There is one question I got asked following last year’s legislative embarrassment around House Bill 1283 more often than anything else — either packaged directly as such, or as an inquisitive or snarky aside:

What happens when you “follow the money” in Maryland politics and the brewing industry?

It’s a topic I’ve researched periodically, but it’s always been one I’ve approached with an overabundance of caution.

On one hand, campaign contributions (within a defined set of rules) are not illegal on their face. Nor does the presence of a campaign contribution record necessarily signal that a quid pro quo arrangement is expected by the donating party, or explicitly established.

On the other hand, money in politics can move mountains, where well-meaning politicians may enter the arena with a heart to serve, but find themselves ultimately swayed by the special interests who fill their coffers and to whom they become financially bound.

So, where does money fit into our current Maryland beer legislative narrative?

Before I answer that question, I want to provide some context of where we are now.

The Reform on Tap Act of 2018

After several meetings of the Reform on Tap Task Force — convened by Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, and of which I was a member — the findings of the Task Force were released earlier this month in a report titled “Maryland Craft Beer: A World Without Limits.”

This was then followed up by an unveiling of the Reform on Tap Act of 2018, the legislative framework that was developed as a result of discussions and issues raised during task force meetings.

 

In summary, the legislation seeks to liberate Maryland craft brewers from many of the limitations that bind them and empower the growth of an industry that has already proven itself to be an engine of economic development and community revitalization, both here in Maryland and in other states.

Moreover, it seeks to undo the harm that resulted from the version of HB 1283 — which, in its original form, would have been catastrophic to the Maryland craft brewing industry on multiple fronts.

Of course, the reason we landed ourselves in this mess is that not everyone agrees craft brewers should be granted any sort of legislative reprieve, regardless of scale.

And the release of this legislation has brought those dissenting voices from earlier this year back to the fore with a clear message.

To Del. Dereck E. Davis, Maryland Brewers Are Children to Be Managed

Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-25) of Prince George’s County has been a member of the House of Delegates since 1995 and is the current chair of the House Economic Matters Committee.

In a recent article by the Washington Post, Davis had this to say in response to the Reform on Tap Act of 2018:

“’If you are giving your child an allowance of $5 a day and they are only spending $2.30 but still they are asking for $30 a day, that doesn’t make sense,’ said Davis, whose panel oversees liquor regulation. ‘They are asking for more and complaining about something that they are not even close to reaching.’” (Read the full article.)

Leaving aside how condescending it is for Davis to equate the reasonable requests of Maryland craft brewers — the kind that Virginia is unabashedly boasting about in an effort to lure Free State brewers over to the Commonwealth — to the greedy demands of a  whining child that requires tough parenting, his response should not be a surprise.

As a refresher, Del. Charles Barkley (D-39) — who serves as the chair of the Alcohol Beverages Subcommittee (of Davis’ Economic Matters Committee) — shared the following in an interview with me back in April, regarding how the disastrous HB 1283 came to be:

“I honestly thought we were moving in the right direction with Nick Manis [MCA], Steve Wise [MSLBA legal counsel] and [Jack] Milani [MSLBAMonaghan’s Pub in Baltimore]. We thought we were making progress, and we had the guys talking to us.”

Barkley then paused for a moment.

“All of a sudden, they quit talking to us,” he continued. “And then the [Economic Matters Committee] Chairman [Dereck E. Davis] said, ‘This is what we’re doing.’”

And by “this,” Davis meant the new version of HB 1283.

“Up until this point, I ran the subcommittee and I kept my chairman [Davis] informed. But this one left my hands. I’ve never had this kind of intervention before, until this year. I thought [Manis, Wise and Milani] were meeting with us. But I think we were getting too close to stuff they didn’t want. So I think they met with the Speaker and got things changed.” (Read the full article.)

During Davis’ testimony in front of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee regarding an amended version of HB 1283, he said:

“The only reason why this is on the table is because of that economic development project [Guinness] … There is a misconception that we aren’t allowed to pass bills around here unless we get the approval of industries. And that’s not how I operate. You can have your input, but we have the final say. And I don’t need your approval to do it.” (Watch the full hearing.)

Of Course, Davis Is Not Alone

Despite his bluster and protestations that no backroom dealings occurred last session, Davis and others are surrounded by a little too much smoke for there to be no fire.

In addition to Davis’ close proximity to negotiations and being the messenger that delivered the bill back to Barkley, there’s Del. Talmadge Branch (D-45) of Baltimore City.

(Branch was the original and sole sponsor of HB 1283, back when it was just a little bill hoping to rollback operating hours for Class 5 breweries, before it became the vehicle for Guinness to come to Maryland and a battering ram for the Maryland craft beer industry.)

The smoke surrounding Branch was a little easier to spot, given that one week he told me directly he had nothing to do with the changes — clearly distancing himself.

“You have to understand, I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s business,” Branch said to me. But he also was very clear that he was not involved in this new version of his bill. “I just wrote a bill,” he said. “I’m not in the room to work it out. These are not my amendments. I thought they had met and worked it out.” (Read the full article.)

Then, a few days later, he testified at the same Senate EHE Committee hearing that the changes to HB 1283 were measured, deliberate and designed to be balanced, as if he were a part of the team the whole time.

If you were to believe Davis and Branch, the bill appeared of its own accord — or maybe they were involved, depending on which day you ask them.

But given the bill’s mysterious origins, the naming of shadow players in the form of special interests by Barkley (as well as others on background), and the decisive anti-brewery stance being adopted by House leadership earlier this year and now, is it any wonder why people are asking who is paying what and to whom?

Alcohol Industry Contributions to the Maryland House of Delegates

While I am no fan of relitigating the past, it is important to understand the three key players that figured prominently in the narrative of what happened last year: Del. Dereck Davis, Del. Talmadge Branch and Michael Busch, Speaker of the House of Delegates.

So, what happens when you ask the question of these three individuals, regarding alcohol industry contributions?

What I am presenting below is merely a public reporting of campaign contributions made to each of those three House members from interests in the alcohol industry from the 2017 filing period.

All of the information listed below can be found by researching the campaign committee filings in the Maryland Campaign Reporting Information System.

Receiving Committee: Davis, Dereck Friends Of, Aggregate to Date

  • Anheuser-Busch Companies: $2,000
  • B.K. Miller Meats & Liquors, INC: $1,500
  • Best, Eric (Bob Hall LLC): $500
  • Bryce, Joseph C. (Manis Canning & Associates): $1,300**
  • Buck Distributing: $1,000
  • Diageo North America, Inc.: $1,250
  • Favazza, John (Manis Canning & Associates): $2,650**
  • Mansfield, Andrea (Manis Canning & Associates): $100**
  • Katcef Brothers Inc: $150
  • Moore, Jr., Leighton W. (Seacrets, Ocean City): $300
  • Anne Arundel County Licensed Beverage Association PAC: $2,000
  • Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association PAC: $1,000
  • Licensed Beverage Association PAC , Maryland State: $1,000
  • Beer Wholesalers PAC – MBWA PAC MD: $750

**Manis Canning & Associates represents the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association. 

Receiving Committee: Branch, Talmadge Friends Of, Aggregate to Date

  • ANHEISER BUSCH: $500
  • BALTIMORE COUNTY LICENSED BEVERAGE ASSOC PAC: $250
  • CANTON CROSSING WINE AND SPIRITS LLC: $250
  • FAVAZZA JR, JOHN (Manis Canning & Associates): $250
  • MANSFIELD, ANDREA (Manis Canning & Associates): $100
  • Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association inc.: $1,025
  • MARYLAND STATE LICENSED BEVERAGE ASSOC PAC.: $750
  • MD-DE-DC BEVERAGE ASSOC: $250

Receiving Committee: Busch, Mike Friends Of, Aggregate to Date

  • ANHEUSER-BUSCH COS., INC: $4,000
  • KATCEF BROTHERS, INC.: $2,000
  • Buck, Elizabeth J. (Buck Distributing): $1,500
  • Licensed Beverage Association PAC, Maryland State: $1,500
  • Beer Wholesalers PAC – MBWA PAC MD: $1,500
  • Best, Eric (Bob Hall LLC): $1,000
  • Eastern Shore Dist. Limited Partnership: $500
  • Anne Arundel County Licensed Beverage Association PAC: $1,250
  • Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association PAC: $1,000
  • Winner, Marc M. (Winner Distributing): $500

Also of note, Neal Katcef (Katcef Brothers, Inc., an Anheuser-Busch Wholesaler) is listed as the Treasurer of Friends of Michael Busch both on the committee’s website (footer) and Twitter account.

How Will This Influence the Future of Maryland Craft Brewers?

As I mentioned at the start of this, campaign contributions can be a tricky topic, because the “why” behind a contribution is not explained in these records — only the fact that these contributions exist.

That said, the presence of these contributions makes it difficult to take the claims of above-board legislative dealings at face value.

Because while Maryland brewers have recently formed their own PAC to begin contributing to candidates that support their cause, at the time events surrounding HB 1283 began to unfold, Maryland brewers seem to the only party not donating any money.

Yet they somehow are also the only ones being targeted with punitive legislation, as well as combative posturing and demeaning comparisons to children.

Edit: This was originally published with an error regarding Del. Talmadge Branch’s district, which has been corrected. Additionally, information regarding contributions by brewers has been clarified.