Take a hike, Anheuser-Busch

The world's biggest beer company has donated $131,000 to reelect anti-environment lawmakers while its brands celebrate American wilderness

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Thanks for supporting independent journalism.—Dave


I’m not your average CEO, I’m a *cool* CEO. Source

Earlier this month Michelob Ultra announced it would be hiring a “Chief Exploration Officer” who for $50,000 over six months would get to live in a van and drink low-carb beers and I don’t know probably some other shit all while creating content and visiting various U.S. National Parks along the way.

In other words: #epic #dreamjobalert.

I’ve written about this rope-a-dope before, specifically back in the distant past of *checks timestamp* one month ago, when I reported on Bud Light Seltzer’s Chief Meme Officer gimmick. Creating these too-good-to-be-true “jobs” is just a marketing play, and the brands owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest beer company, have been running it a lot lately.

Michelob Ultra’s “Pure Gold CEO” (as in, Chief Exploration Officer do you get it?!?) promo is the latest iteration of ABI’s new routine, but it’s not the first one focused on celebrating the outdoors: earlier this year Devils Backbone, a Virginia brewery ABI bought in 2016, announced it’d be hiring a Chief Hiking Officer to hike the Appalachian Trail and create content in exchange for some money and some beer.

The Mich Ultra gig actually pays pretty well (50 large to visit some U.S. National Parks over the course of six months) compared to the other two ($20,000 from Devils Backbone for 5-8 months of hiking; $15,000 from Bud Light Seltzer for 10 “fire” memes a week for three months.) If it exists—and I say if because at this point it’s sort of hard to tell actual IRL marketing campaigns vs. corporate-inflected apparitions that flash briefly on the timeline as we scroll endlessly in search of nothing—it’ll probably be decent fun for whoever gets to do it.

But while the compensation is solid, and hiking in the America’s Great Outdoors is objectively better than churning out #content for peanuts to aid a well-funded seltzer brand’s doomed attempt to compete with White Claw’s culture relevance, this newsletter is not about that.

This one is about how beer money turns into campaign contributions to political hacks who want to drill for oil in the Arctic, sell off public lands, and burn enough carbon to roast us all alive. Bear with me!

Devils Backbone’s promo from earlier this summer. Source

Campaign (beer) money

I’m a big fan of Judd Legum’s Popular Information newsletter, which does vital accountability journalism focused on U.S. politicians and the corporate forces that influence/control them. One of the angles he works a lot is to look up companies’ campaign contributions to see if they conflict with their stances on social issues, which of course they often do because if there’s one thing companies like to do it’s swap in rainbow logos for their social-media avatars during Pride but then also support anti-gay politicians. Or whatever.

Here’s a piece Legum wrote last month about how major businesses sponsoring the NBA and supporting its Black Lives Matter campaign had also donated $3.3 million to politicians with F ratings from the NAACP. Huh! One of those companies was Anheuser-Busch InBev, who dumped $131,000 into the campaign coffers of 27 F-rated members of Congress (via its corporate PAC, of course.)

Seeing ABI’s name in Legum’s story last month, and then watching Michelob Ultra position itself as a champion of American wilderness (plus all the annoyingly uncritical coverage of same) got me to thinking: how many climate-denialist, frack-happy bootlickers in Congress are are the glad recipients of campaign cash from the very same beer company marketing using the splendor of this country’s pristine public lands to market its products?

ABI: $131,000 to lawmakers with terrible environmental voting records

Incredible! How DO Fingers’ designers do it?!

Turns out, quite a few! Using the FEC’s portal, I pulled a list of campaign contributions from ABI’s PAC to members of Congress (or their leadership PACs) up for reelection this year. Then, I cross-referenced that list with the League of Conservation Voters’ National Environmental Scorecard, which the nonprofit has produced annually since 1970.

The LCV scores Congressional lawmakers on their votes based on this methodology, then assigns a percentage-based score. A score of 100% means that politician casts the pro-environment vote on every bill that gets to the floor; 1% means they are carbon-spewing, climate-denying extractivists who want to make money while the world burns. (More or less.)

In the current election cycle (2019-2020), ABI has donated $131,000 to 27 federal lawmakers who have a lifetime LCV score of 50% or less. (Pretty sure it’s the same exact set of donation recipients that Legum found; funny how that works!) Scores below 50% makes these politicians more anti-environmental on average than the rest of their colleagues in the Senate and the House of Representatives last year (which scored 53% and 56% chamber-wide, respectively.)

National Parks are of course part of the environment, so voting to allow drilling in the Arctic is, broadly speaking, voting against the preservation of America’s natural resources and ipso-facto its parklands. Wildfires and oil spills and catastrophic mega-hurricanes don’t magically stop at park boundaries, see? But narrowly speaking, another organization—the National Parks Action Fund—assigns federal lawmakers letter grades from A-F on their pro- and anti-park votes. Out of curiosity, I pulled those scores too.

Poor scores

Some highl—er, lowlights that turned up on the donation docket of Michelob Ultra’s parent company:

  • Representative Ken Buck (R-CO), 3% lifetime LCV score, [F] from NPAF: Mistah Buck is a big proponent of Colorado’s oil and gas industry and wants to make it easier to sell off public lands to private businesses. In the past two years, ABI has donated $10,000 to his reelection campaign.

  • Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), 3%, [D]: Ernst floated into the upper chamber in 2014 on a river of Koch Bros. cash and refuses to acknowledge the scientific fact that climate change is a man-made catastrophe. In the past two years, ABI has donated $10,000 to her reelection campaign.

  • Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), 9%, [C]: McConnell is a power-mad husk of a man who is hastening the disintegration of this country. Also he’s a Koch Industries lackey who promoted the hell out of coal and only recently began pretending to care about climate change. In the past two years, ABI has donated $5,000 to his reelection campaign.

  • Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), 3%, [C]: The former Dollar General CEO is wary of offshore drilling off Georgia’s coast, presumably because he lives on an ultra-exclusive gated community on Sea Island, GA, where half-acre lots command $2.5 million price tags. So that’s nice—or it would be if he wasn’t a climate-denier who loves coal, celebrated America’s exit from the Paris Agreement, and voted to open the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to fossil-fuel drilling. In the past two years, ABI has donated $5,000 to his reelection campaign.

  • Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), 9%:, [D] Trailing his Democratic challenger in a tight 2020 race, our boi Tillis has lately been singing a different tune on climate change, but that doesn’t change the fact that he denied it for years. He was one of 20 Senators that demanded a U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and in his very first speech on the Senate floor, pushed to open the Atlantic coastline to offshore drilling. Very cool, thanks Thom! In the past two years, ABI has donated $8,500 to his reelection campaign.

  • Representative Ann Wagner (R-MO), 3%, [F]: Wagner doesn’t talk to the press about the environment very much, but she routinely votes against the EPA and for drilling, including in the Arctic. On her website she calls for less regulation on transporting oil and gas from the Bakken fields in North Dakota, and a repeal of “harmful” regulations on coal-fired power plants. Won’t someone think of the coal plants, dammit?! Wagner will. In the past two years, ABI has donated $10,000 to her reelection campaign.

And so on, or so forth. You can look through my research here, which I compiled using the FEC’s portal, LCV’s 2019 scorecard, and the NPAF Congressional scorecard.

To have your beer and drink it, too

In the spirit of fairness, I should point out that Michelob Ultra is “a proud supporter” of the National Parks Foundation, which I assume means they gave them lots o’ money to use their logo in this campaign. “With approval and support from the National Park Service, Anheuser-Busch has been a proud supporter of the National Park Foundation since 2015,” confirmed NPF spokesman Scott Anderson. (That five-year old co-branding deal saw ABI putting up a reported $2.5 million.)

And ABI’s PAC has donated a total of $278,000 to candidates during this election cycle, many of whom trying to save the planet, not ruin it. Then again, giving money to climate-change believers and climate-change deniers and being like “idk, u guys fight it out, let us know” is a frustrating take from a company whose corporate slogan is “bringing people together for a better world.” (Both sides, bay-bee!)

I asked ABI to comment on this apparent contradiction between its brands’ outdoorsy promotions and its corporate PAC’s contributions to anti-environmental federal lawmakers. The company did not respond to Fingers’ request.

As far as your Fingers editor is concerned, Anheuser-Busch is trying to have its beer and drink it, too. These campaigns from Michelob Ultra and Devils Backbone benefit from their adjacency to American wilderness, which is broadly popular with an overwhelming majority of Americans. But the parent company’s political arm supports lawmakers whose statements, policies, and actions threaten the very existence of the environment, both inside our protected parklands, and generally.

In this, Anheuser-Busch is no different than any other corporation that seeks access and favor in America’s flailing, cash-choked pseudo-democracy. Don’t let the #epic #dreamjobs convince you otherwise.


The bottom shelf

  • Disclosure: If you subscribe to Popular Information (Judd Legum’s newsletter) via the link above, I might get some promo merch from him. For what it’s worth I’ve been a paying subscriber since before he launched, and I highly recommend it. Get to it!

  • I hate myself quite a bit, but even I didn’t watch the presidential debate earlier this week because buddy, that’s a level of pain-piggery that I haven’t unlocked just yet. Anyway I heard it was a pretty remarkable real-time look at the collapse of an empire but otherwise not very remarkable at all. Anyway my colleague, Brewbound reporter Jess Infante (no relation, though we grew up in the same county in northern New Jersey and both write professionally about beer) tweeted something about beer promotions and presidential debates that gave me some mild brain-poisoning, which I will now pass along to you:

  • Maybe-slightly good news outta Minneapolis, where Surly Brewing Co. has agreed to a fair union election after a very-bad initial reaction to its workers’ decision to unionize in early September. Of course, the company still plans to close the beer hall later this year, and apparently sent around a letter warning workers to “think about what might be lost by voting yes,” so uh… still not great. Read my report on the Surly union drive, co-published with Welcome to Hell World.

  • All my “This Machine Kills Fascists” stamp stickers are in the mail and headed for their new owners. Follow Fingers on Instagram (@its.fingers) for future giveaways!

  • I have a storefront on Bookshop.com to catalog my personal reading list and give fellow book-lovers a place to shop the titles I’m reading. Check out The Fingers Reading Room now.

  • Make a donation to the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund and/or BeerKulture, and I’ll mail you this great sticker. Friends of Fingers have already donated over $150! Get yours today, here’s how.

Big thanks to Friend of Fingers, the very-talented Daniel Fishel, for this newsletter’s logo and banner art. Commission him to draw things for you at o-fishel.com.
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All comments, questions, lavish praise, and vicious criticism on Fingers can be sent to dave@dinfontay.com.