Bourbon Interests Support McConnell

In Kentucky, we’re bombarded with Alison Grimes and Sen. Mitch McConnell political commercials and signs. Not to mention, our non-Kentuckian friends offering unsolicited voting advice.

As the country closely watches our hotly contested Senatorial race, I’ve noticed more politicians attending distillery openings and wondered who the bourbon industry supports.

Grimes and McConnell have traded barbs about coal, jobs, health care, Obama and guns. But what about bourbon?

Well, if money is any indication, the bourbon industry seemingly wants McConnell to win his reelection.

According to Federal Election Commission filings, the Great Bourbon Whiskey PAC (Sazerac’s PAC), the Kentucky Distillers Association Bourbon Political Action Committee, and the Brown-Forman Non-Partisan Committee for Responsible Government contributed to McConnell’s reelection campaign. Through their respective non-partisan political action committees, these organizations did not contribute to Grimes’ campaign.

According to FEC filings, the KDA PAC contributed $1,000 to McConnell’s general reelection committee during the last quarter; Sazerac’s PAC contributed $2,600 to McConnell’s campaign May 20; Brown-Forman’s PAC contributed $5,000 to both McConnell’s primary and general election campaigns on December 10, 2013.

The bourbon-related PACs also made significant donations to Democrats or the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, other political committees and losing candidates in the Primaries.

The Distilled Spirits Council PAC and Diageo North America were both active this political cycle, but neither contributed to McConnell’s campaign.

I’ll take a stab as to why bourbon interests support McConnell.

It’s really quite simple: McConnell embraces bourbon.

When the Frazier History Museum decided to display the May 4, 1964, Congressional Resolution that declared bourbon a distinct product of the United States, the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C, was not the most responsive. The Senate Minority Leader’s office made a couple of phone calls, knocked on a few doors and the historic document suddenly climbed up the importance level for the National Archives. I was told that without McConnell’s staff, the bourbon declaration does not make it to Louisville.

With Sen. Rand Paul, McConnell cosponsored “The Aged Distilled Spirits Competitiveness Act,” which would amend the IRS code to allow distillers to deduct interest expenses related to bourbon inventories. If this passed, the industry would feel less of a tax burden.

In a recent letter to the Courier-Journal, Brown-Forman’s Mac Brown wrote: “In 2009, Sen. McConnell addressed the unfair treatment of bourbon directly with Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., pointing out that ‘the current tax system with respect to spirits appears unfair to Kentucky distilled spirits producers.’ The Israeli government agreed to amend its tax laws and set a single rate for all distilled spirits.”

McConnell also regularly meets with distilleries and bourbon-related lobbyists, but so do other Kentucky politicians. McConnell seems to go the next step with the bourbon industry, attempting to promote to Buzz Feed the best way to drink it.

But I don’t think the industry’s support for him is an indication of its political leanings. Governor Steve Beshear and Louisville mayor Greg Fischer are Democrats and have done more for bourbon than their predecessors. I’m sure bourbon groups would happily contribute to Fischer’s campaign should he run for governor or senate.

These bourbon PACs represent “a what have you done for me lately” mentality. And apparently, McConnell has done more for bourbon than Grimes.

Of course, this election is not about bourbon. But the spirit is important to Kentucky.

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