Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner is known for wearing an $18 watch in TV campaign ads. But when it comes to wine, he’s not exactly popping open bottles of “Two-Buck Chuck.”
On Tuesday, Rauner disclosed he belonged to an invitation-only, exclusive wine club that cost upward of $100,000 to join.
“I have many investments, and I am a member of many clubs,” Rauner said when asked about membership with the Napa Valley Reserve wine club at a news conference. Pressed further on whether he was a member, Rauner responded: “Yes,” without elaborating.
As it turns out, Rauner has quite an affection for Napa Valley.
Rauner was a “silent partner” in purchasing some 480 acres of prime Napa Valley real estate with premier winemaker Bill Harlan, who founded the Napa Valley Reserve winery. Prime Napa Valley vineyard land can cost $225,000 to $300,000 an acre.
A Worth.com article profiling Harlan details Rauner’s land purchase in California’s wine country.
“Along with silent partners Stan Kroenke (owner of, among other things the Denver Nuggets and St. Louis Rams) and Bruce Rauner, a candidate for governor of Illinois, he bought the first 480 acres,” the story said, detailing a new venture called Promontory vineyards.
“Bruce’s membership in Napa Valley Reserve is part of a number of investments in real estate, wineries and vineyards that he has made in the area,” said Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf.
Talk of Rauner’s pricey wine club — which exploded on social media — came on the same day that Gov. Pat Quinn was telling reporters he had eaten graham crackers for dinner in a quest to live on the minimum wage ($8.25 an hour in Illinois) for one week. Quinn set out to spend just $79 this week — the cost Quinn calculated is leftover each week for minimum wage workers after taking out housing, transportation and taxes.
His decision to live on a meager income is designed to underscore the governor’s pledge to raise the minimum wage to at least $10 — and to underscore Rauner’s wealth.
Quinn’s campaign has worked to build an everyman narrative for the governor, someone who uses a 63-year-old push mower to cut his own lawn and who can understand the everyday Illinois resident.
Still, unlike many low-wage workers who might have to take two or three buses just to get to work or are fighting debt or are behind with rent payments, Quinn is still living in the Galewood home he owns. If state business takes him to Springfield he has full access to the Governor’s Mansion. Quinn continues to have his security detail transport him to and from events.
“Had a banana for breakfast, that’s three days in a row. You know, you have to watch your pennies,” Quinn said on Tuesday. “I’m living this week, all seven days, on a minimum wage budget, it’s hard … Yesterday, I went to a place and maybe I would’ve gotten an iced tea, but I got a water. You don’t go in and get a double cheeseburger, I got a junior cheeseburger.”
“I had graham crackers — for dinner I guess,” Quinn added. “I’m planning to have macaroni & cheese tonight. I already bought it.”
Rauner, meanwhile, has repeatedly pointed to his personal wealth as a sign of his success for which he is not apologetic. During the primary, Rauner boldly told the Sun-Times he was not part of the 1 percent but part of the “.01 percent,” of the nation’s wealthiest.
News of Rauner’s ties to Napa Valley’s premier wine-makers, came after the Chicago Tribune published the full, uncropped version of the photo, which first appeared in the Montana Pioneer in August of 2010. In it, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Rauner are walking in Montana. The photographer, David Lewis, said on Wednesday that in the original photo that he published, he had cropped out Rauner.
“I didn’t know who he was,” Lewis said of Rauner.
Rauner and Emanuel, who are personal friends, are pictured carrying bottles of wine. On the label visible from what Emanuel is holding is the Napa Valley Reserve wine. Rauner owns a ranch in Montana and has had Emanuel up as a guest in the past.
Rauner was asked about the exclusive club at a news conference he called to announce a new Veterans for Rauner Coalition and to charge that a patronage scandal within Quinn’s Illinois Department of Transportation was hurting veterans. Rauner said that political hires who were inappropriately placed in non-political positions stole jobs from veterans — among others.