Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Republican race is still up for grabs. Not the presidential nomination – W. has that one in the bag.
But as the GOP marches into town this weekend, delegates will get a taste of another contest that has been brewing for months: the selection of Official Party Beer.
The race features America’s largest brewers in a contest of big, big money contributions. Together, they’ve poured more than $7 million into the GOP treasury.
That’s enough to buy each of the 2,066 Republican delegates a sixpack every day for the next two years – enough, I think, to sway a few votes.
Naturally, the breweries deny they’re buying influence. They say they just want to participate in the political process.
But the way the beermakers are spending money in this campaign, I’m expecting to hear any day that the Republican candidate has changed his name to George Anheuser Busch.
So, it’s no surprise that Bud is leading the Party Beer polls.
According to the campaign finance watchdog Center for Public Integrity, A-B has forked over $1,080,403 to the Republicans, in soft money and PAC donations. Another $150,000 went directly to W., including $1,000 each from brewery boss August Busch III and his son, IV.
But that’s just the foam on the top of Bud’s beechwood-aged campaign war chest.
As with American culture itself, the company – thanks to a $300 million-a-year advertising budget – has become an icon at political events. Delegates will see Bud logos everywhere they go in Philly, and its free beer will flow at hundreds of parties.
The depth of Bud’s role in the political process is underscored by its selection as the Official Sponsor of the 2000 Presidential Debates. The company will underwrite the $550,000 cost of the debates for the honor.
That prompted Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, who is suing to block the sponsorship, to remark, “It’s turning our presidential debates into a beer commercial. “
But it’s not just advertising. All that cash buys access, too.
For example, the Washington Post reported earlier this month that A-B shelled out $25,000 to be a corporate “host” at the National Governors Association conference in State College, Pa. That sponsorship allowed A-B execs to hobnob with politicos at a meeting that was otherwise closed to the public.
(By the way, A-B is an equal-opportunity contributor. In 1996, it contributed $400,000 to the Democratic Party – and then had its Clydesdales clip-clop in President Clinton’s inaugural parade. )
Budweiser would have had the race for Party Beer wrapped up by now if Arizona Sen. John McCain had put up a stronger challenge. McCain pretty much owes his entire political career to A-B.
His father-in-law, a former bootlegger who financed McCain’s early political career, controls more than 60 percent of the beer market in Arizona, according to the Phoenix New Times. His wife, Cindy, owns more than $1 million in A-B stock and drives an SUV whose license plate is “Ms. Bud. “
With that kind of inside muscle, you’d think Bud would be a shoo-in. But the other two big guys aren’t backing down in the race for GOP Party Beer.
Miller is backed by the monolithic Philip Morris Cos., the single largest patron of the Republican Party. According to the Center for Public Integrity, it has ponied up more than $6.2 million in GOP contributions (and $1.2 million to the Dems).
But the influence that cash buys is diluted because Philip Morris is in hot water over its tobacco companies. And as Steve Forbes showed, Miller needs more than just money if it wants to win this race.
The cheapskate of the bunch is Coors. I couldn’t find precise numbers, but it appears the company has contributed less than $100,000 to the GOP.
The brewer, however, boasts a strong Republican heritage.
You’ll remember that 20 years ago, Joseph Coors – the founder’s grandson – bankrolled Ronald Reagan’s run for the Oval Office, then served as a member of his “kitchen Cabinet. ” According to reporter Bob Woodward, in the early ’80s, Joe Coors also put up $65,000 to buy a plane for the Nicaraguan Contras.
A renowned backer of conservative causes, Coors’ support of right-wing groups like the John Birch Society and the Moral Majority prompted nationwide boycotts by unions and liberals.
Though the brewery has tried to reshape its image in recent years, it is still a big backer of Republican causes. W.’s Web site names CEO Peter Coors as one of his prominent corporate backers.
Finally, don’t count out the little guys.
Pottsville’s Yuengling Brewing will be well represented in the city next week. Its president, Dick Yuengling, is one of Pennsylvania’s 78 delegates to the convention.
Yuengling told me he’s not looking to buy influence in the GOP.
“I’m not involved in politics at all, although I do like Gov. Ridge a lot,” he said. “I just ran because the local party asked me – I guess they figured I had good name recognition.
“I don’t see how anything at the brewery can benefit from this. . .The bottom line, it’s four days out of my business life in the middle of a busy summer. “
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of Three Floyds Robert the Bruce Scottish Ale.