Beer Money: Does It Matter How You Spend Your Dollars?


There’s a good chance that if you read this blog, you’ve come across the work by Friend of the Program Christopher Barnes, who runs I Think About Beer.

Back in January, after news broke of AB InBev purchasing Seattle’s Elysian Brewing on the heels of also buying Bend, Oregon’s 10 Barrel Brewing, he shared his point of view on the matter in the post “Why It Matters Who Owns the Brewery.”

In a roundabout way, the experiment of the past week has been a logical extension of his essay, which points out the potential spending pattern should you provide your dollars to one company over others: it helps them push an agenda.

Does that matter to you as a beer drinker? It might if, like others, you believe your choice of beverage says something about you. Or perhaps you disagree if a company contributes heavily to one political party.

But what stood out the most in compiling information for the “Beer Money” series is the clear fact that influence from these businesses and trade groups – like cases across many industries – is only getting bigger. Citizens United extends into all sorts of places, even your pint glass.

Here’s the lineup of the companies/organizations highlighted this week, with the percentage of their all-time spend on lobbying that came from the 2013-2014 election cycle disclosures:

  • MillerCoors: 29.3 percent
  • Anheuser-Busch: 10.5 percent/AB InBev: 18 percent
  • Heineken USA: 43.7 percent
  • Brewers Association: 39.1 percent
  • Beer Institute: 24.6 percent
  • National Beer Wholesalers Association: 19.7 percent

Some of these are slightly skewed because an organization like the Brewers Association is relatively new to putting money into lobbying, but even then, you get a sense that spending money in the last year or two has been pivotal, especially as debate rages on over taxes and the Small BREW vs. BEER acts.

From the three beer companies listed – MillerCoors, Anheuser-Busch and Heineken – one individual appeared regularly across all three contribution lists. Republican Ohio Rep. John Boeher, who’s been Speaker of the House since 2011 but has held positions of power long before that, has received an estimated $192,100 to his campaign or Political Action Committee from “Big Beer.”

The one name that popped up the most from the Democratic Party was Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, although contributions to his campaigns were still dwarfed by Boehner. “Big Beer” provided him $39,200, and even factoring in contributions from the three trade organizations studied in this series, his overall total was $71,400. That’s just over a third of what Boehner got.

This kind of information should only further break down false impressions of the beer industry being a bastion of alcohol-influenced hugs and high-fives. If that belief still exists, at least. People are spending serious money to impact what’s available to you, how it’s available and how they can benefit. Sometimes at the detriment of competitors.

Sounds a lot like a business, right?

While the data I’ve provided covers federal spending, all politics are local and are worth a look, wherever you are. In North Carolina, brewers just had a bout with the North Carolina Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association, which displayed some House of Cards-type maneuvering to kill bills that would be seen as friendlier to small brewers in the state. Apparently there was some fear of reprisal by the organization against those who opposed their stance.

There are many ways to dissect this story, with one simply looking at the money spent by the organization over the last 10 elections:

NC wholesalers spending chart

Over this entire timespan, spending has increased 315 percent. After the 2010 Citizens United decision, spending on the 2012 election year went up by $62,150, or nearly 47 percent from 2010.

The goal over the last week has not been to politicize this process or show bias toward one group or political party. It’s simply a conversation worth having and hopefully will pique your interest into how these issues impact your favorite breweries and even state laws.

The beauty of beer is we can speak with our wallets as much as our mouths, so whether or not you care who owns your favorite brewery, know there’s a story behind every dollar spent.

Beer Money series:

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


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