Deb Carey, president of New Glarus Brewing Co., tends to be a straight-shooter. Unlike the heads of most multimillion-dollar companies, Carey can be reached directly via the phone number listed on the company website, and she never hesitates to discuss beer politics in the frankest terms.
"I'm so pissed off I can barely see," the beer baroness told me in an interview nearly two years ago, as the Legislature drafted a proposal at the behest of MillerCoors that prevented brewers from buying beer distribution licenses. Legislators said the bill was designed to prevent Miller's No. 1 competitor, Anheuser-Busch from buying up distributors and cornering the beer market. However, microbreweries, some of whom had discussed banding together and creating their own distributorships, felt the law was also aimed at squelching their mounting market share.
The proposal was eventually signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker as part of the 2011-13 budget.
A successful, articulate, home-grown businesswoman and a Walker critic? Sounds like the Democrats' dream candidate for governor.
Carey also squashed that rumor with characteristic candor: "I'd rather be boiled in oil."
Even if she were interested in running as a Democrat for governor, Carey might struggle to explain to Democratic primary voters why she has made so many contributions to GOP candidates in recent years. The explanation she gave in an interview with Mike Gousha of WISN-TV/Channel 12 in Milwaukee might not cut it.
"That's the way the game is played," she said. "It is unfortunate and it is sad and I wish it would change but you have got to contribute to both sides."
Carey elaborated in an interview with me last week.
"All politicians say that's not the case, that you don't buy influence, but you do buy access," she said. "There's been a lot of pressure over the years to make contributions."
In particular, she says, it is very hard for smaller interest groups, such as the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, which represents microbreweries, to get meetings with political leaders.
Just one look at the lobbying during the last legislative session displays the disparity in resources — and therefore influence — between microbrewers and the macrobrewers. While the Brewers Guild hired veteran GOP operative Brian Schimming to lobby on its behalf, MillerCoors, in addition to its own full-time government relations officer, had hired six lobbyists, including former GOP officials and former Democratic Gov. Marty Schreiber.
The Brewers Guild spent $18,563 on lobbying last legislative session, while MillerCoors spent $208,960. During that period, MillerCoors employees also contributed roughly $55,000 to state political campaigns.