Haunted by Spirits

John McCain derived his wealth from his marriage to Cindy Hensley McCain, whose father started his road to riches as a bootlegger. As a politician, the senator has remained beholden to the liquor industry and the family business

Asked about McCain's ignoring of his boss's bills, DeCrosta offers a halting response: "It's obviously Senator McCain's prerogative as to whether or not he calls these up for a hearing. And you know, yeah, I don't want to say that we have problems, but that's his prerogative, and these are not issues or pieces of legislation, unfortunately, that generate a lot of support as far as co-sponsors."

But, DeCrosta adds, "This is an issue that we're just gonna keep fighting. Next Congress, we'll probably introduce these bills again and try to get some support for them."

And then there's the matter of bills that don't fall into the category of "alcohol-related," per se, but would definitely have an impact on the industry.

The McCains' central Phoenix house  --  Cindy's 
childhood home  --  is a fortress.
The McCains' central Phoenix house -- Cindy's childhood home -- is a fortress.
The boys off the bus: John McCain takes questions in 
Concord, New Hampshire.
Ilkka Uimonen
The boys off the bus: John McCain takes questions in Concord, New Hampshire.

One such bill would have forced consumers to pay a 10-cent beverage container deposit, as an incentive to recycle. The alcohol industry -- particularly the beer industry, which sells its beverages in individual units -- hates it.

On January 28, 1997, the National Beverage Container Reuse and Recycling Act was introduced and referred to the Senate Commerce Committee. The National Beer Wholesalers Association identified the bill as one of its prime targets.

The bill languished, untouched, until the end of that session -- and died.

It's not the first time McCain has watched that recycling bill die.

In 1992, McCain came under fire in Mother Jones magazine, which noted that the Senate Commerce Committee refused to hear a similar measure the day after McCain (then just a member of the committee) purchased between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of Anheuser-Busch stock for one of his children. (This purchase was likely made by his wife.)

One Anheuser-Busch pet issue that has received a great deal of attention from McCain is boxing. Since McCain became chairman, the Senate Commerce Committee has held numerous hearings on bills designed to reform the boxing industry, to keep it safe -- and popular. Meanwhile, McCain has attacked so-called "ultimate fighting" promotions, which could be construed as competition for boxing.

Anheuser-Busch is the single largest corporate sponsor of professional boxing.

An analysis of contributions to John McCain's '98 Senate campaign and current presidential campaign, through last December, reveals he's taken at least $103,363 from alcohol-related political action committees and employees of the alcohol industry.

(By contrast, he's taken more than $1 million from the telecommunications industry, $98,000 from maritime interests and $59,000 from trucking interests -- other industries with business before his committee. Trucking issues are important to Hensley & Company, which operates a fleet of 300 delivery trucks.)

McCain's recent alcohol money comes from a variety of sources -- hard liquor, wine and beer interests -- but from the beginning of his political career, James Hensley and his associates have been very good to John McCain.

Since 1982, McCain has received the following contributions:

• Hensley & Company employees: at least $61,063

• National Beer Wholesalers PAC: $21,000

• Anheuser-Busch employees and PAC: $33,100

George Hacker, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, was surprised to hear that McCain accepts beer money.

That raises a question: Why would alcohol interests donate money to McCain if he recuses himself completely from their issue?

Hensley and the National Beer Wholesalers Association did not answer requests for comment. But Anheuser-Busch released this statement, from Stephen Lambright, general counsel:

"Anheuser-Busch has a long tradition of active and responsible corporate citizenship. Like many corporations, we participate in the political process in many ways, including through making contributions. In doing so, we support candidates from both sides of the aisle who best represent the views of our community, our employees, our consumers and our shareholders."

Hacker has another answer: "My guess is they give money because... he can help by being absent, he can help by passing the buck, he can help by not passing the buck."

Budweiser is the King of Beers -- both in the cooler and on Capitol Hill. Anheuser-Busch is the top-selling beer manufacturer in the world. Last year, Forbes magazine ranked the company among its "Super 100." Gross sales in 1999 hit $13.7 billion, with profits of $1.4 billion.

Anheuser-Busch has long spread that wealth among political parties and elected officials, continually ranking near the top of campaign finance watchdogs' contributor lists. A New Times analysis reveals that between 1979 and 1999, Anheuser-Busch employees and its PAC contributed more than $1.6 million to political campaigns. Since 1993, the company has donated more than $2 million in soft money to committees on both sides of the aisle.

In addition to campaign contributions, Anheuser-Busch spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on lobbyists who work the Hill. A recent hire: Kevin Curtin, former staff director for the Senate Commerce Committee under former chairman Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat.

The company is backed by a strong beer-industry lobby. The Beer Institute is a force to be reckoned with on the Hill, and the National Beer Wholesalers Association is a huge contributor: The NBWA PAC donated more than $7 million to campaigns since 1982 and more than $100,000 in soft money contributions.

Anheuser-Busch has a lot to protect. No alcohol company has had worse press regarding its advertising practices. There's even a group called "Anheuser-Busch Shareholders for Advertising Reform," which holds protests at the company's annual meetings.

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