The Slatest

“Wine Cave” Attendee Defends Event as Warren Says She Learned From Fundraising Mistakes

Close-up of Warren's face.
Elizabeth Warren in the spin room after the Democratic primary debate in Los Angeles on Thursday.
Agustin Paullier/Getty Images

During Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren went after South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg over his fundraising practices. Specifically, Warren slammed Buttigieg for hosting a donor event in a Napa Valley “wine cave.” That’s why it raised a few eyebrows when the Associated Press looked back to last year, when Warren held her own big-dollar fundraising event in June 2018, featuring Melissa Etheridge and a souvenir wine bottle to anyone who gave at least $1,000.

Turns out when Warren was a senator she wasn’t so strict about whom she received money from, and she took $10 million from her Senate reelection campaign to seed her presidential bid. David Axelrod, the chief strategist of Barack Obama’s campaign, wrote that Warren’s insistence on pushing the fundraising issue made her vulnerable to attacks along these lines about her past actions. “This was the danger in the @ewarren ‘wine cave’ attack on @PeteButtigieg,” Axelrod wrote on Twitter. “Her own past fundraising practices were pretty much in line with his, including even some of the same high dollar sponsors.”

When asked about the fundraiser while she was campaigning in Iowa, Warren defended herself by saying that she “saw how the system works” and decided to change things around when she ran for president. “I decided when I got in the presidential race that I wanted to do better than that,” Warren told reporters Saturday night. “And that’s why I just quit doing it. I don’t sell access to my time. I don’t call high-dollar fundraisers. I’m out there raising money grassroots all across this country because I want to move this in the right direction. We can’t be a country that just keeps getting worse and worse.”

Meanwhile, some of those who were at the now-infamous “wine cave” event defended the fundraiser and say it was misrepresented. Bill Wehrle, a vice president of a health care company, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post pushing back against the characterization of the fundraiser as “billionaires in wine caves.” Even though of the 50 people who attended “plenty were people of means,” he’s “neither a billionaire nor a millionaire.” Wehrle also disputed the cost of the wine that attendees drank, saying it is available online for $185—“far more than I’ve ever paid in my life for a bottle of wine, but not unusual for wine collector enthusiasts.” Wehrle suggests “Democrats can find more important things to debate in the United States of America at this dark hour.”

The owners of the “wine cave”—Craig and Kathryn* Hall, who own the Hall Rutherford winery—also came to Buttigieg’s defense and say the fundraiser was misrepresented. “It seems someone’s intentionally trying to create a different image than the reality. And that’s unfortunate,” Craig Hall said. He also said that even though they do sell a bottle for around $900, it is extra large and equivalent to about four standard-size bottles. The winery’s most expensive wine costs around $350, and that’s not what they served at the fundraiser.

Correction, Dec. 22, 2019: This post originally misspelled Kathryn Hall’s first name.