As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Dec. 9, 2004
Christmas is a-comin' and the heartwarming news releases are getting fat ...
My nominee for the holly-jolly media advisory of the week was an e-mail from the state attorney general's office announcing a Wednesday news conference in Albuquerque with Attorney General Patricia Madrid and Mark Bordas, director of government affairs -- corporatespeak for top lobbyist -- for Anheuser-Busch.
The purpose: "to encourage safety and responsibility this holiday season." Specifically, "to encourage parents to be good role models for their children by remembering to use a designated driver and to talk with their children about underage drinking."
Heartwarming. You can almost hear the clip-clop of Clydesdales pulling Santa's sleigh. It's like a government public-service announcement and a beer commercial rolled into one.
Fortunately, the news conference had a little more to offer than that. Madrid also announced she will ask the Legislature to pass a bill with tougher sentences for repeat drunken drivers.
I assume this means Anheuser-Busch won't oppose this. In recent years, the liquor lobby has not fought stiffer penalties for driving while intoxicated. The biggest fight it has gotten involved in here lately was squashing a move last year to impose a higher tax on alcoholic beverages.
In this Christmas season, it's good to remember that Anheuser-Busch is not just generous in sending the king lobbyist for the King of Beers to New Mexico to spread words of wisdom about safety and responsibility. The corporation has been generous through the years in spreading good cheer in the form of campaign contributions to our state leaders.
According to the Montana-based Institute on Money in State Politics' Web site, followthemoney.org, Anheuser-Busch and its lobbyists donated at least $30,000 to New Mexico politicians during the most recent election cycle. The company's wholesaler, Premier Distributing, kicked in another $7,500 or so.
But according to institute spokeswoman Sue O'Connell, these figures only include campaign-finance reports up to June 28. Final figures will be available later, she said.
In the 2002 election cycle, Anheuser-Busch donated more than $31,000 to New Mexico politicos, while Premier Distributing gave even more -- $41,409.
Madrid, who was re-elected in 2002, collected $1,000 from Anheuser-Busch plus $5,000 from Premier that year.
But that was small potatoes compared with Gov. Bill Richardson's $5,000 from Anheuser-Busch and $25,000 from Premier.
Anheuser-Busch donated to dozens of legislators for the 2002 and 2004 elections.
The top legislative leaders get the most from the company. Retiring Senate President Pro tem Richard Romero, D-Albuquerque, received $2,000 in 2002.
Former Senate Majority Floor Leader Manny Aragon, D-Albuquerque, got $500 from the company in 2002 and $1,500 in 2004. (Aragon resigned from the Senate after being named president of Highlands University. He won an uncontested primary for his Senate seat in June.)
House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Nambé, received $1,000 from Anheuser-Busch this year.
But just as the company believes in safety and responsibility, it also believes in bipartisanship.
Senate Republican Floor Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales got $1,000 in 2002 and another $500 in this election cycle.
House Republican Floor Leader Ted Hobbs picked up $1,000 in 2002 and $1,500 for his 2004 race.
Lobbyist Bordas himself is a generous soul. Last January, The Associated Press reported he paid nearly $700 for four legislators -- Aragon, Luján, Sen. Ben Altamirano, D-Silver City, and Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe -- to attend a San Francisco Giants baseball game plus another $250 for food and drink, while the four were in San Francisco for a national legislative conference.
Of course, Anheuser-Busch isn't the only player in the liquor industry in this state. In 2002, beer, wine and liquor companies donated a total of $181,021 to New Mexico politicians.
My advice: Be safe and responsible this holiday season. If you drink, use designated drivers. Be a good example to your kids and talk to them about drinking.