Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, says it was blindsided by Ohio lawmakers who approved an amendment “in the space of four hours” that will prohibit breweries from buying wholesale distributorships in the future.
The beer giant is now publicly pleading with legislative leaders to reverse course or even take the unusual step of asking Gov. John Kasich to veto substitute Senate Bill 48.
In a harshly-worded three-page letter made public this week, ABInBev North American President Luiz Edmond said if the bill becomes law, it’ll violate the Ohio Constitution, reverse 30 years of established law, hurt the state’s reputation and favor one business group over another.
“To make matters worse, the legislation was passed in complete violation of normal legislative procedure, and outside the boundaries of basic fairness and respect for a corporate employer in your state,” Edmond wrote to Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, and House Speaker William Batchelder, R-Medina.
ABInBev runs the nation’s fourth largest brewery in Columbus and employs more than 700 workers in Ohio.
“If this is not fixed, this legislation will have a direct and immediate impact on our future investments in the state,” Edmonds warned.
“Certainly, we’ll take it to heart and listen to what they say but I don’t understand how this impacts their investments. Because they didn’t get what they want? So, I’m curious about that,” Faber said.
Faber said the bill moved through the normal legislative process and the amendment merely maintains Ohio’s long standing three-tier system for alcohol production, distribution and sales. It is unusual for a brewer to also own a wholesale distributorship but it has happened. For example, ABInBev has owned a wholesale operation in Canton since 1994.
The Wholesale Beer & Wine Association of Ohio is one of the most powerful trade associations in the state. It employs 19 lobbyists, including four close associates of Kasich, and its political arm contributed $612,000 to candidates in Ohio in 2011-2012.
Bob Tenenbaum, spokesman for the association, said, “Yes, we were very supportive of it. I do not agree with the characterization that this is some new prohibition. Our view is is the language in the bill clarifies state policy.”