Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential campaign hired two staffers privately recommended by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, a campaign spokesperson confirmed to TPM on Monday.
The campaign hired Nina Wornhoff (who had previously worked for the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative) and Eric Mayefsky (who had previously worked for Facebook) in April and June, respectively; Wornhoff now works as the campaign’s organizing data manager and Mayefsky as its senior digital analytics adviser.
However, Ben LaBolt, a spokesperson for Zuckerberg and Chan, told TPM that the couple had given the recommendations at the staffers’ request.
“Having seen Mark’s visit to South Bend in 2017 and Facebook Live with Mayor Buttigieg, colleagues later asked Mark and Priscilla to connect them with the Buttigieg campaign as they were interested in joining,” LaBolt said in an emailed statement.
“Mark and Priscilla have not decided who to support for President,” he added.
Bloomberg News first reported on Zuckerberg’s recommendations to Buttigieg. In a phone call with TPM, campaign spokesperson Chris Meagher said that Zuckerberg and Chan had recommended only Wornhoff and Mayefsky, not “numerous” recommendations as Bloomberg reported.
Critics raised alarm over the hires, suggesting they represent a degree of Facebook influence over Buttigieg’s campaign. Buttigieg’s rivals, particularly Elizabeth Warren, have pledged to break up tech giants, and Zuckerberg has vowed to “fight” her plan to do so.
Buttigieg’s stance on the issue doesn’t outright call for breaking up any of the U.S.’s tech giants, but he’s advocated for giving the Federal Trade Commission the power to “prevent, and some cases reverse, the mergers of some of these companies.”
Buttigieg campaign spokesperson Lis Smith brushed off the criticism as “a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
“We get recs from hundreds of people and we’ve received thousands and thousands of resumes,” she tweeted.
“We make staff decisions on how to build the best team in politics, which I’m proud to report we have!” Smith stated in another tweet, listing “former Presidents,” “civil rights leaders,” “members of Congress,” and Buttigieg’s “high school teacher” as other sources of staff recommendations.
After the latest Democratic primary debate in October, during which Buttigieg hit Warren over her Medicare for All plan, the South Bend mayor has been rising in the polls in Iowa, with a recent USA Today poll placing him within the top three highest ranking candidates in the first state to hold a caucus.
This story has been updated to include Meagher’s comment.