Pete Buttigieg has released the list of the clients he worked with at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company following weeks of pressure on him to be more transparent about his past in the private sector.
“Now, voters can see for themselves that my work amounted to mostly research and analysis,” Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a Democratic candidate for president, said in a Tuesday night statement after first naming the clients in an interview with the Atlantic. “They can also see that I value both transparency and keeping my word.”
The move came in the midst of transparency wars between Buttigieg and another Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Buttigieg and his allies had been calling on Warren to give more detail about her work for corporate clients as a lawyer. She eventually disclosed how she was paid for much of that work. Warren and her allies had been chastising Buttigieg over the McKinsey work and his refusal to let reporters into his fundraisers. Buttigieg relented on the latter Monday, agreeing to open the fundraisers to media. Later that day, McKinsey announced that it would permit Buttigieg to disclose his clients.
The clients disclosed Tuesday by Buttigieg are Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in 2007; the Canadian grocery chain Loblaws in 2008; Best Buy in 2008; the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and environmental nonprofit groups and utility companies chiefly in Connecticut in 2008 and 2009; the Energy Foundation, predominantly in 2009; the Department of Defense in 2009, which included visits to Iraq and Afghanistan; and the US Postal Service in 2009 and 2010.
Buttigieg had for months declined to release their names or give much detail about his time at McKinsey, citing a nondisclosure agreement he signed at the firm. Buttigieg’s campaign told BuzzFeed News last month that it had asked McKinsey to release the candidate from the agreement, which covered much of his work there.
“After receiving permission from the relevant clients, we have informed Mayor Buttigieg that he may disclose the identity of the clients he served while at McKinsey from 2007 to 2010,” a McKinsey spokesperson said in a statement Monday. “Any description of his work for those clients still must not disclose confidential, proprietary or classified information obtained during the course of that work, or violate any security clearance.”
His time at McKinsey has been the subject of intense scrutiny over the last several weeks, as other candidates, activists, and newspaper editorial boards put pressure on Buttigieg to give more information on what he did before entering politics.
He began to take steps toward transparency last month, first by acknowledging he sought to be released from the NDA, then by releasing tax returns dating to his years at McKinsey. (Those documents revealed little about the nature of the work, other than his pay and the states where he earned income.) Last Friday, a day after the New York Times editorial board called the secrecy surrounding Buttigieg’s career there “untenable,” Buttigieg through his campaign released a statement vaguely describing the projects he worked on but without revealing client names. He publicly called on McKinsey to let him out of the NDA.
His disclosure of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan as a past client followed speculation on Twitter from Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive who now advocates for Medicare for All, that the company was the nonprofit health insurance provider Buttigieg had vaguely alluded to in his initial statement. Potter also noted that BCBS of Michigan had instituted layoffs in 2009, two years after Buttigieg worked on the project.
On Tuesday, in its release of client names, Buttigieg’s team described the work this way: “He was assigned to a team that looked at overhead expenditures such as rent, utilities, and company travel. The project he was assigned to did not involve policies, premiums, or benefits. Because this was his first client study, it largely involved on-the-job training to develop skills in the use of spreadsheets and presentation software.”
Buttigieg has sought to distance himself from McKinsey, criticizing some of its recent client choices as news coverage turned up problematic work for foreign governments, opioid manufacturers, and for the Trump administration on its deportation and immigrant detention policies. But in his first run for public office a decade ago, Buttigieg held up his three years there as a selling point, emphasizing work in “war zones” in Afghanistan and Iraq and presenting himself as a business-friendly Democrat in a heavily Republican state.
He continued to separate himself from the firm Tuesday.
“It’s a place that is as amoral as the American business community in general, or at least the corporate community, can be. And that’s one of the problems with it,” Buttigieg told the Atlantic of McKinsey. “I never worked or was asked to work on things that I had a problem with, but it’s a place that I think, like any other law firm or firms that deal with companies, just thinks about client work and doesn’t always think about the bigger implications.”
He also maintained he has nothing to apologize for in his past work there.
"At the same time,” he said in the statement released by his campaign, “I am also concerned about efforts to demonize and disqualify people who have worked in the private sector for the sake of political purity. The majority of Americans have worked in the private sector at some point in their life. Good public servants — including recent Democratic presidents — have worked in the private sector at some point in their lives. I'm concerned about how these attacks pull the focus away from the very real issues voters across America are facing — from health care to gun violence — just as we are about to enter the most consequential election of our lifetimes.”