Lagunitas Chicago First Look

Lagunitas Opens Checkbook for 2014 – 2015 Elections

In Beer Politics by Ryan

Lagunitas has made substantial contributions to Illinois politicians recently including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his right-hand man, Alderman Pat O’Connor.

Lagunitas Chicago First Look12/31 UPDATE: Lagunitas Owner Tony Magee takes to Twitter to talk about the campaign contributions. More information is below..

A tweet from Chicago Sun Times reporter Dan Mihalopoulos over the weekend certainly caught our attention.

Follow the link in the tweet and you’ll see that Lagunitas Brewing Company cut a check to Rahm Emanuel’s re-election campaign for $25,000. It certainly isn’t the brewery’s first contribution to a political candidate but is the most sizable contribution and the second time this year it’s dropped 25k on a politician.

Why does this matter? Well, when Lagunitas Owner Tony Magee announced he was going to open a production brewery in Chicago he trumpeted the fact that he was turning down tax incentives from the state and the city.

The above tweet, from 2012, was in response to a 13-million dollar incentive package offered to New Belgium to open a brewery in Asheville, North Carolina.

What Magee wanted instead was a streamlined process to open the brewery, according to a CNBC report from this summer.

Relying on a business plan that was fully prepared before he approached Chicago officials, he rejected the city’s offers for grants and other types of tax breaks. What he wanted was to avoid the red tape often associated with big-city bureaucracies.

“I told them what I really want is a strong and expedited process. That was more valuable to me than money,” he said. “Ten million is great but if I get the brewery up and running six months earlier that 10 million is chump change.”

Did he get that expedited process? A city official told the Chicago Sun Times that no corners were cut. But cutting corners and getting things done faster are two different things. Regardless, there’s no paper trail to prove or disprove either.

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However, prior to this summer, Lagunitas had contributed a total of $11,577.25 to candidates and causes. The vast majority of that — $10,000 — was spent to oppose Prop 25 and support Prop 26 in California in 2010.

There were other nickel-and-dime contributions along the way. A woman seeking re-election to the California Senate got a few hundred bucks in 2012 and a candidate for judge in Cook County received a $500 contribution in the spring.

Beginning in the summer Lagunitas’ contributions jumped.

In July, Lagunitas cut a $25,000 check to incumbent governor Pat Quinn (who lost to Republican Bruce Rauner). In September Lagunitas dropped over 10k on Alderman Patrick O’Connor. $9,225 of that was an individual contribution while another $1,275 was an “in kind” contribution of beer and appetizers — most likely for a fundraiser. Alderman O’Connor, who represents the 40th ward on the north side, is Mayor Emanuel’s floor leader.

And then there’s the Christmas Eve contribution of $25,000 to the mayor’s campaign. It brings the total amount contributed by Lagunitas to Chicago politicians, since July, to $60,500.

It’s certainly chump change compared to the wads of cash other groups throw around come election time. And perhaps this is just Tony Magee’s way of protecting the investment the mayor made in his brewery. Nevertheless, it’s intriguing — to say the least — to see Lagunitas pump some cash into the mayor’s race and back the mayor’s right-hand man.

UPDATE (12/31, 12:00pm)

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Earlier today, Magee addressed the issue via Twitter.

Also, we’re adding a snippet of this interview for some additional context re: the process with the city.

On breweries using public funds to expand:

Magee: My peer brewers…it’s kind of a corporate approach to running a business. You got to know that they went deeply into the public trough to fund the brewing operation which I could never do in a million years. What that yielded were state employment grants, tax deferments and special dispensation of cash. If anyone reads the papers, it is a pretty dry trough. So what’s a f&^$*#@ rich business like those doing that for rather than just bearing their own weight and bringing value to a community? After we did the thing in Chicago, someone from the Mayor’s office was talking to someone we were working with and they were a little of upset that we hadn’t gone to them first to allow us all to make the announcement together. There was a desire from the political world to be involved in these sorts of things.

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Interviewer: Well, they want to take credit for it.

Magee: Exactly. But the quid pro quo is that we would be indebted and I’m kind of a libertarian about things. We’re a quarter of the size of Sierra Nevada and this pays over and over and over again. I would be embarassed to have asked for public assistance.

Interviewer: Was it difficult to get the financing [for the Chicago deal]?

Magee: No. No. No. Not even a little.

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About the Author



Equal parts beer nerd and policy geek, Ryan is now the curator of the Guys Drinking Beer cellar. The skills he once used to dig through the annals of state government as a political reporter are now put to use offering unique takes on barrel-aged stouts, years-old barleywines and 10 + year verticals.

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