In an effort to combat the influence Texas wholesalers wield with local lawmakers, the state’s craft brewers guild has launched its own political action committee, called CraftPAC.
In a press release, the Texas Craft Brewers Guild said the goal of CraftPAC would be to overturn “archaic, anti-competitive beer laws” that have “had a chilling effect on the industry’s growth.”
Initially, CraftPAC will focus on legalizing of to-go sales from production brewery taprooms, which Texas law currently outlaws. Although the state’s manufacturing breweries are not allowed to sell beer for off-premise consumption, the state’s brewpubs, wineries and distilleries are allowed to sell their products to-go.
Speaking to Brewbound, Texas Craft Brewers Guild Executive Director Charles Vallhonrat said Texas distributors have had a financial edge over brewers after giving more than $18 million in political contributions to lawmakers. CraftPAC, he added, is a way to level the playing field.
“We want to be on the same field,” he said. “We know that they have big bats, but we need to be on the same field to say we’re in the game.”
CraftPAC board chairman and Austin Beerworks co-founder Adam DeBower added that Texas’ brewers haven’t had a voice in the legislature since 2013, when several lawmakers who supported brewers retired or moved on.
“We don’t have any champions left,” he said.
CraftPAC will work to correct that disparity and change the status quo that wholesalers have worked to keep, DeBower added.
“Unfortunately in Texas, money talks,” he said. “Now is the time we have to be real proactive.”
Thus far, CraftPAC has raised nearly $50,000, Vallhonrat said. The majority of those donations have come from four of the state’s largest beer companies — Deep Ellum, Saint Arnold, Austin Beerworks and Live Oak — who each donated $10,000 to the PAC.
Vallhonrat added that the number of breweries in the state of Texas has grown to more than 200, giving the effort a “critical mass.”
“We need to take advantage of public opinion and the power of our members,” he said.
Although Texas lawmakers won’t meet again until 2019, Vallhonrat said CraftPAC would be active in the state’s upcoming primary elections in six weeks.
So far, the PAC has donated $1,000 each to two candidates, state reps. Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park) and Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), and the group plans to give to other candidates in the coming weeks.
Vallhonrat said last year’s passage of House Bill 3287 — which put tighter restrictions on how beer that is sold for on-premise consumption at brewery taprooms — was the catalyst to the formation of CraftPAC.
“The blow we received from 3287 showed the overwhelming power that the distributors wield,” he said. “That they could influence a bill that absolutely no brewery supported, and they could go around saying this was for the protection of breweries and convince the Legislature and get it passed, that really demonstrated what we’re fighting against.”
In 3287, Texas lawmakers changed the way the state’s barrel cap is calculated, adding production across multiple brewing operations rather than from individual facilities. Now, breweries making more than 225,000 combined barrels annually will be required to repurchase their own product from a wholesaler in order to continue selling beer for on-premise consumption in their taprooms.
In the announcement of CraftPAC, the Guild also cited the 2013 passage of Senate Bill 639, which prohibits breweries from selling their distribution rights to wholesalers, and led to a lawsuit that will be decided by the Texas Supreme Court.
Vallhonrat told Brewbound that CraftPAC will also work to make other “common sense updates” to Texas’ alcohol code such as eliminating the distinction between “ale” and “beer.” According to the Texas code, an ale is a beer above five percent ABV while a beer is under five percent ABV. Such distinctions are costly, and add market confusion and work for brewery owners, he argued.
DeBower added that CraftPAC would work to equalize licensing differences between breweries and brewpubs. Currently, brewers are required to have a manufacturer’s license while brewpubs receive retail license and are afforded different privileges, such as off-premise sales.
This isn’t the first time that a craft beer-focused PAC has emerged, however. New Belgium Brewing established a national political action committee in September 2014. In the 2016-2017 election cycle, the company gave more than $18,000 in campaign contributions to Democratic candidates.
Meanwhile, the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) boasts one of the strongest PACs in Washington, D.C. During the 2016-2017 election cycle, the PAC gave more than $4.2 million in contributions to Democrats and Republicans.
The NBWA PAC is currently the top contributor to federal candidates in the 2017-2018 election cycle. The PAC has so far contributed more than $1.5 million to political candidates.
And the Beer Institute’s PAC contributed $30,500 to Democratic and Republican candidates during the 2016-2017 cycle.
Additional details can be found in the press release included below.
TEXAS CRAFT BREWERS GUILD LAUNCHES CRAFTPAC
Political Action Committee Fights to Fix Texas’s Broken Beer Laws
AUSTIN, TX (January 22, 2018) — The Texas Craft Brewers Guild is excited to announce the launch of CraftPAC, a political action committee (PAC) created to protect the rights of Texas breweries and champion common sense, 21st century legislative reforms.
It’s a testament to the quality of Texas craft beer, the pioneering spirit of Texas brewers, and the passion and thirst of Texans that there are currently more than 200 craft breweries operating in Texas. However, the state only ranks 46th out of 50 nationwide in number of breweries per capita. There’s plenty of room for craft beer to grow in Texas, but archaic, anti-competitive beer laws hold the state back and have had a chilling effect on the industry’s growth.
Championing job growth, increased economic impact, and expanded consumer freedom, CraftPAC will mobilize the whole Texas craft brewing industry and its community of fans to stand up for fixing the state’s beer laws. It’s time for equitable laws that will allow the Texas craft brewing industry to fairly compete on the national stage, attract more entrepreneurship and investment, and see an untapped rise in craft beer tourism.
“It is time to shine a light on the broken beer laws in Texas,” Texas Craft Brewers Guild Executive Director Charles Vallhonrat said. “The Texas Craft Brewers Guild has led organized industry efforts at the Capitol and conducted stakeholder outreach and concerted advocacy work for years to drive a legislative agenda that would modernize beer laws in Texas. But, it is time to let the public know that we are dealing with arcane laws written in the 1930s and 1970s that do not reflect current market conditions. We want to get the public involved in developing a craft beer landscape that is responsive to their interests.”
Up until now, Texas craft brewers have simply been outgunned by the Texas beer wholesale lobby which has made more than $18 million in political contributions over the last ten years. In return, this kind of influence has led to the Texas legislature passing anticompetitive, regressive beer laws including House Bill 3287 (2017) which sets a dangerous precedent of wholesaler interference in brewery taprooms. This bill passed despite opposition from the Texas Craft Brewers Guild and more than 15,000 craft beer drinkers who signed the Guild’s petition and contacted their legislators to voice concerns. Senate Bill 639 (2013), another damaging law on the books, prohibits breweries from selling their distribution rights to wholesalers (even though wholesalers are then allowed to turn around and sell these rights to one another). This law has resulted in a lawsuit against the state that is poised to be heard by the Texas Supreme Court.
Numerous bills, filed over the last decade, that would legalize to-go sales from production brewery taprooms rarely even receive a committee hearing because of wholesaler influence. These to-go sales are legal for Texas wineries, distilleries, and brewpubs, not to mention breweries in 49 other states. Consumers not only desire, but have come to expect to-go sales. Ending this arbitrary and discriminatory prohibition against Texas breweries is one of the most urgent legislative priorities of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild and a key goal of CraftPAC.
Ultimately, CraftPAC is a brewer-led effort for the craft beer community to counter the enormous financial influence of beer wholesalers on Texas politics through grassroots fundraising and advocacy.
“The wholesale lobby has exerted massive influence in the state legislature by contributing tens of millions of dollars to elected officials,” CraftPAC Board Chair and Austin Beerworks Co-Founder Adam DeBower said. “If the Texas craft brewing industry is ever going to achieve its full potential, it has to play on the same field as the wholesalers. CraftPAC provides an opportunity for Texas craft brewers and beer consumers to vote not just with their dollars out in the marketplace, but also in the halls of the state Capitol.”
As the 2019 legislative session and TABC Sunset review approach, CraftPAC will support legislative candidates, ballot initiatives and pieces of legislation which positively impact the growth and sustainability of the Texas craft beer industry while opposing legislative candidates, ballot initiatives, and legislation which seek to hold the industry back.
The craft brewing industry had a $4.5 billion impact on the Texas economy in 2016, contributing the equivalent of 26,506 full-time jobs. The Texas Craft Brewers Guild and CraftPAC are fighting to make this impact multiply by making Texas the greatest beer state in the nation!
Connect with CraftPAC
CraftPAC is a Texas-based general purpose Political Action Committee (PAC) founded by members of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. It is a Board of Directors led organization formed to protect the rights of Texas craft breweries and champion common sense, 21st century legislative reforms. To learn more about CraftPAC visit www.craftpac.org.
About the Texas Craft Brewers Guild
The Texas Craft Brewers Guild exists for the purpose of promoting Texas craft beer, educating the public about the qualities and attributes of craft beer and advancing the common interest of Texas craft brewers. The Guild’s Board of Directors hail from craft breweries in all the major metropolitan regions of the state, as well as different brewery types and sizes to represent the Guild’s over 200 brewery members throughout the state, including operating breweries, as well as those that are in the advanced planning stages. The Guild also welcomes allied trade and retail members who support the craft brewing industry. To learn more about the Texas Craft Brewers Guild visit texascraftbrewersguild.org.