It’s hard to think of St. Patrick’s Day without thinking about Guinness—which made things awkward for organizers of New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade this year.
Guinness decided not to join the parade because it barred gay and lesbian groups from participating. Days before, Heineken and Sam Adams brewer Boston Beer Co withdrew their sponsorships of parades in New York and Boston for similar reasons.
It’s a powerful statement coming from businesses whose products are typically associated with the holiday—especially when their financial backing allows the parades to happen in the first place. These events reinforce how having monetary power can garner attention and call others to action.
But those with wealth and high visibility have different ideas about what deserves attention. Guinness used its brand and money to reinforce its political stance at a parade; while the move is admirable, it only influences public opinion in the short run. People with more financial power, however, have a much farther reach—and how they spend their money can affect everyone.
Take David and Charles Koch, owners of the conglomerate Koch Industries: they believe in low taxes, minimal industry regulation, and reduced social services. While they have donated toward causes such as cancer research and the arts, their political involvement has leaders and citizens concerned.
Figures such as Senator Harry Reid have rallied against the brothers for investing so much money in political causes they support. He has some substantial examples to work with:
- Koch Industries is widely regarded as one of the largest air polluters in the country, yet the brothers convinced Congress members to sign a pledge saying they wouldn’t back climate change legislation.
- Americans for Prosperity, a political action committee that heavily relies on the brothers for funding, rolled out a series of ads against the Affordable Care Act—which didn’t really stick to factual information.
- They invested $490 million in the 2012 election cycle, including fundraising for the Republican candidacy.
Regardless of whether anyone sides with the Koch brothers’ or Guinness’s political philosophies, you can’t help but wonder if wealthy people and businesses should feel responsible for supporting a greater good. It’s one matter to influence public opinion by withholding money or not participating (as Guinness did)—but if you provide financial backing to political figures and legislature behind the scenes, how do we know who works for our best interests?
Sure, it’s a stretch to compare a brewery to two wealthy brothers. But both have money, so both have power—it’s just a matter of quantity.
Should Guinness or the Koch brothers practice business differently? Leave us a comment!
Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.