Bruce Rauner spends more on wine than average Illinois households spend on everything

September 2

Republican Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters, April 2014. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Illinois gubernatorial candidate and venture capitalist Bruce Rauner (R) is wealthier than you. Ha ha, you say, how do you know? And I answer: Because he belongs to a wine club that costs as much as $150,000 to join. For wine. Which -- a wealthy person like yourself may not be aware -- sells at Trader Joe's for a little over two dollars. (Editor's note: While Philip may drink two dollar wine, he does not speak -- or imbibe -- for all of us.)

Rauner admitted that he belonged to the club to reporters including the Chicago Sun-Times' Natasha Korecki on Tuesday. Last week, the Chicago Tribune reported on Rauner's ties to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, noting that the two had been seen walking down a path, Emanuel carrying a bottle of Napa Valley Reserve. NVR, as we'll call it because it's funny to try and minimize ostentatious things to which we ourselves could never be privy, is a private wine club that invites members to "collaborate with the winemaking team on every detail of your wine, from blending to barrel toast."

NVR is run by winemaker H. William Harlan, also known by the more-pedestrian handle "Bill Harlan" when talking to the press -- as demonstrated when he was profiled by Worth.com, a site that "addresses the relevant financial, legal and lifestyle issues unique to high net worth individuals" like yourself. According to Worth's Karen MacNeil, NVR is one of Harlan's several successes, in which "more than 600 members have each paid a $150,000 initiation fee to join, affording them, among other privileges, the right to buy the wine." Ha ha some right! "Look, if you give me $150,000, I will let you buy some of this wine." Well, hell, can't pass up a deal like that. Sign me up.

While Rauner said he belongs to the club, it's not clear if it's NVR -- or what he might have paid for that membership. As Worth dot com notes, Rauner was also a silent partner in Harlan's first investment in vineyard property in Napa Valley. Perhaps his investment in land that Worth (the site) says could have been worth (the noun) somewhere in the neighborhood of nine figures meant he was grandfathered in.

An aside: Here is Rauner at the New Trier Republican Organization's 2013 Wine and Cheese Party, making the case for his candidacy. We do not know what type of wine Rauner and company enjoyed -- NVR members get to create their own labels for their wines, offering a great campaign branding opportunity! -- but we do know that the gentleman sitting behind Rauner appears to have had too much of it.

None of this has anything to do with Rauner's political party, of course. He's a Republican, but he belongs to this club because he is wealthy. NVR doesn't make its member list public, but it's safe to assume -- particularly in Napa Valley -- that a large number of Democrats are on that list. Maybe some who are running for office. Or have at one time. Or might soon.

One final important point to make, that will probably cast Rauner's economic situation in a slightly different light. During the exchange in which he admitted his apparent membership in Bill Harlan's NVR, the Sun-Times reports that the cost of admission is only $100,000. This could very well have been shorthand, but in the interests of journalistic integrity, we must note it. After all, perhaps Rauner did spend $50,000 less than we assumed. That will probably inspire quite a bit of sympathy from Illinois voters, the average annual household income of whom was about $55,000 a year in 2013. And most of them, we understand, use that income to buy 27,500 bottles of wine from Trader Joe's, having no other option.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.
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