Tech veteran Swati Mylavarapu helps her friend Pete Buttigieg rake in campaign cash

Swati Mylavarapu, who was Buttigieg's former college mate at Harvard and Oxford.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s first major Indian American hire — a former college mate of his at Harvard and Oxford — Silicon Valley tech veteran Swati Mylavarapu — is apparently helping him rake in the cash for his campaign, putting him only second only to the Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, which in the last full fundraising quarter of 2019 boasted of a whopping $34.5 million, followed by Buttigieg with $24.7 million.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 6, that Mylavarapu, 36, who started her career at Google and then was with the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, who three years ago had never worked for a political campaign and attended just a single campaign fundraiser, now as the national investment chairwoman for Buttigieg’s campaign, was “a financial force behind one of the best fundraisers in the Democratic presidential primary.”

The Buttigieg campaign has raised a total of about $76 million since the former South Bend, Indiana mayor entered the crowded race in early 2019 — more than any Democrat except the Sanders campaign — a far cry from a financial structure that sprouted from a supporter list of 24,000 emails and a handful of friends like Mylavarapu willing to help — and now includes more than 733,000 campaign donors and about 125 people who each have raised at least $25,000. 

The Wall Street Journal said that Mylavarapu had “brought a Silicon Valley mentality to the campaign, insisting that all donors and those who raise money be called ‘investors’ rather than ‘bundlers’ and ‘asking them to get out there and evangelize why they believe and to raise new dollars by sharing that story,’” and declaring, “‘And what is that if it’s not investment?’”

Just as with some of his policies and campaign trail rhetoric, Buttigieg’s fundraising approach borrows from both the traditional and more liberal wings of the Democratic Party and unlike Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, “he is holding fundraisers and pursuing $2,800 maximum donations, relying on Ms. Mylavarapu’s relationships with wealthy Democrats such as Esprit clothing company founder Susie Tompkins Buell,” the Journal said.  

It said that at the same time, Buttigieg has outperformed his chief rival in the moderate lane, former Vice President Joe Biden, with small donors, in part by empowering offbeat fundraising talent, like a Boston College sophomore who has raised more than $55,000 online and that people who give $200 or less account for almost half of Buttigieg’s total fundraising, compared with 35 percent of Biden’s, according to Federal Election Commission fundraising reports through Sept. 30, the most recent data available. 

The Journal quoted Mylavarapu as saying, “One of the things that we are demonstrating is that you can use an all-of-the-above strategy and have something available for everybody to participate in this way, and there’s such an appetite for that.” 

It said that according to donors, her long friendship with the Buttigieg, whom she has known for half his life, has made Mylavarapu, who is unpaid and works with two paid veterans of the presidential money race, a particularly effective advocate for him. 

Buttigieg said in a statement, “I count myself lucky to not only have the benefit of Swati’s innovative mind and expertise, but to work with a longtime friend as we pursue a bold new vision for the future of our country.”

The daughter of immigrants from South India, who came to the U.S. in 1983, Mylavarapu grew up in Gainesville, Florida, and had volunteered for Democratic campaigns as a door knocker. At Harvard, where she met Buttigieg, and Oxford, where like Buttigieg, she too was a Rhodes scholar, she studied economic development, after which she moved to California and worked for Google’s philanthropic arm and helped payment company Square develop its business in Canada. 

According to the Journal, Mylavarapu, who has lived on the West Coast since 2007, had reconnected with a friend from middle school, Matt Rogers, who co-founded Nest, the developer of a thermostat that learns its user’s temperature preferences. Google bought the company in 2014 for more than $3 billion. The two had married in 2015 — and have an 18-month-old daughter — and have since looked for ways their wealth can help entrepreneurs who want to change the world. The Journal said that Trump’s election in November 2016 had drawn Mylavarapu into politics, and she and her husband started Incite.Org, which includes a venture capital fund that she says invests in companies aiming to make the world better. She also co-founded Arena, which helps recruit and train new Democratic political candidates. Buttigieg had helped their efforts by speaking at Arena conferences and she in turn had aided in his unsuccessful 2017 run for chairman of the Democratic National Committee by donating money and introducing him to “wealthy San Franciscans.”

In July last year, a few months after Mylavarapu had the distinction of being the Buttigieg campaign’s first major Indian American hire, the campaign hired Mumbai-born Sonal Shah, 51, an erstwhile senior Obama administration official and co-founder of Indicorps, who was the 2003 India Abroad Person of the Year, as its national policy director. As the founding executive director of Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation for the past five years, Shah has taken a leave of absence from the center to serve in Buttigieg’s campaign. Shah served as deputy assistant to the president for President Obama and founded the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. 

Her extensive experience in the public sector also included a stint as an international economist at the Department of Treasury in the Clinton administration and she was credited with setting set up the central bank in Bosnia, working post conflict reconstruction in Kosovo, and implementing poverty reduction strategies in Africa and financial crises in Asia and Latin America.

Shah’s private sector experience, includes positions at Google, where she led the technology initiative for civic voice and investing for impact as the head of Global Development Initiatives and at Goldman Sachs, where she developed the environmental strategy and ran the initiatives, including investing clean technologies.

Shah immigrated to the U.S. with her parents in 1972 at the age of 4, and grew up in Houston, Texas. She is an alumna of the University of Chicago and Duke University, from where she received a B.A. in Economics (Class of 1990) and a master’s degree also in Economics respectively.

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