OPINION: This article contains commentary which may reflect the author's opinion
While he was mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg’s top political supporters received millions of dollars in city contracts after funding his campaigns.
According to documents obtained by reporters, Buttigieg’s political action committees received funds from 23 companies that were later hired by the South Bend board on which he served.
During two of those occasions, he received donations on the same day the companies received contracts.
Other city contractors gave the mayor a number of gifts worth hundreds of dollars, including cigars, alcohol, and golf trips.
A total of $253,750 was donated by the companies and their executives to Buttigieg’s campaign, and they received at least $33,280,426 in city contracts between 2011 and 2019.
A former company executive was appointed to Buttigieg’s Public Works department, and the company was then awarded several infrastructure contracts and became one of Buttigieg’s largest donors.
From 2012 to 2020, Buttigieg served as the mayor of South Bend. President Joe Biden appointed him to the position of transportation secretary early last year.
The pattern of contracts and donations could be interpreted as a ‘pay to play’ scandal by government watchdogs. Buttigieg was given discretionary grants worth $210 billion in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, a sum that is part of a $1.2 trillion budget for his transport department, which is cause for concern over how contracts are being doled out.
‘The pattern of contracts and donations appears to be a huge conflict of interest,’ Taxpayers Protection Alliance president David Williams told media.
‘This really doesn’t bode well for the secretary of transportation when he has access to almost $1.2trillion in infrastructure money.
‘This is alarming, and very concerning because this is the swamp personified. You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to look at this and think that something’s wrong here.
‘Was there a quid pro quo? Was there some sort of backroom deal for these projects? taxpayers deserve answers.’
According to City of South Bend officials, Buttigieg ‘was not involved in the awarding of engineering and construction contracts.’ All contract awards are awarded ‘through a professional procurement process that is public and transparent,’ with awards going ‘to the lowest, responsive, responsible bidder per State Law’.
A Department of Transportation official said they have ‘consistently made transparency and accountability to the American people a top priority’ before stating that federal grant money under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is awarded to cities, states, ports, and other local entities rather than contractors.
According to the spokesperson, any claims of corruption in Buttigieg’s US government department are “absurd.”
During his tenure as mayor, Forty, the former Indiana mayor cultivated close relationships with construction companies, which helped fund his political campaigns.
American Structurepoint co-owner Marlin Knowles contributed $1,500 to Buttigieg’s mayoral campaign in 2011.
The South Bend Department of Public Works (BPW) – which grants public money to large construction projects – hired former American Structurepoint executive Eric Horvath as its director in November 2012, two months after Mayor Pete met with representatives of the company in his office.
The following year, American Structurepoint, experienced in the project management of major infrastructure, was awarded the South Bend Smart Streets Project, which had a budget of $25 million.
The company’s senior executive vice president, Greg Henneke, made a donation of $31,850 to Mayor Pete’s campaign between January 2014 and March 2019.
In the same period, the company won city contracts worth more than $790,000 from the BPW, which Buttigieg is on and former Structurepoint executive Horvath is executive director.
On February 14, 2017, American Structurepoint won two contracts for $98,860, a day after Henneke had donated $1,000 to Pete Buttigieg’s campaign to become Democratic National Committee chair.
According to a spokesman for the City of South Bend, all construction projects ‘are bid through a professional procurement process that is public and transparent when approved by the Board of Public Works, which is a separate 5-member citizen board that approves City contracts and is governed by state law.’
‘Public Works construction projects are publicly bid through the BPW and are awarded to the lowest, responsive, responsible bidder per State Law. Engineering contracts are also approved by the Board of Public Works during open public meetings,’ explained Caleb Bauer, director of communications for the mayor.
‘Each of the firms named are well-respected and have a reputation locally for delivering high-quality services for the city and South Bend residents.’
Buttigieg’s mayoral office released schedules showing some of his biggest donors frequently met with him and were invited to holiday parties and other events.
Building company DLZ Indiana gave Buttigieg $750 during his mayoral campaign in 2011, and the next year invited him to a golf outing and a holiday party the company hosted.
DLZ was then hired to conduct a study on the conversion of four downtown streets to two-way traffic in 2013.
The company won the construction bid worth $113,000 after Buttigieg attended a DLZ golf luncheon in July 2013.
A $4,200 donation in 2014, as well as a gift of $700 worth of cigars and alcohol, saw the company continuing to be a generous contributor to Buttigieg’s campaign.
The firm contributed another $600 to the mayor’s 2016 campaign in August, and then BPW awarded it a $17,430 contract a month later.
As a result of the $5,000 contribution to Pete For DNC from DLZ’s subsidiary, DLZ Industrial LLC, DLZ went on to sign a slew of further contracts.
Two contracts worth $218,900 were awarded that month, and in March, April and May they were awarded two more for $276,110.
Buttigieg’s campaign received another $1,600 from DLZ after the city jobs were awarded, as well as a $250 golf trip.
Three additional contracts worth $94,090 were approved by the BPW that fall.
According to records available, the company has given Buttigieg’s campaigns $14,150 and received $885,030 in city contracts.
DLZ senior vice president Ram Rajadhyaksha said all contributions to Buttigieg’s campaign ‘complied with Indiana state election laws.’