Beer Money: How Industry Dollars Go to Work


It’s the root of all evil. It’s the uplifting ends of the American Dream. It’s the way to get women.

No matter its versatile purpose, money makes things happen. Especially when it comes to politics. Lately, that seems particularly true with politics and beer.

It took three years for Florida to pass a growler law. It took millions to convince Stone to come to Virginia. It’s turned into a digital battle for attention in North Carolina.

Money can be a lot of things, but there’s no denying one of its unifying forces: power.

Over the next week, I plan to share a compilation of data sourced from public record for major beer companies and organizations who all play a role in shaping the politics of beer, whether that’s lobbying for laws or throwing support behind them. Money, power and influence are all at work for the beer industry, just like so many others who extend their fingertips and dollars into Washington, D.C.

In the 4th Quarter of 2014, $2.1 million was spent on lobbying efforts by just a handful of beer companies and organizations, from trade groups like the Beer Institute and Brewers Association, which hired its first full-time lobbyist this year, to behemoth Anheuser-Busch.

Here’s how that money was spent, with figures sourced from the U.S. House Office of the Clerk:

beer Q4 spending chart 2
Click to enlarge. Data courtesy of Scott Janish.

Spending among these groups got even stronger in the 1st Quarter of 2015, totaling a little over $2.6 million combined:

beer Q1 2015 spending without institute
Click to enlarge. Data courtesy of Scott Janish.

Why spend all this money?

I turned to a full-time D.C. lobbyist to provide some context. Please note to avoid conflicts with their employer, who isn’t part of the beer industry, I agreed to not disclose the lobbyist’s name. You can read their short explainer on lobbying here.

“Lobbying isn’t just attempting to get Congress to pass bills that would benefit a company, for example, it’s also used to stop bills from passing, repeal old laws, and to just educate members of Congress on the important work a group does,” they said.

Perhaps the biggest national issue related to the beer industry these days is a pair of competing bills aimed at providing tax breaks to breweries known as the Small BREW Act and the Fair BEER Act.

In a very plain, basic way, the Small BREW Act is geared to address breweries producing less than 6 million barrels of beer a year, which in layman’s terms would often be the ones known as “craft” by beer drinkers. The BEER Act would benefit all brewers, including Big Boys like Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors and Heineken. For an easy-to-understand rundown of these pieces of legislation, I suggest this post, however please note the graphic is provided by the Brewers Association.

With all that in mind, we’ll put on our walking shoes and follow the money starting tomorrow:

Editor’s note: My goal with this series isn’t to editorialize the behaviors or spending patterns of these groups, but provide context and information with which you might not be familiar. I welcome discussion and debate in comments, but know I’m not trying to endorse Democrats or Republicans, Big Business or Small Business, etc.

Thanks to Scott Janish for data used in the above charts.

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac


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