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When it comes to politics, Anheuser-Busch is more than the king of beers. It's the Clydesdale of cash.

The St. Louis brewery and its employees give big bucks to candidates without regard to party. The brewery is the 63rd-biggest corporate political donor in the nation over the last 20 years, contributing more than $11 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In federal campaigns, A-B is No. 1 among beer and wine companies, giving nearly 10 times more in the current political cycle than SABMiller, according to the center.

In the 2000, 2004 and 2008 federal elections, the company has been Missouri's top corporate giver to political candidates and parties, and the race isn't even close.

And that has political fundraisers worried about A-B's possible sale to Belgium beer giant InBev.

"It could have an impact on campaigns from U.S. Senate down to state representatives," said Republican political consultant and fundraiser John Hancock. "Without question, Anheuser-Busch has been the marquee financial supporter for political causes throughout the state."

Hancock, a former state representative who is working on the gubernatorial campaign of U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, said if the company changes ownership, it will have to answer to different masters who might not want to participate in politics so heavily.

As Missouri politicians have found, simply moving a headquarters out of state, not to mention another country, can have a damaging effect on a company's corporate loyalties.

In 2000 and 2002, for instance, May Department Stores was the seventh-largest corporate giver to federal campaigns from Missouri, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (A-B was first both years, with donations of $1.1 million in 2000 and $1.2 million in 2002.) But after the sale to Macy's Inc., in 2005, May no longer appears in Missouri's top 20.

InBev, like Macy's before it, is telling St. Louis and Missouri politicians that A-B would keep its operations in St. Louis and continue with its corporate traditions.

But InBev's purchase would create fresh complications.

Federal election rules don't allow donations from foreign nationals. That means companies owned by interests outside the U.S. have to establish political action committees that are independent of foreign ownership. A Federal Election Commission advisory opinion from 2006 makes it clear that domestic subsidiaries of foreign companies can give to political campaigns only if the money in the PAC is completely generated from American operations, and no foreign national has any control over the giving.

Such strict rules cause some foreign companies to just stay out of the political giving game, says Marc Elias, a campaign finance attorney based in Washington.

"In the case of a foreign buyer, the company may be (hesitant to give) because of the law on foreign nationals contributions," says Elias. "Anytime there is a change in ownership, whether it's foreign or domestic, there is often a re-evaluation of corporate giving policies."

So while InBev chief executive Carlos Brito says A-B would retain its corporate identity in a merged company, those in the habit of receiving the brewer's donations wonder what might change.


Former A-B vice president Steven K. Lambright described the company's political giving philosophy this way in 1996: "We believe it is in the best interests of our thousands of employees and millions of consumers that we participate politically by giving to both parties and the best candidates."

In Missouri, A-B is well known for even-handedness with Republican and Democratic causes.

Since 1990, the company and its employees have given $5.2 million to Democratic federal candidates or parties and $5.8 million to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Government. The company routinely gives maximum donations to Missouri's top candidates for governor or U.S. Senate, regardless of party. During the period this year in Missouri during which there were no campaign contribution limits, A-B gave $25,000 to the gubernatorial campaigns of both Gov. Matt Blunt and Attorney General Jay Nixon.

But the company doesn't always split its donations so equally.

In 2003, the company dropped it support of Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, because of his veto of a law allowing concealed weapons, sources say.

A-B gave $12,550 to Holden's Democratic rival, then-state Auditor Claire McCaskill, and $6,800 to Blunt. Both politicians have been vocal about their concerns over the InBev takeover bid. Representatives of both have said their positions are about jobs, not donations.

Anheuser-Busch is also a big player in the biggest race of all, the race for the presidency. In 2000, the brewer was the sole national sponsor of the three presidential debates between Al Gore and George W. Bush, helping to secure one of the debates at Washington University in St. Louis. The company has consistently been a sponsor of both parties' national conventions to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

In this election cycle, A-B has already given $23,250 to presidential candidate Sen. John McCain. It gave $3,250 to Sen. Barack Obama and $12,010 to Hillary Clinton. A-B regularly supports the candidacies of U.S. senators and House members from districts where the company has a brewery, and it gives to leaders such as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

One national political fundraising consultant says the company's political donations won't necessarily dry up if InBev prevails.

"There is always a way to structure things so that if they wish to, they can continue giving at their current pace," says Ben Ginsberg, an attorney in Washington.

So what will A-B do if it sells?

The man who's been responsible for selling A-B's message in Missouri's capital for four decades says he doesn't know. Lobbyist John Britton has been as successful carrying his message as any lobbyist in the state. He's kept Missouri's beer taxes among the lowest in the nation, for example. It helps, of course, when your employer is the state's top political giver.

Britton doesn't know what InBev will do.

Says Britton, "I have absolutely no idea what will happen."


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