SACRAMENTO — Beer wholesalers seeking passage of legislation that would give them monopoly control of beer distribution gave $77,000 in campaign contributions to legislators between January and March, California Common Cause reported Wednesday.
This sum is on top of the $355,000 given to legislators during the 1985-86 session by the beer wholesaling industry. Walter Zelman, executive director of the citizens lobbying group, noted that the monopoly distribution bill is the only measure the California Beer and Wine Wholesalers Assn. has reported lobbying on this year.
"The effort of the beer wholesalers to use campaign contributions to help move this legislation is about as blatant as such efforts get," Zelman said. "No proposal before the Legislature this year wears the tag of special-interest, consumer rip-off more brazenly."
The bill, carried by Assemblyman Jim Costa (D-Fresno), would grant monopoly territories to individual wholesalers and forbid retailers from buying beer from anyone else.
Susan Romeo, a spokeswoman for the wholesalers, said the bill was intended simply to write into law a system that is now used by more than 90% of the wholesalers. Enacting the law, she said, would shield them from lawsuits alleging violations of anti-trust laws.
She defended the contributions, saying that opponents of the bill gave $361,000 to legislators' campaign funds last session. "We have contributed just like everybody contributes," she said. "The beer wholesalers are not unique in their contributions."
The beer measure is opposed by retailers, grocers and consumer advocates, who contend that it would raise beer prices in California--which are now the lowest in the nation. Zelman acknowledged that retailers and grocers have been substantial contributors to legislative campaigns, but pointed out that they have an interest in many issues, not simply the beer wholesaling bill.
At a press conference held by Common Cause and Consumers Union, Zelman said the pattern of contributions by the beer wholesalers provides a textbook example of an industry using money to influence the course of legislation.
During the last session, the industry contributions went to 108 of the Legislature's 120 members, he said, with 96% of the donations going to incumbents, not challengers. The $77,000 given during the first three months of this year, went to 76 incumbent legislators, he said.
Donate to Leaders
The beer wholesalers gave most heavily to legislative leaders, including $52,500 to Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco, $34,500 to Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale and $6,200 to Assemblyman Gary A. Condit (D-Ceres) chairman of the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, which approved the bill last month.
Romeo said the wholesalers contributed to legislators with whom they agree on political issues. "The beer wholesalers do not have a problem giving money to people who share their philosophical views," she said.
"A contribution doesn't necessarily translate into votes," she said. "If the client had his way, he would probably love to have all those contributions translated into votes, but that's not the way it works."