A Lesson in Grassroots Lobbying from the California Craft Brewers Association

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Last week I was in California for the California Craft Brewers Association’s (CCBA) Bi-Annual Conference. It was a fantastic event that offered me the opportunity to see our industry from the perspective of one of the largest state guilds. Tom McCormick and his team did an amazing job of putting on a conference that blended the entertainment and education of craft brewing.

I was lucky enough to be asked to speak at the event, and I started off with a little exercise. First, I asked everyone in the audience to stand up. Then I asked everyone in the room who hadn’t contacted a state or federal official about craft brewing to sit down. I was impressed to see the number of people who were still standing. I followed that by asking breweries who were less than one year old to sit, followed by three years, followed by five years. A significant number of people, including board members and leaders of city guilds, were still standing, which speaks volumes.

  • When the people who are leaders in our industry are politically active, it benefits all of us. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that breweries that have been around the longest are all active in grassroots, political advocacy, their guilds, and the Brewers Association. They have been doing this long enough that they know the value of their voice.
  • Guilds are only as powerful as their members allow them to be. California is great example of a strong guild. This is in large part due to a strong and active membership.

After my speech, McCormick and Chris Walker of Walker Strategies told a story about the so-called Jimmy Kimmel Bill, S. 1426. This piece of legislation would have created a new tied-house exception in the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act stating that a person who has an ownership interest in a retail license could be compensated by an alcoholic beverage supplier for promotional or marketing services under specific conditions. Essentially, the company Diageo wanted to hire late night television host Jimmy Kimmel to promote its alcohol products while allowing him to maintain investments in restaurants.

ccba_oaklandThe CCBA, worried that the legislation could open the door to more pay-to-play practices and give an unfair advantage to larger suppliers, worked with the California beer wholesalers to defeat the legislation. Through a concentrated effort of grassroots outreach and lobbying, the brewers and wholesalers were able to keep the legislation from passing. One of the statements that they often heard was, “We just got off the phone with the brewer in our district; we are with you.”

This statement is one that every legislator in this country should be making. When you take action, share your story, and advocate for your business, your legislators can and should listen. Take a lesson from the CCBA and California’s craft brewers to be active and work together to make sure that your legislators know how the bills they introduce can positively and negatively impact your brewery.

I promise you, it is easier than you think. The Brewers Association and your state guilds will reach out to you throughout the year asking you to contact your legislators about issues that impact your brewery. Oftentimes all you will need to do is click on the link or dial a number. Participate on the state level, participate on the federal level, and, when we ask who has contacted their legislators this year, be one of the people who is still standing up.