POLITICS

Pete Buttigieg, Citing Illness, Won't Attend Fundraiser Hosted By Longtime Mar-a-Lago Members [UPDATE]

The Palm Beach event the Democratic candidate had planned to attend is a testament to the insular and overlapping world of the ultrawealthy.

UPDATE: Feb. 26 ― The campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said Wednesday it has canceled his trip to Florida because he is ill. The trip was to include three fundraisers and a roundtable.

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Pete Buttigieg is attending a fundraiser on Wednesday with a twist one only encounters in Palm Beach: The two hosts were longtime members of President Donald Trump’s private club, Mar-a-Lago.

The public-facing invitation for the $500-to-$2,800 per head fundraiser does not mention a specific location, merely “The Island of Palm Beach.” The two hosts, personal injury lawyer Bill Bone and longtime Democratic donor Cynthia Friedman, have been fixtures on the Democratic fundraising circuit for years.

Both also frequented Mar-a-Lago for decades and maintained their ties to Trump’s private club well into his presidency.

Buttigieg’s campaign is facing a cash crunch, and he is racing around the country to high-dollar fundraisers like these in order to refill his coffers ahead of Super Tuesday.

President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort on April 3, 2019, in West Palm Beach, Florida.
President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort on April 3, 2019, in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The events have become fuel for criticism that Buttigieg is beholden to wealthy elites and is their preferred candidate, with rivals like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) assailing “billionaires in wine caves” for trying to pick the next president. When a Buttigieg fundraiser explicitly dangled the potential to influence the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor in exchange for donations, even some donors were critical. 

This particular fundraiser takes Buttigieg not just to one of the country’s wealthiest enclaves, but to a place where the president has made wealth, influence and access interchangeable — and that goes for Buttigieg’s own boosters.

On Dec. 19, 2019, Sen. Elizabeth Warren lit into Pete Buttigieg on the debate stage in Los Angeles for attending a fundraiser
On Dec. 19, 2019, Sen. Elizabeth Warren lit into Pete Buttigieg on the debate stage in Los Angeles for attending a fundraiser at a “wine cave” in Napa Valley, California.

A trip to Mar-a-Lago can entail unrestrained access to the president, which visitors have leveraged to privately advance their personal causes and powerful business interests.

Nothing suggests that Friedman or Bone have met Trump at Mar-a-Lago since he became president, or that either visited the resort to advance any special interests. And there’s no comparing Buttigieg’s high-dollar fundraisers with the corruption scandals erupting out of Mar-a-Lago, where the line between Trump’s business interests and his policies is virtually nonexistent.

In the most infamous case, a gang of three Mar-a-Lago members that included Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter used their perch to make policy for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But it’s a testament to how insular and overlapping the world of ultrawealthy movers-and-shakers can be, especially in the kind of luxe havens where major donors live and mingle.

“The stakes in this election are clear and stark and in order to win back the White House, we need to be able to build as big of a tent as possible. That’s why whether you can give $3 or $300, whether you are a Democrat, Independent, or a future former Republican who is disgusted by what’s going on in this White House, we welcome you to our campaign,” campaign spokesman Sean Savett told HuffPost after publication. “We are proud to have more than 800,000 donors on our campaign and the only promise any of them will ever get from Pete is that he will use their donation to defeat Donald Trump.”

Bone was an Obama donor and a Hillary Clinton supporter in 2016. It is not clear if he’s still a dues-paying member of Mar-a-Lago. His affiliation dates back to at least 2005, when the Palm Beach Post noted he had an active membership.

At an April 2011 Mar-a-Lago bash, Bone reportedly introduced Trump as “the next president of the United States.”

At the time, if Trump came up in political conversations at all, it was because of the outlandish Fox News appearances he used to spread the conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was Muslim and had no U.S. birth certificate.

Just days before Bone hailed Trump as “the next president,” the reality TV star argued on Bill O’Reilly’s show that Obama’s “real” birth certificate would show that he was Muslim. “A lot of these birthers are just really quality people that just want the truth,” Trump said. “What they do to the birthers is unbelievable.”

As recently as 2018, Bone helped stage an event at Mar-a-Lago where the host committee presented an award to Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross. The 700-person event was a fundraiser for the Palm Beach Police Foundation; Bone conducted a charity auction. 

Friedman is a longtime Democratic donor who bundled more than $100,000 for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. She is the co-founder of the Women’s Leadership Forum, a network of female Democratic activists.

Her personal interactions with Trump appear more limited and include a 2012 party she hosted for Susan G. Komen for the Cure that Trump attended with his wife, Melania.

Friedman, a onetime tennis partner of Marla Maples, Trump’s second wife, was a member of Mar-a-Lago for a quarter-century until December 2018.

After Trump said the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, featured “very fine people on both sides,” Friedman “actively contemplated leaving” Mar-a-Lago, in the words of author Laurence Leamer. She decided against it, Leamer reported, in order to avoid losing her initiation fee. The fee runs between $100,000 and $200,000.

“She rationalized that if she left she would no longer be able to observe Trump’s actions. She hemmed and hawed for months before deciding to pay her dues for another year,” Leamer wrote in “Mar-a-Lago: Inside the Gates of Power at Donald Trump’s Presidential Palace,” a sneering portrait of Palm Beach culture.

Friedman and Bone did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

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