POLITICS

California Gov. Gavin Newsom Defends Fancy Wine Caves

The Democratic governor wasn't pleased with the cave match at the Democratic presidential debate.

LOS ANGELES ― Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) attacks on ritzy fundraisers in Swarovski crystal-decorated wine caves landed big applause at Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate, but California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), a San Francisco native, was all sour grapes.

“It’s my business. It’s how I started,” Newsom told HuffPost after the debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, volunteering that he owned a wine cave himself.

“It’s a point of pride. It’s one of America’s great exports,” he added of California’s wine industry. “I don’t know that it’s helpful to have those kinds of debates.”

Newsom built a multimillion-dollar business enterprise that includes a collection of wineries from a wine shop he opened in San Francisco in 1992. Upon his election as governor in 2018, Newsom placed the business into a blind trust.

The debate over wine caves, of all topics, erupted Thursday evening as South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Warren clashed over raising money from wealthy donors and holding secret fundraisers. 

“The mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine,” Warren said, referring to a closed-door fundraiser on Sunday for Buttigieg’s campaign, which was held in a Napa Valley wine cave that featured a chandelier with 1,500 Swarvoski crystals. “Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States,” Warren continued.

The fundraiser was hosted by Kathryn Hall, the wealthy co-owner of the winery, who has donated millions to the Democratic Party and was rewarded in the 1990s with an ambassadorship to Austria under President Bill Clinton. 

In response, Buttigieg pointed out that he is personally less wealthy than the other candidates on stage, including Warren. “I am literally the only person on this stage who’s not a millionaire or a billionaire,” he said. He also noted that Warren relied on private fundraisers during her Senate campaign.

After the debate, aides for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has similarly placed emphasis during his presidential bid on reforming campaign finance laws, also sought to highlight Buttigieg’s wine cave fundraiser. Several of his campaign aides wore shirts emblazoned with a website URL mocking him over it.

But Newsom defended the venue on Thursday evening, noting that many progressives have attended events there. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), for example, has hosted fundraisers for Democrats at the winery.

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