Friday, December 20, 2019


This happened at last night's Democratic debate:
A disagreement that has been simmering for weeks between [Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg] erupted during the PBS NewsHour/Politico debate, when Warren brought up Buttigieg’s recent high-dollar fundraiser at the Hall Rutherford wine caves in Napa Valley. The vineyard’s billionaire owners, Craig and Kathryn Hall, recently hosted the pooled-press fundraiser for Buttigieg....

Said wine caves recently went viral when Recode reporter Teddy Schleifer tweeted out photos of the Buttigieg event, showcasing the glittering chandelier made out of 1,500 Swarovski crystals.... Hall Rutherford’s wine caves produce bottles of cabernet sauvignon that go for as much as $900.

... when Buttigieg made a jab at Warren after she finished talking about her grassroots-funded campaign, saying, “Can’t help but feel that might have been directed at me,” a fight about wine caves was born.

“Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States,” Warren responded.
The story of the wine cave's owners is not great:
The cave in question ... has been a gathering place for Democratic politicians long before Warren pointed to it as evidence that Buttigieg is too close with wealthy donors to be able to deny them access, appointments and special favors down the road. Owned by Dallas billionaires Craig and Kathryn Hall, the cave’s fundraisers have benefitted at least a hundred Democrats over the years....

Other politicians who have attended fundraisers, receptions, and meet-and-greets at the Halls’ wine cave include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as current and former Reps. Leon Panetta, Reps. Ami Bera of California, Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire, Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, and Patrick Murphy of Florida....

According to filings with the Federal Election Commission, the couple have donated nearly $2 million to Democrats and progressive political action committees, including a $100,000 check to Hillary Clinton’s PAC in 2016 and a $50,000 check to the DCCC last year....

In 1997, one year after donating hundreds of thousands to Democrats seeking reelection, Kathryn Hall was nominated and confirmed as the U.S. ambassador to Austria, a position for which she had been angling for close to a year....

Craig Hall’s real-estate empire—facing massive debt as the Texas oil boom weakened in the late 1980s—was saved when then-House Speaker Jim Wright held up a bill meant to help recapitalize the struggling Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation in an apparent attempt to force federal regulators to let Hall’s company restructure its debt....

The eventual ethics investigation into Wright’s role in the savings-and-loan scandal would force him to resign from Congress. Hall would later pay $102.5 million to settle claims by a taxpayer-funded asset management company, which had paid out $364 million to cover insured deposits in Hall’s insolvent savings-and-loan operation.
I hate this. It's a sleazy system, but most Democratic candidates need to play along in order to be electorally viable in our money-saturated elections. (The Supreme Court has ensured that they're even more money-saturated now than they were in the days of the S&L crisis and Kathryn Hall's ambassadorship.)

It's not as if Republicans are abjuring this kind of thing -- far from it.

And yet if Buttigieg is on the Democratic ticket, Republicans will use this story to suggest that he's a creature of "the swamp," even as they engage in the swampiest of behaviors. It will be shameless hypocrisy, but when have Republicans been above that?

I don't know if this would hurt Buttigieg. Last night it was smart of him to respond that he was the only candidate on stage who isn't a millionaire or a billionaire. If he could say that to Warren, whose family net worth is $12 million, then he can certainly say it to Trump (or Trump's VP), given the fact that Trump has a net worth of $3 billion (and has claimed a net worth of $10 billion). Even if Buttigieg is the Democratic running mate, his net worth is $100,000, while Pence's household is worth $1 million.

But the imagery -- wine cave, crystal chandeliers, California -- will be used and meme-ified by Republicans regardless, and it might stick.

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