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Pete Buttigieg hires former Goldman Sachs executive as national policy director

Key Points
  • Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg has hired a former Goldman Sachs vice president and Google executive to run his policy shop, his campaign announced Thursday.
  • Sonal Shah, now executive director of the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University, will be the campaign's national policy director.
  • Shah worked at Goldman Sachs from 2004 to 2007 as a vice president, according to her LinkedIn page. She then worked for Google as its head of global development initiatives from 2007 to 2009.
Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, June 12, 2019.
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg has hired a former Goldman Sachs vice president and Google executive to run his policy shop, his campaign announced Thursday.

Sonal Shah, now executive director of the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University, will be the campaign's national policy director.

Shah worked at Goldman Sachs from 2004 to 2007 as a vice president, according to her LinkedIn page. She then worked for Google as its head of global development initiatives from 2007 to 2009.

The hiring comes as Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, struggles to stake out a clear niche for himself in a crowded Democratic field featuring a number of high-profile progressives.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the leading progressives in the crowded Democratic field, have made waves by criticizing Big Tech and the major banks.

Warren has proposed a plan to break up major tech firms like Google and Apple. Sanders proudly lists the "anti-endorsements " of banking executives on his website, including one from former Goldman chief Lloyd Blankfein.

For years, Goldman has been a toxic brand for those on the left, blamed for exacerbating the 2008 financial crisis and for wielding disproportionate influence in the economic policies of both major parties. In 2019, the country's largest tech firms have become the new boogeymen.

In a statement, Buttigieg's national press secretary, Chris Meagher, said that while at Goldman, Shah "wasn't involved in any deals nor did she benefit from any deals."

"She developed and managed Goldman Sachs' environmental strategy. She trained bankers to ask environmental questions, managed the grants to non-profits, and worked with their real estate team on how to build more green buildings," he said.

In contribution records filed with the Federal Election Commission from the period, Shah listed her occupation at varying times as an "investment banker," "economist" and "vice president."

In early 2017, Shah cheered President Donald Trump's hiring of Goldman executive Dina Powell, first as an economic assistant and later as deputy national security adviser.

"Great choice. Dina Powell will be great. Trump hires another executive from Goldman Sachs," Shah wrote in a Twitter post.

At Google, Meagher said, she was "only involved in the philanthropy side of Google, not the company side. At the time she worked there, Google.org had a separate team that was focused on grants and social impact."

The campaign emphasized Shah's time working as deputy assistant to the president and as director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation during the Obama administration.

"She worked at the Obama White House after the financial crisis. She doesn't advocate for companies — she cares about having the greatest social impact for people, and finding new solutions to tough challenges that require the public, private, and social sectors to work together to find them," Meagher said. "That's why she is teaching at Georgetown after leaving the White House."

At Georgetown, Shah was a professor and the founder of the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation. That center was founded with a $10 million donation from investor Alberto Beeck, a former Lehman Brothers investment banker who is now focused on the mining, hotels, wealth management, telecom and tech sectors, according to an online biography.

"On Georgetown - the money was given to Georgetown. She was hired by Georgetown. The center equips students with tools and approaches to further the common good," Meagher said.

The hire follows Buttigieg's blockbuster fundraising quarter in which he raised more than any other Democratic candidate. He's since been continuing to fill out his campaign staff.

Now Buttigieg is seeking to turn that fundraising heft into support from voters. The 37-year-old has been stagnant in the polls since former Vice president Joe Biden entered the race in late April. The millennial mayor is currently in fifth place, according to recent polls.

Also Thursday, the campaign announced the hiring of Jess O'Connell, former CEO of the Democratic National Committee, to become a senior advisor.

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