Taxpayer Promotion of “Mayor Pete” May Violate Department Rules

Taxpayer Promotion of “Mayor Pete” May Violate Department Rules

  • February 2, 2023
Repeated Pitches Were Made to DOT Employees Hyping Movie About the Secretary 

Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s short-lived run for the presidency was chronicled in a widely panned and generally ignored piece of cinema titled “Mayor Pete.” However, documents released to ethics watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust show the film was unforgettable to one audience – the employees of DOT.

Among documents produced to PPT were emails providing links to news stories of significance to the work of the Department. The emails were apparently regularly sent to DOT employees, who number nearly 60,000 across the country. However, during the Fall of 2021 the top of the first page of the email frequently provided “news” about the film, its release date, and availability on Amazon Prime. Over a three-month period leading up to and even after the film’s release, DOT employees received nearly a dozen emails containing links to information about “Mayor Pete” the movie.

The emails often contained summaries of “key” aspects of the linked news stories, such as “Pete Buttigieg hasn’t given up on his dream of being president,” “[on the campaign trail] he also face[d] blatant homophobia and tough questions about racial politics,” and “the major breakthrough of the film is its documentation of his relationship with his husband.” It is difficult to discern how these stories have relevance to the work of DOT, and also uncertain how many taxpayer resources were expended to compile, summarize, and disseminate these “Mayor Pete” promotional emails to DOT employees during work hours.

Even more disturbing is the blatant and repeated references to the film’s availability on Amazon Prime, which may run afoul of ethics regulations prohibiting federal employees from using their positions to induce subordinates to provide any benefit, whether it be financial or otherwise, to the employee, his friends, relatives, and others with whom the employee is affiliated in a non-governmental capacity. Given the bombardment of DOT employees with information about the movie, it is not far-fetched to believe that the employees felt some pressure to purchase it, if for no other reason than to be able to engage in conversation about the movie if asked about it by fellow employees. It is unclear from the documents who ultimately gains financially from the sales of “Mayor Pete,” although, while the Department states the Secretary does not have a financial interest in the movie, any promotion of the film would certainly accrue to his benefit in a future quest for elected office and – considering he earned more than $150,000 for an iHeartMedia podcast, was a guest host for “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”, and received several book royalties and advances – the money may not be as important.

“It is becoming ever more clear why so many crises involving the DOT, from the supply chain to air travel chaos, have surfaced during Secretary Buttigieg’s tenure,” explained Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “Expending taxpayer resources to repeatedly publicize ‘Mayor Pete’ to DOT employees is just further evidence of the lack of attention to the day-to-day work for the American public under his leadership. Such conduct further erodes the public’s ongoing loss of trust that government is working in their interests.”