Transparency Or Bust

The New York Times thought it editorial worthy to call for Mayor Pete Buttigieg to disclose his work for the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. The problem is that while Buttigieg raises it to show that his start was in the private sector, and he’s got some real world chops, he won’t say which companies he consulted with or what he did for them.

In various interviews, he has said working at McKinsey taught him about the power of big data, that it taught him “street smarts,” and that it convinced him to enter public service.

The reason is that Buttigieg is subject to a nondisclosure agreement. The Times doesn’t seem to care.

In Mr. Buttigieg’s case, the most straightforward solution is for McKinsey to release him from his vows of silence — or at least to substitute a significantly more permissive agreement.

McKinsey isn’t running for office. Why would they violate the confidence of their clients for Buttigieg’s sake? A fundamental need of a consultant is the ability to keep their client’s secrets secret, and McKinsey has no cause to burn its clients, and destroy its business, so Pete can talk freely.

The obligation to provide more information, however, ultimately falls on Mr. Buttigieg. He must find a way to give voters a more complete accounting of his time at the company.

As everybody learned from Stormy Daniels, NDAs are the tool of the devil to keep their nefarious wrongs a secret. Except whatever one believes about the use of NDAs when buying silence from porn stars, it’s not quite the same for a McKinsey employee.

For Buttigieg to “find a way” is to ask him to breach his contract with McKinsey. This is, or at least was, considered a matter of honor, where a person’s handshake was his oath and a contract was performed as a matter of personal integrity. Does the Times argue that Buttigieg should forfeit his contractual honor so they can learn his sordid details?

It’s also entirely understandable why McKinsey wouldn’t, couldn’t, allow its employees to violate their NDA. As Dave Hoffman says, it’s integral to a consultant functioning.

But what they did is not their secret to keep. Firms like @McKinsey learn lots of really private things about their clients — who likes who internally, what the real sales numbers are, which managers are to be trusted.

Without this secret inside information, consultants can’t consult. If companies fear employees of consultants will later reveal their secrets when it serves the former employee’s ends, they can’t engage consultants. Unlike porn stars keeping their affairs secret, or putative rape victims keeping their accusations to themselves, both of which have justifications for the efficacy of their NDAs, even if they emit an unpleasant odor, this NDA has a sound business justification.

But Mayor Pete brought it up, so it’s fair game?

Instead, in some more recent interviews, Mr. Buttigieg has sought to play down his McKinsey years, telling one reporter, “It’s not something that I think is essential in my story.”

But that is inconsistent with the manner in which Mr. Buttigieg has chosen to present himself to voters, as a candidate with roots in the private sector. Those three years at McKinsey represent Mr. Buttigieg’s only substantial claim on such experience.

The McKinsey experience also looms large because Mr. Buttigieg is running on a short résumé. Those three years account for fully 20 percent of his post-college career.

The Times is right, that Buttigieg’s experience is exceptionally thin. He’s young, making the McKInsey experience a very significant piece of his career. If he can’t talk about it, there’s a gaping hole in his background about which people should rightfully be concerned. But that doesn’t change the fact that he can’t give the Times, the people, what they want without violating his contract and sacrificing his honor.

At this point, there should be the obvious logical fallacy of tu quoque kicking in: What about Trump’s tax returns, huh? I admit it, I want to see them as much as anyone else. I’ve little doubt Trump’s claims of wealth are malarkey, and he’s a shameless liar, likely compromised in his actions by his debts. As I’ve made clear, Trump has only two interests, self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. And the House’s justification for its subpoenas for his tax returns are similarly nonsensical. House Dems want them for the same reasons.

But Trump managed to get elected despite his refusal to reveal his tax returns. There was a solution to his intransigence. Don’t vote for him. That’s the same solution for people who demand the same of Buttigieg when it comes to the details of his McKinsey stint. It’s not that you’re wrong to want to know anything and everything you want to know. It’s that if you can’t get what you want, you have a solution. Vote for someone else. You might not like that solution, but that’s where the hard choices get made, just as they did for Trump.

The irony is that neither Trump nor Buttigieg is alone in having transparency issues.

This is not a tenable situation. Mr. Buttigieg owes voters a more complete account of his time at the company. Voters seeking an alternative to Mr. Trump should demand that candidates not only reject Mr. Trump’s positions, but also his behavior — including his refusal to share information about his health and his business dealings. This standard requires Mr. Buttigieg to talk about his time at McKinsey. It similarly requires Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders to stop dragging their feet and release their health records to the public.

There was a time when personal information was left private. Think of FDR’s polio, never to be shown by the media even though it was all there to be seen. Maybe we’ve become too cynical, giving rise to our being too demanding of candidates to be transparent for reasons that cause potentially good leaders not to come forward and subject their lives to a public colonoscopy.

The argument in favor of someone seeking the presidency being fully transparent is clear, and it’s hard to dispute that a candidate who seeks our vote should tell us what we believe is necessary to make a knowledgeable choice. But if they can’t, or won’t, it’s just one more factor to consider. For Buttigieg, he’s caught between a rock and a hard place. I respect his honoring his contract, even if McKinsey has some sordid gigs in its portfolio. There’s nothing else he can do unless McKinsey releases him from his NDA, which makes no sense for McKinsey, and that means our choice is to reject him for this reason or let it slide.

6 thoughts on “Transparency Or Bust

  1. Dan Grossman

    It’s wonderful too hear someone talk about complying with a contract as a matter of honor.

    Too many people — lawyers especially — fail to grasp that to break a contract is not merely to violate contract law, but to violate ethics and morality.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Since McKinsey’s core business is charging exorbitant sums to tell people what they already know, I can understand their reluctance. I can also see that as usual the “woke” are eagerly clear cutting the forest of law to get at the devil.

  3. Black Bellamy

    “This is not a tenable situation.”

    Feel the amount of arrogance in that statement. Instead of finding the information themselves, you know with phones and words, they scold people for not providing the information themselves.

    Do our job for us, losers! Not doing so is not tenable!

    1. SHG Post author

      The NYT complaint is wrong, but not for that reason. They’re not asking some rando to do their work for them, but a candidate for president. It’s not a big ask. On the other hand, it would be difficult to find out, and almost impossible to verify, if they tried on their own. How do you learn a secret if it’s a secret? That’s not tenable.

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