South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is under fire for allegedly faking black support in a campaign email in late October that claimed 400 African-Americans in South Carolina had endorsed his “Douglass Plan” for equality.
The Douglass Plan, named for the (Republican) former slave and abolitionist, proposes a variety of policies aimed at helping black Americans, alongside a committee to study the issue of reparations, which Buttigieg also backs.
The plan is partly aimed at addressing Buttigieg’s persistent weakness among black voters, which is partly the result of difficulties in his relationship with the black community in South Bend. He fired the city’s first black police chief, then faced criticism from the black community after an officer-involved shooting earlier this year. When he tried to make amends by accusing the police department of racism, he faced criticism from law enforcement as well.
As The Intercept reported Friday (original links):
When pressed on the lack of black support, Buttigieg and his campaign have made repeated references to the Douglass Plan, named for abolitionist Frederick Douglass. “Our response to those who ask what our agenda for black America is, is the Douglass Plan.” Buttigieg said recently on CNN. “It is the most comprehensive vision put forward by a 2020 candidate on the question of how we’re going to tackle systemic racism in this country.”
The campaign hasn’t publicly claimed that every supporter of the plan listed is African American, though it wouldn’t be hard to draw that implication: It was published in the HBCU Times, and the bylines and top-listed supporters are all black. To be sure, a multiracial coalition would be needed to push the Douglass Plan through Congress, but the campaign didn’t say that, either.
After publication, the Buttigieg campaign said it had sent the plan to the list of supporters and asked them to opt out if they did not want their name included on the list. That email also specified that the list was meant to represent “over 400 Black South Carolinians.”
In an email sent by the campaign, Buttigieg touted support from 400 black South Carolinians, according to Slate.
But as The Intercept reported, not all of those who signed on were black — and not all who signed on were aware that they had. Three of the signatories, one of whom has already endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), were shocked to see that the Buttigieg campaign was touting their support when they had not, in fact, backed the plan.
Whatever the intent, a review of the 422 names on the list of supporters finds that at least 297 of them appear in the South Carolina voter file. … But for 184 of them, the voter file lists either one name, or lists multiple people, all of whom self-identify as white — so at least 42 percent of the entire list is white. And that means 62 percent of the 297 names that can be reliably checked are white.
Other names, the Intercept reported, are repeated, or are from outside the U.S.
Slate published the Buttigieg campaign’s response to the story, claiming it never meant to mislead anyone — but revealing that it had used an “opt-out” process, rather than specifically asking “supporters” to opt into the plan:
In the HBCU Times op-ed and in communications with the press, we’ve been clear that not every supporter of the plan is Black, and have never claimed otherwise in any public communication. We never gave the impression publicly that these people were endorsing Pete, only that they supported the plan. After they indicated their support, we reached out to people multiple times giving them the opportunity to review the language of the op-ed and the option to opt-out. We did hear from people who weren’t comfortable being listed and we removed them.
Moreover, according to the Intercept’s Ryan Grim, the Buttigieg campaign used a stock photo from Kenya to promote the Douglass Plan:
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) November 15, 2019
The latest poll in South Carolina has Buttigieg in a distant fourth place, at 8%, behind former Vice President Joe Biden, who leads the field with 45%, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) at 17% and Sanders at 15%.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.