Wine Industry Political Connections: By The Numbers

During the most recent election cycle (2011-2012) money in campaigns was the single issue that got more attention than the presidential election. The Supreme Court’s “Citizen’s United” decision allowed near unfettered amounts of money to come streaming into campaigns. In this milieu, how did the alcohol industry perform?

The numbers are in on this score and the answer is that the alcohol industry most certainly pulls its weight.

Money in politics and particularly campaign contributions are most often looked at from two different perspectives: contributions given to federal candidates (those running for congress or the presidency) and to state candidates (those running for state government offices). What follows is a look at campaign contributions only for federal campaigns, not state-based campaigns.



The first thing to note about this list of top 20 contributors to federal campaigns is that there is no entity that represents either alcohol retailers or consumers on this list. It is dominated by alcohol producers and alcohol wholesalers. The primary reason for this is that wholesalers and producers are regulated by Washington while retailers and consumers are not. Both producers and wholesalers must obtain a “Federal Basic Permit” to engage in their industries.

Secondly, it should be noted that the top to entries on this list, both national associations for beer and wine/spirit wholesalers together contributed as much as the remaining 18 members of the top 20. The number of pure winery contributors in the Top 20 delivered roughly $600,000 in campaign contributions to federal candidates—about half the amount the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of America alone delivered.


Being a presidential election cycle it is not surprising that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama would have been the two largest recipients on this list Top 20 Recipients of Campaign contributions during 2011 and 2012. Number the three on the list, Congressman Mike Thompson, represents Napa Valley, explaining his high placement.

Pres Recipients1
This list of presidential candidates and their campaign contributions from the alcohol industry has Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on the top of the list, as one would expect. However, it is interesting to note that Romney received double the number of campaign contributions from the alcohol industry than did Obama. As you go down the list, it is interesting to note that the alcohol industry also seemed to take a liking to Texas Governor Rick Perry whose campaign was rather short and sweet.

Though this list of firms that spent the most on lobbying efforts in the 2011-2012 campaign cycle is a different issue from campaign contributions, it is interesting to compare this list with the list of top contributors above. You’ll note some of the same names.

What’s true about campaign contributors is that they are far more likely not only to be able to afford a lobbying effort, but they are also granted far better access to lawmakers than those that do not engage in campaign giving. Again, not that this list includes no retailers or consumers. As to this latter point—consumers not being represented—I would only note that if this list were of state-based lobbying, not federal, you’d also see no consumer representatives engaging in any significant lobbying of lawmakers.

If you ever find yourself wondering why laws concerning access to products usually disregard the interests of consumers, just come back to this blog post and re-read it.

4 Responses

  1. Bill McIver - March 27, 2013

    Tom, as I used to say when you and I were fighting for direct shipping in the 1990s, “when alcohol industry moguls formulated to make industry political policy decisions, Ernest Gallo got a seat at the table, but he didn’t get a vote.” Nothing has changed — small family winery interests still get what booze and beer decide.

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