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The David Vs. Goliath Prohibitionist Myth

This one always bugs me. Many prohibitionist groups invoke the Bible story of David and Goliath to suggest that they represent the little man against the giant, faceless, impersonal alcohol companies. Alcohol Justice earlier today tweeted this gem begging for donations to “Help Alcohol Justice stand-up to Big Alcohol’s harmful practices.” Along with the tweet was this image:

Beyond the obnoxious religious posturing, as if alcohol companies or people who drink it are irreligious, or that those who belong to either group are Philistines, the unequal position is untrue. The reality is that most of the prohibitionist groups currently operating are very well-funded. The mother of them all, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation “spent over a quarter of a billion (that’s billion, not million) dollars ($265,000,000.00) in just four years alone further developing and funding a nation-wide network of anti-alcohol organizations, centers, activist leaders, and opinion writers to promote its long-term goal.”

Similarly, MADD’s Focus is squarely on money and fund-raising. Here’s what Alcohol Facts has to say about MADD:

Non-profit organizations typically permit their chapters to keep most of the money they raise. For example, Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID) chapters get to keep 90% of all funds they raise. But MADD claims ownership of every penny raised by all its many chapters. Thus, after raising $129,000 locally and turning it all over as MADD demands, the Las Vegas chapter received a check from the national office for $1.29 (one dollar and twenty nine cents) as its share. MADD’s “focus is on greed,” said the chapter President, who reported “I’ve never seen such bloodsuckers!”

All items in some issues of Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s MADD E-Newsletter are devoted entirely to MADD’s primary mission of fund-raising. There are no pleas for sober driving, no calls for more sobriety checkpoints, no news reports, no petitions for legislation to reduce impaired driving and improve traffic safety — just fund-raising appeals. Most issues of the MADD E-Newsletter usually have at least one or two items not devoted to soliciting money.

MADD’s national web site lists all local chapters. Each listing is followed by a plea to “Donate Locally.” This is clearly deceptive because it implies that funds given to local chapters will be handled differently than funds given to the national office. In reality, all funds, wherever donated, must go directly and completely to the national office for use as it sees fit.

They go on:

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is always hungry for more money. Although the organization’s financial investments exceed 25 million dollars, it has paid telemarketers huge fees to raise tens of millions of dollars per year from hard-working Americans. MADD has spent almost two out of every three dollars raised on fund-raising, forcing the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) to downgrade its evaluation of the organization to a “D.” MADD has spent twice as much on fundraising as the AIP finds acceptable. It would appear that raising money has become an end in itself at the MADD bureaucracy, with numerous employees, high salaries, expensive fringe benefits, and huge retirement funds.

In addition, the New Prohibition adds:

MADD operates more like a big business than a charity, with the majority of its funding going toward salaries and fringe benefits instead of public safety programs.

MADD’s 2007-2008 operating budget was over $45 million.

Alcohol Justice, who tweeted the David and Goliath reference, is funded by the Buck Trust. According to the New Prohibition, “the Leonard and Beryl Buck Foundation (Buck Trust) was created in 1975 after Beryl Buck left $9.1 million to Marin County, California with the provision that it be used to serve the needs of the County residents.” Alcohol Justice claims they receive just 3% of the Buck Trust’s funding, although despite the Trust’s provision that it be used locally, AJ’s reach and focus is well beyond Marin County’s borders.

According to AJ’s own publicly available financials, in 2012 they were worth a little over $1.6 million and had assets of almost $1.6 million at the end of the year. Of their annual budget, by far the largest chunk was spent on salaries, which were in excess of $600,000 and they spent over $800,000 in total compensation.

The point is, the prohibitionists are spending a lot of money, but is big alcohol spending that much more, such that they’re Goliath to the prohibitionist’s self-proclaimed David?

A Huffington Post report from 2010, entitled Food & Alcohol Industries’ Lobbying Dollars totals industry spending and, removing the food portions, alcohol spends about $4.2 million. A tidy sum to be sure, but it’s obviously dwarfed by just the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s $66.5 million per year over the past four years (totaling $265 million). According to Open Secrets, the alcohol industry isn’t even among the Top 20 since 1998. For 2013, Open Secrets reckons that the alcohol industry has spent $15.7 million, or only about 23.6% of what the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation alone spends. Add in what all the rest are spending, and the percentage goes down even more.

What’s obvious is that this David vs. Goliath propaganda is just that: propaganda. It’s a myth that the prohibitionists are tiny grassroots groups fighting against the giant alcohol Goliaths. It may be useful in raising money — clearly prohibitionist group’s most important concern — but it’s just not true. Please, put down the slingshot.

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