Is Bush better for beer drinkers?

Terry Jeffrey
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Posted: Sep 29, 2004 12:00 AM

 American beer drinkers might be interested in learning that August A. Busch IV, Budweiser heir and John Kerry supporter, signed a full-page ad for the Democratic National Committee that ran Sept. 23rd in The New York Times.

 I suspect many Bud drinkers may not have seen it.

 The ad did not feature talking frogs, and the Democrats are not broadcasting a TV version during NFL games. It ran opposite the "World Briefing" on page A13 -- not prime space for the beer-drinking demographic.

 Headlined "America Needs New Leadership," the ad, without expressly naming either candidate, argued that President Bush is bad for business and that John Kerry would be better.

 This was a message by and for people who don't drink their beverages from pop-tops.

 Busch IV, president of Anheuser-Busch's domestic beer division, may lead the most iconic American company of anyone who signed the Democrats' ad, but there were about 200 other signatories, including Edgar Bronfman Jr., chairman of Warner Music Group, and Charles K. Gifford, chairman of Bank of America.

 These big business leaders want the party of big government back in power. "We believe that our businesses will flourish when the policies of the United States are good for business," they write. "We believe this will happen -- with new leadership in Washington."

 Their most controversial argument: President Bush's foreign policy is choking their corporate growth.

 "Our disastrous foreign policy has cost us partners, not just in the war on terror, but in the world marketplace," they write. "We need leadership that will restore America's standing in the world community. That will help our nation fight terrorists. It will also strengthen our economy, helping American companies export more products and services to parts of the world that now view us only with suspicion.

 ". . . But in the last four (years) this administration has put in place a disastrous series of policies that have weakened us everywhere," they said.

 The ad carried a disclaimer: "The views expressed herein are those of individual signers and do not necessarily reflect the views of their companies or organizations."

 While aspects of President Bush's foreign policy deserve debate, is the DNC's anti-Bush argument signed by the beer heir persuasive? Has Bush II been bad for Busch IV's business?

 A Sept. 8 press release posted on the company's Web site points to the opposite conclusion. It is headlined: "Anheuser-Busch Expects 11 Percent Earnings Per Share Growth in 2004." The company, according to Standard and Poor's, had Earnings Per Share (EPS) of $1.69 in 2000, President Clinton's last year. This year, its EPS is estimated to hit $2.77 -- a 64 percent jump during Bush's first term.

 Why did the company's earnings grow so much when, according to the ad signed by Busch IV and other pro-Democrat big business leaders, Bush's "disastrous foreign policy has cost us partners . . . in the world marketplace"? In its press release, Anheuser-Busch cites its expansion in the world marketplace as one reason.

 The company quotes its chief financial officer, W. Randolph Baker. "Our international beer segment is making a significant contribution to Anheuser-Busch's earnings growth," says Baker, "and we are strategically well positioned for long-term growth with our expanded position in China and our 50 percent ownership of (the Mexican beer company) Modelo."

 Anheuser-Busch has owned its own brewery in China since 1995. But, in the Bush years, it has expanded its Chinese operations by purchasing stakes in Chinese beer companies. "In 2002, Anheuser-Busch formed a strategic alliance with Tsingtao, the leading brewer in China with a 13 percent share. Anheuser-Busch will ultimately gain a 27 percent ownership interest in Tsingtao," said the press release. "In recent months, Anheuser-Busch has acquired ownership of Harbin Brewery Group, China's fourth largest brewer with a 5 percent share in the Chinese beer market."

 Budweiser, it turns out, is becoming a Chinese company as well as an American one. This is reflected in its Olympic sponsorships: It backs both the U.S. and Chinese teams.

 There is a similar mirror in domestic politics: Anheuser-Busch Chairman August Busch III (Busch IV's father), the Associated Press reports, is a "Ranger" who has raised at least $200,000 for President Bush's campaign. Nonetheless, campaign finance data on the Web site of the Center for Responsive Politics indicates that Busch III gave John Kerry $2,000 on April 6, 2004 (not to mention the $2,000 he gave to Bush on Aug. 13, 2003). Busch IV, meanwhile, gave $2,000 to Bush on Aug. 1, 2003, and $2,000 to Kerry on May 26, 2004.

 This points to a cultural divide between international beer makers and their domestic customers: American beer drinkers, I am certain, will support only one presidential candidate.