Indiana’s largest beer wholesaler is reportedly distributing more than just suds.
Monarch Beverage has been accused of illegally channeling campaign contributions to influential state lawmakers through a lesser-known company, Vision Concepts. The complaint was filed by a group of smaller distributors who argue that Monarch flouted Indiana’s campaign contribution laws by donating more money than is legal.
Filed by the Indiana Beverage Alliance with the state’s Election Commission, the complaint alleges that since 2012 Monarch has contributed close to $1.5 million in campaign funds through Vision Concepts, a limited liability company that shares both an address and CEO with Monarch, per a report from the Indianapolis Star.
Monarch could have legally donated $264,000 in that same timespan in accordance with a state law that limits yearly contributions to $22,000, according to the Star. Restrictions on how much corporations are allowed to contribute exist to prevent powerful and incredibly profitable organizations from influencing the election process.
There is an exemption, however, that enables limited liability companies like Vision Concepts to make unlimited contributions. It’s a legal loophole that exists because at the time Indiana’s campaign finance laws were written, there were no LLCs registered in the state.
Despite the exemption, it’s still illegal to make contributions in the name of another, which is what the complaint alleges. In the complaint obtained by the Star, Indiana Beverage Alliance president Marc Carmichael wrote that Vision Concepts, a marketing and brand development agency that works with a number of alcohol companies including Monarch, is being used by Monarch to pump excess cash into the coffers of Indiana politicians who hold similar stances on alcohol policy.
“I believe the evidence will show that Monarch Beverage Inc., (wildly successful and very interested in Indiana alcohol public policy) has been making unlimited campaign contributions in the name of Vision Concepts LLC.,” he wrote.
In a letter of response filed on behalf of Monarch by Ice Miller LLP and obtained by Brewbound, firm partner Brian J. Paul disputed the claim that Vision Concepts’ contributions are attributable to Monarch, writing that the two are entirely separate companies.
“Vision is not a subsidiary of Monarch,” he wrote in the letter addressed to Trent Deckard and J. Bradley King, co-directors of the Indiana Election Division. “Carmichael’s vague assertion that Vision is an affiliate of Monarch for purposes of making such an attribution appears calculated to imply without support that the two entities are alter egos. That is simply wrong as a factual matter.”
Vision Concepts filed a letter of its own in which its legal counsel, Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, reiterated the delineation of the two companies as separate businesses.
It’s also worth noting that in a follow up report, the Star found that Zink Distributing, an Anheuser-Busch wholesaler that is part of the Indiana Beverage Alliance, has itself donated upwards of $690,000 since 2002 through at least three different LLCs, exceeding the limit Zink alone could have contributed.
The complaint is currently pending in the Indiana Election Commission.