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Beer & Campaign Politics

To turn to a less controversial subject than autism (believe it or not, I was attacked by a few people for expressing my opinion about the mercury issue) let’s switch to politics. This morning’s San Francisco Chronicle has a very interesting article about republican presidential hopeful John McCain’s wife, Cindy McCain, whose family owns one of the largest Anheuser-Bush distributor in the United States, Hensley & Co. It’s believed to be worth about $250 million, with annual revenue of at least $300 million. From the AP article:

As heiress to her father’s stake in Hensley & Co. of Phoenix, Cindy McCain is an executive whose worth may exceed $100 million. Her beer earnings have afforded the GOP presidential nominee a wealthy lifestyle with a private jet and vacation homes at his disposal, and her connections helped him start his political career — even if the millions remain in her name alone. Yet the arm’s-length distance between McCain and his wife’s assets also has helped shield him from conflict-of-interest problems.

The article claims that not only was the Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. Political Action Committee one of McCain’s earliest political donors, but James Hensley (Cindy McCain’s father) and his company “gave so much money that the Federal Election Commission ordered McCain to give some of it back.”

As a longtime executive with the beer wholesaler, Cindy McCain is thought to be a multi-millionaire many times over, though the McCains have thus far refused to say exactly how much she’s worth and have kept all of her finances separate from his. “In government records, McCain is permitted to describe his wife’s salary at Hensley as simply ‘more than $1,000’ and, when listing her major assets, say only that they are worth ‘more than $1 million.'”

I’m going to stay away from commenting too much and just point out something about beer distributors and the way they’re usually characterized. It turns out the Chronicle only printed roughly half the story, probably for space reasons, whereas the Baltimore Sun, has much more about the beer angle. To wit:

Cindy McCain is Hensley’s chairwoman and holds at least a 20 percent stake in it, according to Arizona corporate records. She works mostly on strategic planning and corporate vision, said Hensley spokesman Douglas Yonko. The company is family owned, but Hensley won’t say whether Cindy McCain is a majority shareholder.

Family owned, yes, but remember that the NBWA last year campaigned against changes to the estate tax, basing their argument on beer distributors being small, family owned businesses who were being treated unfairly and couldn’t pass their companies on to their sons and daughters. As this makes clear, the real truth is most beer distributors — even the ones that really are family-owned — aren’t that small. The industry is dominated by beer wholesalers that have become increasingly consolidated and very rich.

Of the top 25 beer distributors in the U.S., only three of them (all in the bottom five) are single location wholesalers. The vast majority are multi-location chains of distributors. Hensley may describe itself as the No. 3 A-B house, but they’re 5th (and 8th overall), according to a Beverage World report of the top twenty-five it published in September. The largest, Reyes Holdings, has revenue in excess of $800 million and more than three-fifth of them have annual sales above $200 million.

McCains’ Bud wholesaler is also one that is still on board with the “100% share of mind” program A-B instituted several years ago offering incentives to distributors who sold only A-B products. If McCain is elected, our First Lady will be a Bud Girl.


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