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Warren aide accuses Buttigieg campaign of skirting finance laws to influence super PAC spending

Megan Henney

A top aide to Elizabeth Warren accused an official from rival Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign of skirting a campaign finance rule that prohibits political candidates from coordinating with super PACs.

The latest spat between the two presidential candidates comes just days after the Iowa caucuses, where a disappointing showing has left Warren -- once considered a national frontrunner -- scrambling to raise, and conserve, cash.

“I just always want to be careful about how we spend our money,” Warren told reporters on Wednesday, after her campaign yanked nearly $500,000 worth of TV ads that had been scheduled to run in the early-voting states Nevada and South Carolina.

Iowa officials are still counting results -- the Associated Press has declared the race still too close to call -- following technological difficulties with a new mobile phone app used to tally results. But with 99 percent of precincts reporting, Buttigieg, who had 26.2 percent of state delegates, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had 26.1, are locked in a neck-and-neck race. Warren was in third place at 18 percent.

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The dispute erupted on Wednesday night, when Michael Halle, a senior adviser to the Buttigieg campaign, wrote on Twitter that “Pete’s military experience and closing message from iowa work everywhere especially in Nevada where it’s critical they this on the air through the caucus.” 

“Was this meant to be a DM or did you mean to tweet out this instruction to your super PAC?” Warren’s campaign manager Roger Lau wrote in response. “(Fun fact about how some campaigns exploit our broken campaign finance laws: if it was a DM it would be illegal.)”

Lau implied that Halle was exploiting “broken campaign finance laws” that would allow Buttigieg’s campaign to signal to VoteVets, a super PAC that backs Democratic candidates and endorsed Buttigieg in December, that it was “critical” that voters in Nevada learn more about Buttigieg’s military credentials. Nevada is the third state in the Democratic nominating process and will hold its caucuses on Feb. 22.

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Campaign finance law directly prohibits direct communication about spending between a campaign and super PACs, but coordination that’s conducted through publicly available information is not covered by the rules.

“Pete is the only candidate who isn’t a millionaire or billionaire," Buttigieg's spokesperson Chris Meagher said in a statement to FOX Business. "And if the largest progressive veterans group wants to help spread the word about his service we welcome it. Veterans have been central to propelling and they will be a central part of the coalition that Pete will bring together to defeat Donald Trump.”

The tweets could reignite a long-simmering debate over big money in politics during the eighth Democratic debate in New Hampshire on Friday night. Warren, who’s sworn off big-money donations, previously went after Buttigieg for holding a fundraiser in a so-called wine cave in Napa Valley that was “full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine.”

“We made the decision many years ago that rich people in smoke-filled rooms would not pick the next president of the United States,” Warren said.

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