The Battle between Craft Brew and Big Beer
Over the 2017 and 2018 Maryland General Assembly sessions, a spirited debate has unfolded over the future of Maryland’s brewing industry, as state legislators have worked to impose new regulations on the brewing industry, while at the same time, Diageo North America moved forward with plans to open a Guinness brewery in Baltimore County, the first “macrobrewery” in the state. This led to a bill being passed which left craft brewers fuming over requirements that they buy back their own beer from distributors to serve in on-site taprooms, and led the state Comptroller to form a “Reform on Tap Task Force” to explore ways that the state can encourage the burgeoning brewing industry.
In the 2018 session, two competing bills were introduced, one by the original sponsors of the 2017 bill, which would look to change the regulations that had been imposed the previous year, and another backed by the Comptrollers office, that would, in many ways, deregulate the brewing industry.
Without regard to the specific pros or cons of these different bills, we see this as a prime example of the “pay to play” culture in Annapolis. In a December 2017 op-ed in the Capital Gazette, Economic Matters Committee chairman Dereck Davis wrote in defense of his efforts, “I don’t understand… why a policy debate has turned into accusations of corruption and secrecy."
After conducting some research on campaign finance reports, we at Represent Maryland have some thoughts on why that might be the case.
The chair of a committee has complete authority over the agenda of that committee, and can unilaterally decide whether a piece of legislation gets a hearing and is voted on in committee, or the chair can essentially put it in a drawer and keep it from ever getting to a vote.
In Davis’s case, over the course of his career, from 1995 to the present, he has taken at least $97,125 from the alcohol industry and its current lobbyists. Tellingly, $38,525 of that total has come in the last two years, as the brewery debate has come to the fore.
A sampling of his career contributions:
-Anheuser Busch & its Lobbyists - $11,100
-MillerCoors & its Lobbyists - $2500
-BK Miller Meats & Liquors - $4000
This particular liquor store is notable as it is a business owned by the Senate President’s family
-Buck Distributing - $7500
-Diageo & its Lobbyists - $3450
-Various County and State Licensed Beverage Associations - $24,175
-Licensed Beverage Distributors of MD & its Lobbyists- $3250
-Maryland Beer Wholesalers Assn. and its Lobbyists - $5,525
-Republic National Distributing - $3000
-Total Wine & Its Lobbyists- $13,650
-Katcef Bros. (a beer distribution company) - $2275
-Distilled Spirits Council & its Lobbyists - $2250
Delegate Talmage Branch, who was the lead sponsor on last year’s bill and this year’s attempt to revise it, has received $16,250 from the alcohol industry in the past two years, including $1,750 from Anheuser-Busch and its lobbyists, $2,050 from MillerCoors and its lobbyists, and $1,725 from the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association, and its lobbyists.
Branch is a member of the Alcohol Subcommittee within Economic Matters, and his contributions are typical for members of the subcommittee, which as a whole received $42,610 over the past two years from the alcohol industry and its lobbyists.
It seems hard to believe that there would be this much smoke surrounding the officials responsible for alcohol regulation policy, and no pay-to-play fire. This issue illustrates perfectly the flaws in our political system and the tradeoffs of money and power that happen in our state legislature. Represent Maryland stands forcefully for policies that would alleviate these conflicts of interest, including public campaign financing, banning corporate campaign contributions, and banning registered lobbyists from contributing to elected officials’ campaign funds.
Watch a video of RepMD Volunteer Bobby B as he pointed out these conflict of interest at the "Reform on Tap" craft brew hearing on Friday, Feb 23 2018.
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