, POC, immigrants, youth, working class people, and democracy defenders. Noted. https://t.co/gMDZsqLCVI
— DSA (@DemSocialists) February 20, 2020
Buttigieg has struggled to gain the support of demographic groups outside of older white people, a nagging problem that March for Our Lives co-founder Delaney Tarr noted on Twitter.
"Remember when you called dark money 'black money,'" Tarr said, referring to an incident on January 24 where the mayor made that comment to a room full of African American voters in South Carolina.
"Disgraceful that Buttigieg continues to smear groups like ours, led by immigrants and people of color—all to boost his own fundraising," tweeted immigration advocacy group Make the Road Action.
Disgraceful that Buttigieg continues to smear groups like ours, led by immigrants & people of color—all to boost his own fundraising.
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— Make the Road Action (@MaketheRoadAct) February 20, 2020
In a fact-check article from February 18 on Buttigieg's claims on Sanders' support from the groups and other less than truthful assertions the candidate has made on the campaign trail, the New York Times said that at best Buttigieg was bending the definition of "dark money."
"Whether or not the groups qualify as 'dark money'—a generic term for organizations that spend money on political activities or candidate advocacy but do not disclose their funding—is somewhat of a subjective assessment," said the Times.
Buttigieg's comments came in for harsh criticism online, with activists, advocates, and journalists calling the Democratic candidate out for his dishonesty.
"This tweet is disingenuous and you know it," said journalist Michael Salamone. "Groups like the Sunrise Movement and National Nurses United are not dark money and you know it. You put your greedy aspirations for power above integrity and that's why you will never secure our party's nomination."
Political activist Ryan Knight accused Buttigieg of parroting right-wing talking points.
"Calling groups like the the Sunrise Movement and National Nurses United 'dark money groups' is Fox News type propaganda, but I expect no less from Pete Buttigieg," tweeted Knight.
Jacobin writer Luke Savage pointed out that Buttigieg's comments could have longterm destructive consequences on the left and called on the former mayor to issue an apology.
"Think about the precedent this sets and how much it muddies the waters to imply fundraising from billionaires is 'inclusive' whereas the Sunrise Movement is a 'dark money group,'" said Savage. "Stuff like this does real and lasting harm, but smarmy hacks like Buttigieg don't care."