’Tis the season for the latest assault of TV ads that make beer drinking almost synonymous with fun and friends and beautiful women. But as slick and seductive—and degrading—as those commercials are, they are not half as enticing as some of the behind-the-scenes efforts to minimize criticism of the alcohol industry.
It is no secret that brewers give millions to community organizations, sponsoring everything from ethnic festivals to marathons. They say they want to be good corporate citizens and support worthy social causes. But are their motives purely altruistic?
Brewers “are now much more worried about public acceptance than they used to be,” says the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Companies make contributions because they need “friends.” The result is a buffer against organizations that would normally be on the front lines of battle against the ravages of alcohol.
The campaign reaches far beyond beer banners at a block party. The Adolph Coors Foundation, for example, which grew rich on sales of Coors beer, the “silver bullet,” annually gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to conservative political institutions. Recipients include the Heritage Foundation and the Free Congress Foundation.
As a policy insider for over a decade, I have worked closely with these groups and consider it a privilege to cooperate with them on common concerns. Nevertheless, I was disappointed to discover that many well-known evangelical and profamily organizations have also been accepting money from the Coors Foundation for years. Dozens of political, legal, evangelistic, youth, and educational groups have received gifts ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, according to Internal Revenue Service records.
The alcoholic-beverage business is legal; taking its money is not necessarily wrong. But few seem willing even to ask a few hard questions about the ethics of soliciting or accepting its money. Is it the best way to fund our causes? Are there ulterior motives for the giving? And acquiescence in the receiving?
I interviewed several organization executives. They seemed unconcerned. “Alcohol issues are not on our agenda,” said one. “As long as the Coors Foundation will give us money, we’ll take it.”
No one seemed willing to get “on the wagon” and off the alcohol dollar. That does not mean, however, that these groups want their names published. They worry about what other contributors might think.
Alcohol is the nation’s number-one drug problem, accounting for $100 billion in economic costs and 105,000 deaths each year. It kills more than three times as many Americans as crack, heroin, and all other drugs combined. Alcohol’s devastating consequences and the industry’s questionable marketing practices ought to prompt an outcry. Instead, silence prevails. Maybe we are too compromised to point a prophetic finger.
Regular meetings with profamily organizations over the past decade have shown that interest in taking on the alcohol industry is almost nonexistent.
Critical legislative remedies are now pending before Congress. We should vigorously support the Alcoholic Beverage Advertisement Act, which would require health messages in all alcohol advertising. Consideration also should be given to restricting advertising that targets youth and to mandating equal time for health and safety messages. Raising excise taxes on alcoholic beverages could decrease consumption and alcohol-related problems, particularly by underage drinkers.
Our first responsibility is internal. Let’s begin by considering, as organizations, whether accepting money from alcohol companies hinders us from tackling alcohol-related issues. If so, we must “just say no” to beer money. Then we can say with a clear conscience: “Our silence is not for sale.”
Richard Cizik is a policy analyst for the National Association of Evangelicals in Washington, D.C.
Speaking Out does not necessarily reflect the views of CHRISTIANITY TODAY.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.