Why Fingers covers booze companies' campaign donations to Republicans
TL;DR: Drinkers deserve to know when brands are saying one thing, doing another
I recently got a nice email from a member of the Fingers Fam who had read my coverage about Anheuser-Busch InBev and Diageo donating thousands of dollars to the Republican State Leadership Committee. They wanted to know why I focused on those companies’ contributions to the GOP, given that ABI and Diageo (and most large corporations, for that matter) make donations to both parties.
It’s a good question! I wrote back a lengthy response, which you can read in full below. But the quick and dirty explanation is:
The American drinking public deserves to know when their favorite booze brands are saying one thing in their marketing, then doing another with their political spending.
When Fingers cover political spending, it’s usually because a brand is promoting its beer/wine/spirits in a way that’s incongruous with how it uses its money and might to indirectly and directly project power in our political system.
For lots of reasons I’m not going to lay out here, major corporations—in the beverage industry, and just generally—have lately adopted corporate mission statements/priorities/public-facing values at odds with the modern Republican Party’s platform. So when those companies give money to GOP politicians and causes, it often contradicts the friendly face they present to rank-and-file drinkers. At the boozeletter, I try to spell out that hypocrisy so Fingers readers can make informed decisions for themselves about which brands they want to support.
Below is a lightly edited version of my response to this reader, which expands on the points above with additional examples and analysis.
One last thing: I am very grateful that we’re building a community here at Fingers where readers can challenge my worldviews in good faith and I can respond in kind. Sure beats the hell out of the seething gutter of anxiety and shitposts that constitutes most social media these days. Good work everybody! Feel free to email me whenever.—Dave.
📧 Why Fingers covers booze companies' campaign donations to Republicans
The below has been lightly edited and formatted from my original email.
Nice to hear from you. Glad you enjoy Fingers!
You're right that the companies can and usually do contribute money to both parties over the course of a given election cycle. As for why I often focus on companies' donations to Republicans rather than Democrats, it really depends on the story, but typically it's because the Republican Party or specific Republican politicians are doing and saying things that contradict the alcohol companies' stated corporate values in a way that is not apparent to the average drinker.
For example, ABI built an entire marketing campaign around America's National Parks System while donating $131,000 to lawmakers with dismal environmental voting records:
When Coors rolled out its ill-fated hard seltzer, it positioned the product as “for the rivers,” even as the company donated $55,000 to politicians with terrible voting records on clean water issues:
In both cases, the politicians with the terrible scores were Republicans, which tracks, because Republicans are by and large obsessed with privatization of public lands, fracking, loosening industrial dumping regulations, and denying the scientific realities of climate change.
A customer who didn't know about these companies’ campaign finance activities might surmise from their advertising campaigns that the firms were champions of federal parks infrastructure and environmental preservation, not realizing that the money they spend on those products is indirectly funding politicians who consistently vote against those things. I believe the American drinking public deserves to know what their beer money is being used for.
In my most recent newsletter, I was picking up on reporting from Popular Information, which initially broke ABI's and Diageo's donations to the RSLC. The journalists behind Popular Information found it newsworthy—as did I—because the organization helps to advance the Republican legislative agenda at the state level, and that agenda appears to directly contradict the firms' values vis-a-vis democracy, civil rights, reproductive rights, and so forth. Again, this is a situation where I believe drinkers deserve to know about the difference between what the companies say they care about, and what their campaign donations indicate they actually care about.
Make no mistake, I'm no fan of the Democratic Party. But there's a clear difference (to me, at least) between Democrats' anti-labor corporate neoliberalism and financial corruption (in which many Republicans also participate, lol), and the GOP's all-out assault on the right to vote in free and fair elections and make personal medical decisions about one's own body. The former has eroded faith in our institutions and stoked obscene wealth inequality, while the latter is a clear, immediate, and existential threat to the personal liberty and responsive democracy that underpin the American experiment. It's all bad, certainly, but the orders of magnitude are not equivalent.
Hence, I usually keep a closer eye on how booze companies project power through the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. Again: I'm no fan of Democrats! If you have tips on bev-alc firms donating to Democrats doing shit antithetical to those firms' advertising/marketing/values, let me know! But generally speaking, the GOP stakes out positions that oppose the stated corporate values of most major companies (inside the beverage industry, and across the economy), and that contradiction is inherently newsworthy. Highlighting these incongruities empowers drinkers to make more informed decisions about which products and firms they support, and I think that's important.
Sorry for the long email, but I really appreciated your question and thought it deserved a thorough response. Thanks again for reading!