Guinness and the Koch Brothers: How Money Buys Influence

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.

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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

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.

Revolving Door Admissions and the Future of Healthcare

Treating symptoms without addressing the root causes seems to be an affliction of modern society. Here, take another aspirin if you still have a headache. But why do we have a headache in the first place? Not enough caffeine in my case probably, but that’s not necessarily a universal issue.

One area where this avoidance of the real issue really stands out is healthcare for the homeless. Or indeed in America, healthcare for any uninsured. It’s been referred to as “revolving door admissions.” Patients coming into the hospital, often the ER if they’re unable to afford primary care, having their symptoms treated, and then being discharged, only to return to the same dire situation they were in before. With nothing resolved, eventually they end up right back in the hospital.

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What is needed is a support network to actually address their problems. If poor health is a result of homelessness and malnutrition, then those are the issues that should be addressed. There should be a way to transfer the bill footed by the public for emergency room visits by the uninsured, and instead transfer it to preventative care, keeping people out of the hospital in the first place.

In the United Kingdom, the government is giving £10 million, about $15 million, to charities that work with the homeless after their discharge from the hospital. The idea being to address their health and housing needs outside of the hospital, and so break them from the cycle of endless re-admission for the same maladies. In a way it’s empowerment: giving a person the means to take care of themselves, rather than simply patching them up and shuffling them along.

It will be interesting to see how much can be accomplished with the funding. But it is at least a positive to see the foresight, and to see organizations focused on solving the root causes of homelessness, rather than just temporarily alleviating the strain.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.