Money, Power and Wine—A Tale of $4.9 Million
Worrying that money might control politics is akin to being concerned that Burgundy is overpriced. That horse has left the barn.
But what's true and what matters where money and politics is concerned is that money buys access to the halls of power, that place where policy is enacted and where money buy protection. What's interesting, and what this post is ultimately about is that staggering amounts of money dedicated to politics, while often getting its way, doesn't always get its way.
Case in point, the campaign contributions of American beer and wine wholesalers. The figures are in for 2011.
The National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) in 2011 gave $1,786,500 to political candidates and political Political Action Committees (PACs) in 2011. This is a staggering amount of cash to devote to buying the attention of congressional lawmakers. But to appreciate just how staggering it is, you have to put it in context. Of the $1.786 million donated by the NBWA in 2011, $1.5 million of that went directly into the campaign coffers of individual politicians. Consider where this put the NBWA in comparison with other contributors to federal candidates.
The NBWA were the 3rd largest campaign contributor in 2011 behind only Honeywell's PAC and the PAC associated with the National Association of Realtors. Take a look at this list of top contributors to candidates and look who the beer wholesalers outdid. Again, staggering.
Then there is the Wine and Spirit Wholesalers of America (WSWA), the national lobbying group for wine and spirit wholesalers. The WSWA gave $942,000 to federal candidates and Federal PACS, $695,000 of which went directly into the coffers of politicians.
But wait, there's more. The WSWA and the NBWA report spending $1,245,000 and $930,000 respectively on lobbing activities in 2011. The vast majority of these lobbying expenses pay for their in-house efforts. However, both wholesaler associations hire outside first to help them lobby lawmakers.
In addition to their in-house lobbying activity, the NBWA utilized the services of The Eris Group ($240,000), Mehlman, Vogel & Castagnetti Inc ($180,000) and Rafaniello & Associates ($120,000) to help influence lawmakers to protect their interests.
The WSWA does the majority of their lobbying with in-house resources, but also spend on outside lobbying firms to protect their interests, including Capital Hill Strategies ($200,000) and Williams & Jensen ($200,000)
Between the NBWA and the WSWA, $4,903,500 was spent on campaign contributions and lobbing federal lawmakers in 2011.
What do they want for this remarkable amount of cash?
The #1 priority of both the beer wholesalers and the wine and spirit wholesalers in 2011 was passage of H.R. 1161, The Community Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act. Introduced in 2011, H.R. 1161 would give individual states the right to discriminate against out-of-state businesses for purely protectionist purposes. It would strip wine retailers of their long held Constitutional Commerce Clause protection against state-based discrimination and give states the ability to easily turn back the clock on winery direct shipping. All these things have been long-time goals of wholesalers who have fought for this kind of anti-consumer and anti-commerce protection for decades.
For all their efforts and all their cash, the alcohol wholesaler lobby has managed to gain 117 sponsors for the bill in the House of Representatives, no hearings on the bill yet and no sponsor of the bill in the Senate.
It can't be said that wholesalers have only been spending campaign contributions and lobbying efforts on an attempt to squash competition via H.R. 1161. They also have lobbied to effect tax policy, on LIFO accounting regulations, to stop Congress from granting the Post Office the ability to deliver wine, to see instituted policy allowing engine interlocking devices on the cars of convicted drunk drivers and to persuade the Federal Trade Commission to reverse its positive attitude toward direct shipping of wine.
Still it's notable that the wholesalers' primary policy objective, passing H.R. 1161, is still in limbo. The bill is currently awaiting a hearing in the House Judidiary Committee as well as a sponsor in the Senate. Whether either of these things will happen in 2012 or if the bill will die by the end of the current session of Congress is unknown.
That said, with nine months left in the 2011/2012 election cycle, both the NBWA and the WSWA are well on there way to breaking each of their previous records for campaign contributions in a single political election cycle going back to 1990.
All figures for this article were sourced through OpenSecrets.