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By Michael Lacey
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In 1996 -- months before the Senate Commerce Committee hearings were scheduled and then canceled -- the Center for Alcohol Advertising released a study that showed that children between 9 and 11 were more likely to recognize the Budweiser frogs than Kellogg's Tony the Tiger, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers or Smokey the Bear.
Only Bugs Bunny was better known than the frogs.
Like the rest of the alcohol industry, Anheuser-Busch has interests that go beyond the alcohol votes McCain avoids. For example, McCain led the charge to normalize relations with Vietnam at the same time Anheuser-Busch was preparing to enter that market. (A deal the company had to co-own a factory eventually fell through because of copyright problems. A Czech beer called "Bud" is already sold in Vietnam.)
A recent lobbyist disclosure revealed Anheuser-Busch's many interests (along with alcohol, the company owns amusement parks): "The company lobbied on issues related to alcohol abuse and prevention, tobacco abuse prevention, advertising, labeling, and taxation. Anheuser-Busch also worked on endangered species issues, clean air act, recycling, product liability, national tobacco settlement, and transportation spending, as well as international trade including China's Most Favored Nation status and federal budget and deficit decisions."
Despite his claim, it's impossible for Senator John McCain to recuse himself completely from important issues facing his family's business.
Last month, Anheuser-Busch announced it would once again serve as the primary sponsor of the four official presidential debates to be held this fall -- the last one in St. Louis, the company's hometown. The cost of the local debate, $550,000, was released, but the total amount Anheuser-Busch will spend to sponsor the events was not made available.
Unless George W. Bush delivers a powerful counterpunch to McCain's swelling bandwagon, John McCain will be standing on the Republican party podium for the debates paid for by the King of Beers.
At his side will be Ms. Bud.
Back home in Phoenix, beer baron James Willis Hensley might smile about the fabulous return on his political investment.
And all three will hope the bright lights will continue distracting voters from a persistent croaking sound echoing from history's murky but noisy swamp.
Norma Gomez contributed research to this story.