Political News

Pete Buttigieg releases tax returns from time at elite consulting firm

Posted November 20, 2019 2:48 p.m. EST

— South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg released two additional years of his tax returns on Wednesday, shedding light on the years the presidential candidate spent working at the elite consulting firm McKinsey.

The release came hours before the top Democratic candidates vying to take on President Donald Trump in 2020 take part in the fifth primary debate. The timing is not accidental: Buttigieg, after rising in polls in Iowa, is expecting to be the focus of attention onstage. The tax returns will likely be a response if the mayor is attacked for his work at the firm.

"As someone who worked in the private sector, I understand it is important to be as transparent as possible about how much money I made during that time," Buttigieg said. "Every candidate in this race should be transparent with voters by disclosing their income in the private and public sectors."

Buttigieg declared $80,397 of adjusted gross income in 2007, his first year at McKinsey. The would-be mayor filed $122,680 of adjusted gross income from his second year, in 2008. Buttigieg previously released 10 years of tax returns in April, including 2009, his last full year at McKinsey. He earned $136,129 that year.

Buttigieg's work at McKinsey has been shrouded in secrecy for the entirety of his 2020 bid. The mayor signed a nondisclosure agreement with the firm when he left, and little is known about his clients. Wednesday's release did not include his list of clients.

Buttigieg worked at McKinsey from 2007 to 2010 before jumping into politics. In 2010, he ran for Indiana treasurer, a race he would lose handily. The following year, he successfully ran for mayor of South Bend.

In his recent memoir, Buttigieg cast his time at McKinsey as a chance to get real world experience after graduating from Harvard and Oxford; the book spends the most time focused on a project to better understand grocery pricing.

"Back to the US in 2007," the mayor wrote, "I landed a job in Chicago at McKinsey & Company, and my classroom was everywhere -- a conference room, a serene corporate office, the break room of a retail store, a safe house in Iraq, or an airplane seat -- any place that could accommodate me and my laptop."

He added: "The capstone on my decade of education was in 2010, when I left McKinsey for a tough but priceless year-long political crash course in which I challenged the state treasurer of Indiana and was overwhelmingly defeated in my first experience on the ballot."

According to a spokesman, Buttigieg has asked McKinsey to be released from the nondisclosure agreement.

"His work there is largely covered by a nondisclosure agreement," spokesman Chris Meagher said. "Previously, the campaign had reached out to McKinsey to inquire about what the NDA encompasses, and this week again reached out to McKinsey about the possibility of being released from the NDA."

Buttigieg largely leaves his time at McKinsey out of the personal story he tells voters on the campaign trail, and opposing Democratic campaigns have been privately interested in learning more about the mayor's client list.

Buttigieg told CNN earlier this year that he had gone to McKinsey because he "felt that I needed to get experience in business." While he had studied economics, he had not "done the work of being involved in how people and money and goods move around the world."

"I had an opportunity to work on those things at a place known for being very strong at it and for the kind of training that helps educate for that, and it felt like the missing piece of my education," he said. "I wasn't sure consulting was going to be for me for the long term. But I knew that I could grow and do that, and I do think it's, it could be distinguishing relative to people have no business experience at a time where we got to demonstrate that you can be progressive, pro-labor and reasonably knowledgeable about business too."

But McKinsey's record is far from spotless.

Lawsuits have raised questions about the firm's role in the opioid crisis. And some of the firm's work abroad, namely -- according to The New York Times -- in Saudi Arabia, Russia and Turkey, has raised questions about McKinsey's role in helping authoritarian regimes. This controversial work happened after Buttigieg left the firm.

Buttigieg, asked by CNN if he thinks McKinsey is acting ethically, said, "I think they've made a lot of poor choices, especially in the last few years. I left about 10 years ago, but it's really frustrating as somebody who worked there to see some of the decisions that they've made."

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