I just learned that the California Senate earlier today passed AB 1245 by a vote of 26-7, which gives you some indication of how Anheuser-Busch threw around their political weight. Not only did they sponsor the bill, along with eight Bud distributors in lock step, but they were in fact the only brewery in California not to oppose it, and that includes MillerCoors, who operates a facility in southern California. Even Heineken USA officially opposed the bill. So essentially your elected officials, or at least 79% of them, turned a deaf ear to the concerns of every single small and large beer business in the state, except one. Anybody think this sounds like the Senate was listening to the will of the people? This bill was the very definition of special interest legislation and you can see how it played out. The will of the multi-national corporation was the winner today, and the people be damned.
The only silver lining in all this is that there were any “no” votes at all. That was something of a surprise, and may be attributable to calls made by people like you and me. At least Id like to believe that’s the case. Some nay vote Senators did argue on the floor for the interests of craft brewers, and that’s certainly a sliver of good news. There’s possibly one more shot at stopping this, if the bill goes back to the Assembly GO committee before reaching Governor Schwarzenegger’s desk for signature. Otherwise look for A-B to begin buying customer loyalty beginning in January of next year, when phase one of the bill takes effect.
There is, however, one more irony worth pondering about this bill which may make it all moot in the end, or at least not benefit A-B as much as they believe. InBev, assuming their buyout of A-B is approved, will more than likely not be in a rush to use giveaways to build their business. InBev is notoriously frugal, particularly when it comes to swag. InBev, if they were aware of this bill, would more than likely be as opposed to it as everybody else. Since they know they don’t want to spend as much as $5 per customer, but if they believe their competitors might, it seems likely they would have no choice but to see this as a competitive disadvantage and not in the interests of the newly formed company, ABIB. If so — and I freely admit I’m out on a limb right now — is it inconceivable that InBev might be able to quietly obtain the ear of the governor and whisper that four-letter word into it: veto? And that would ultimately mean A-B wasted the political capital they spent getting the bill this far, and pissing off their new masters in the process. Stranger things have happened in the beer business.