Warren Held High-Dollar Winery Event Before Knocking Buttigieg Over ‘Wine Cave’

December 21, 2019 Updated: December 22, 2019
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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) held a high-dollar fundraiser at a winery in Boston last year, about 18 months before criticizing fellow Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg for holding a ritzy event in a “wine cave.”

Warren and Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, clashed over Buttigieg’s fundraiser in Napa Valley, with Warren telling the debate audience this week: “Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.”

But Warren herself held a fundraiser at City Winery Boston in June 2018, with tickets costing up to $2,700 and guests who gave at least $1,000 getting a souvenir wine bottle.

They heard remarks from Warren, who was months away from announcing her campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Warren went after Buttigieg on Dec. 19 over his recent fundraiser at Hall Rutherford Winery. While the establishment has novelty bottles of wine that cost $900, and Warren alleged it was a $900-a-bottle fundraiser, owners Kathryn and Craig Hall said their most expensive regular bottle is $350, and those weren’t served at the event.

The debate was full of fractious moments, with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also attacking Buttigieg, who has gained momentum in recent months. Klobuchar noted that Buttigieg lost a bid for a statewide seat by a large margin, while Sanders maligned Buttigieg for consorting with millionaires and billionaires.

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Kathryn and Craig Hall, owners of Hall Rutherford Winery, stand inside the “wine cave” dining room where they held a fundraising dinner for Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg in Rutherford, Calif., on Dec. 20, 2019. (Terence Chea/AP Photo)

Warren and Sanders have made scorning big money part of a broader campaign to rid what they say is its corrupting influence in politics.

For Sanders, that’s largely been his practice for decades. For Warren, as the Boston event shows, it’s come more recently. She used more than $10 million from her Senate campaign account, some of it raised at large donor events, to help seed her presidential bid, a fact that Buttigieg pointed out as part of his rebuttal.

Past Warren donors say she was an engaging presence at those events, asking questions of her wealthy patrons and listening intently to what they had to say.

As Warren considered a White House run, she held a series of small meetings at her home to court top Boston-area donors who raised large sums for Hillary Clinton and to gauge their interest in supporting the senator’s potential bid, according to a past contributor who attended one of the meetings.

Even after her pledge not to hold private fundraisers, Warren has continued to attend the very kind of events for which she has criticized others. She has headlined fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee in settings that raise handsome sums, and she said she would continue to do that if she were the nominee, so that Democrats wouldn’t be at a financial disadvantage against President Donald Trump.

In 2012, she attended a New York fundraiser hosted by the same donor, Kevin Ryan, who put on the Buttigieg event this month.

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South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, left, speaks as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Minn.) listens during the Democratic presidential debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Calif. on Dec. 19, 2019. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Buttigieg said during the debate that he’d be glad to have support from millionaires, like Warren has. She responded: “I do not sell access to my time. I don’t do call time with millionaires and billionaires,” prompting Buttigieg to respond: “As of when?”

“Senator, your presidential campaign right now, as we speak, is funded in part by money that you transferred, having raised it at those exact same big-ticket fundraisers you now denounce,” he told her.

Other candidates largely sided with Warren. Sanders said former Vice President Joe Biden and Buttigieg have both received contributions by dozens of billionaires. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang hit the theme later when he spoke about his proposal to give every American 100 “democracy dollars” to donate to the candidates of their choice.

“You’d see that rate skyrocket to 50 percent or 60 percent, and you’d have many, many more women who would run for office because they don’t have to go shake the money tree in the wine cave,” he said.

Klobuchar, the first to get a word in after Warren and Buttigieg went back-and-forth several times, chose to attack neither in her initial response.

“I did not come here to listen to this argument. I came here to make a case for progress. And I have never even been to a wine cave,” she said.

“I’ve been to the wind cave in South Dakota, which I suggest you go to.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber