Fact-Checking Pete Buttigieg Before the Nevada Caucuses 1

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., has had strong showings in the first two Democratic presidential nominating contests. As he seeks to build support ahead of Nevada’s vote on Saturday, Mr. Buttigieg has sought to explain his record with black residents of South Bend, distinguish himself from his competitors on health care, and parry attacks on the issue of campaign finance. Here’s a fact check.

what the facts are

Mr. Buttigieg has cherry picked statistics, sometimes misleadingly, to defend his record on poverty and arrests among minorities in South Bend.

What Mr. Buttigieg said

“The reality is on my watch drug arrests in South Bend were lower than the national average and specifically to marijuana lower than in Indiana.”
— at the Democratic debate in February

This is misleading. African-Americans make up about a quarter of South Bend’s population, but account for more than than half of drug arrests in the city. Pressed by a debate moderator, Linsey Davis of ABC, on this racial disparity, Mr. Buttigieg deflected with a half-true claim.

Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign cited arrest rates across his second term. From 2016 to 2018 (data for 2019 is not yet available), 0.43 percent of black South Bend residents were arrested annually for marijuana possession (lower than the 0.48 percent figure for the state of Indiana) and 0.82 percent on general drug charges (lower than the national average of 0.83 percent and the state average of 0.9 percent).

But his claim of lower arrest rates is less true for his entire tenure. From 2012 to 2018, 0.43 percent of black residents were arrested for marijuana possession (roughly equivalent to the 0.42 percent figure for both Indiana and the nation) and 0.75 percent arrested on general drug charges (level with the state rate and lower than the 0.97 percent national rate).

Experts also said those are not particularly meaningful comparisons. For one, the difference between South Bend and Indiana rates is relatively small and therefore statistically insignificant.

Additionally, the city’s drug arrests rates for white residents are also slightly lower than the state and national averages. So that could reflect lower drug use in general, “not that local officials have consciously changed” their policing practices, said Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group that compiles criminal justice data.

As Ms. Davis noted and as The Intercept first reported, black residents of South Bend were 4.2 times more likely than white residents to be arrested for possessing marijuana while Mr. Buttigieg was mayor from 2012 to 2018. That’s higher than the disparity of 3.6 to one across the state and 3.1 to one across the country. For drug charges in general, South Bend’s disparity of 2.8 to one was higher than the national ratio of 2.4 to one, but lower than the state’s 2.9 to one ratio.

“The larger point, which comparisons to the rest of the state obscures, is that these are serious disparities,” said Joseph E. Kennedy, a law professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and expert in criminal justice racial disparities. “Who cares how bad things are in the rest of the state? A mayor can have a much bigger impact on arrests by his city’s police force than a governor can have in a state where multiple agencies make arrests.”

The South Bend Police Department changed how it reported crime data to the F.B.I. in 2018, using a more detailed reporting system, a Buttigieg campaign spokesman said. Experts agreed that the switch likely accounts for a perceived uptick in drug-related arrests that year. Omitting 2018 from the time frame, though, black residents of South Bend were still 2.7 times more likely than white residents to be arrested on drug charges and 4.1 times more likely for marijuana possession.

What Mr. Buttigieg said

“Poverty rates for black residents decreased by nearly 40 percent since Pete took office and poverty rates for Latino residents decreased by half — far outpacing their counterparts in Indiana and across the country over the same time period.”
— on his campaign website

This is exaggerated. The poverty rates for South Bend’s black and Latino communities did decrease during Mr. Buttigieg’s two terms as mayor, in line with a decade-long trend across the country. But he’s selectively highlighting one set of data to show a greater decline over a more precise data set showing a smaller, but still notable, reduction.

The Census Bureau currently produces two main sets of data through its rolling American Community Survey: one-year estimates, which are more current, and five-year estimates, which have a lower margin of error. The bureau noted that the second set is more reliable for “smaller geographic areas and small population groups.” South Bend has a population of roughly 102,000, including about 27,000 black residents and about 16,000 Latino residents.

As other fact checkers have noted, Mr. Buttigieg is using the one-year estimates for his figures. By this metric, poverty in South Bend declined by 39.3 percent for black residents from 2011 to 2018, and by 49.9 percent for Latino residents. In this same frame, poverty declined in Indiana by 21.6 percent among African-Americans and by 38.3 percent among Latinos, and the reductions were 19.9 percent and 27.1 percent nationwide.

By the five-year estimates, though, black poverty declined by 14.6 percent in South Bend and Latino poverty by 25.9 percent. That still outpaces the rates in the state (2.7 percent and 10.6 percent) and country (6.2 percent and 9.5 percent). A spokesman for Mr. Buttigieg said the five-year estimates did not fully capture the economic investments in the city in recent years.

what the facts are

Mr. Buttigieg was once more supportive of ‘Medicare for all’ than he is now, and he has exaggerated the potential economic effect of moving to a single-payer system.

What Mr. Buttigieg said

“The truth is that I have been consistent throughout in my position on delivering health care for every American.”
— at the New Hampshire debate

This is exaggerated. Mr. Buttigieg was rebutting a claim from Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota that he has reversed his position on “Medicare for all.”

“Pete has always said he wants to get to a Medicare for all environment,” said Sean Savett, a spokesman for Mr. Buttigieg. “What Pete would not do is rob Americans of their right to choose what plan is best for themselves or their families and kick more than 150 million Americans off their health insurance.”

If “Medicare for all environment” refers to universal coverage, then Mr. Buttigieg has been consistent on that front. But he currently does not support Medicare for all — a term that typically refers to a single-payer system, in which all Americans are insured through Medicare — and instead prefers to create a public option, where Americans can choose between a government plan and private insurance.

Mr. Buttigieg has evolved from setting Medicare for all as a long-term goal prefaced by intermediate steps to describing it as a possible result, but not an imperative, of a system based on the public option. He calls his plan “Medicare for all who want it.”

Ms. Klobuchar quoted a Twitter post from Mr. Buttigieg in February 2018 where he said, “I, Pete Buttigieg, politician, do henceforth and forthwith declare, most affirmatively and indubitably, unto the ages, that I do favor Medicare for All, as I do favor any measure that would help get all Americans covered.”

That caveat about universal coverage could arguably apply to a public option. Mr. Savett argued that at the time, “Medicare for all” did not refer to the single-payer legislation championed by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He said Mr. Buttigieg never supported Mr. Sanders’s bill.

But in the same Twitter conversation, Mr. Buttigieg linked to a newspaper column he wrote in college where he specifically aspired to a future where “we could finally see a single-payer health care system.”

“I am all for implementing a single-payer health care system,” Mr. Buttigieg said in January 2019. “I also recognize that along the way to getting there, along the road to Medicare for all, maybe Medicare for more is part of how we make that happen.”

Mr. Buttigieg struck a similar tone early last year, repeatedly saying a public option would create a “natural glide path to a single-payer environment” that he said was the “the right place for us to head as a country.

By May, Mr. Buttigieg’s language on that pathway had become more open ended. He told NPR that if single-payer did not come to fruition and if “corporate alternatives can somehow step it up and be more affordable and more comprehensive and more inclusive than they’ve been, well, that’s not the worst outcome, either.”

Recently, he has described his public option plan as a preferable alternative, rather than transitional phase, to Medicare for all. His approach is “a better governing strategy” that allows consumers “to choose what makes sense for you,” Mr. Buttigieg said in September. Moreover, he argued in October, it is “paid for, unlike the Medicare for all, whether you want it or not, plans that still have this giant question mark over how it’s supposed to work.”

What Mr. Buttigieg said

“Now, what I do know is there are some voices in the Democratic primary right now, who are calling for a policy that would eliminate the job of every single American working at every single insurance company in the country.”
— in an interview on MSNBC in December

This is exaggerated. There’s no question that implementing Medicare for all would drastically transform the health care industry. Eliminating private health insurance and cutting administrative costs — which supporters champion as a major benefit of such a system — would mean widespread job losses. But Mr. Buttigieg goes too far in his prediction that all the claims adjusters, insurance underwriters and brokers in the country would be laid off.

A spokesman for Mr. Buttigieg cited a study from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. It said “only a subset of the jobs” in the health insurance industry and related sectors would be affected by Medicare for all. Out of some 1.6 million workers in these fields, about 834,000 would be displaced, including 369,000 people employed directly by insurance carriers and health and welfare funds.

Out of the 4.3 million workers who are involved with insurance administration but employed in doctors’ offices and hospitals, more than 1.6 million would lose their jobs, according to the study.

Candidates supporting single-payer have acknowledged its employment ramifications, and have sought to address them. Mr. Sanders’s latest Medicare for all bill funds assistance programs for laid-off workers. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts also endorsed this provision on her website and asserted that “no worker will be left behind.”

what the facts are

Mr. Buttigieg mounted a campaign finance attack on Bernie Sanders that requires context.

What Mr. Buttigieg said

“Bernie Sanders is outraising us and he has the support of nine dark money groups.”
in Facebook ads in February

This is exaggerated. Mr. Buttigieg was referring to “People Power for Bernie,” a coalition of nine outside advocacy groups backing the candidacy of Mr. Sanders and organizing voter mobilization efforts on his behalf.

The nine groups are the Democratic Socialists of America; Sunrise Movement, the youth environmental activist group; Our Revolution, the political group founded by Mr. Sanders after his 2016 campaign; Dream Defenders, a youth activist group formed after the shooting death of the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin; and the progressive groups the Center for Popular Democracy Action, Make the Road Action, People’s Action, Student Action and Progressive Democrats of America.

Lia Weintraub, a spokeswoman for the Center for Popular Democracy Action, said that all nine groups are “nonprofit membership-based organizations that aim to bring a multiracial, working-class and young electorate into the political process.” She and the other organizations objected to Mr. Buttigieg’s characterization.

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. But at least two do not appear to fit the bill.

Progressive Democrats of America is a hybrid political-action committee that can accept unlimited amounts of money but discloses all of its donors to the Federal Election Commission. Dream Defenders Fight is the “super PAC” of the tax-exempt nonprofit Dream Defenders. Both are considered “fully disclosing” organizations by the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog.

The other groups are 501(c)(4) organizations or social welfare nonprofits, which are not required to disclose their donors. If they do not do so fully, they would qualify as “dark money,” said Anthony Corrado, a professor at Colby College and expert in campaign finance.

At least one of them lists partial sources of funding. Our Revolution names donors who contribute more than $250, but not the amounts or those who do not meet the threshold. Because of this, it does not meet the Center for Responsive Politics’ definition of “dark money,” said Anna Massoglia, a researcher with the center, though it is also not considered a fully disclosing group.

“Unless a group has expressed opposition to disclosing donors, I generally try to reach out to them to see if they are willing to provide you with their donors or a copy of their donor disclosure policy before definitively applying the ‘dark money’ label,” she said.

Of the others, the Sunrise Movement receives about half of its funding from grants by foundations. That group and a spokesman for People’s Action said Mr. Buttigieg had previously sought their endorsements. Neither appears to publicly disclose individual donors.

Half of funding for Democratic Socialists of America comes from member dues, according to a 2018 financial report. A spokesman for the group said it did not list contributors out of privacy concerns, but the average donation is $18.80 and it does not take corporate funding.

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