Staff Columnist

Busch Light boycott? How Iowa's favorite beer upholds the two-party system

Most Americans think third-party candidates belong in the debates, but a secretive commission backed by Anheuser-Busch won't allow it

Beer cans are tied to a truck as it drives by following a  wedding in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, April 25, 2020. (Rebecca
Beer cans are tied to a truck as it drives by following a wedding in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, April 25, 2020. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Sorry, Iowans, our cherished Busch Light is canceled.

The beer in which our state’s social fabric is drenched is the target of a 2020 political battle. Supporters of the Green Party and Libertarian Party presidential candidates are calling for a boycott of Busch’s parent company over its surprisingly strong ties to the two-party system.

Anheuser-Busch is the longest-running sponsor of the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has long been accused of blocking third-party participation in the democratic process. In addition to Busch Light, a favorite among Iowans and only Iowans, the company sells Budweiser, Stella Artois, the ‘Rita line of fruity drinks, and a long list of other alcoholic beverage brands.

A largely secretive tax-exempt organization, created and run by former chairmen of the two major parties, funded by a small group of unidentified major donors, and designed, it seems, to exclude nearly all third-party candidates.

- Josh Israel, Center for Public Integrity, on the Commission on Presidential Debates

The “Bud Boycott” movement and FreeTheDebates.com are swearing off Anheuser-Busch products until the company pulls support for the debates, or the debates are open to all viable candidates. Organizers demand that Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen and Green candidate Howie Hawkins be allowed to debate alongside Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

The last time more than two candidates were invited to the debates was 1992. Coincidentally, or maybe not, that was also the last time Anheueser-Busch was not a sponsor. While the commission does not disclose detailed financial information, Anheuser-Busch has been reported as the largest corporate contributor to the televised spectacles that are meant to chart a policy path for our American democracy.

Anheuser-Busch representatives did not respond to my email seeking comment for this column.

In 2000, the commission adopted controversial rules requiring candidates to earn 15 percent across multiple national polls in order to be invited to the debates. Since then, at least two third-party presidential candidates have been arrested for trying to attend debates.

The 15 percent threshold is a scam, though, because few of the qualifying polls this year have included alternative candidates, making it impossible for them to meet the criteria.

“Bud Boycott” wants to nix the 15 percent rule and grant debate access to all candidates who are on the ballot in enough states to win the constitutionally required 270 electoral votes. About three-quarters of Americans think third-party candidates should be allowed in the national debates, according to a USA Today poll in 2016.

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Presidential debate sponsors supposedly do not have any input about the format of the debates or candidate inclusion criteria. Nevertheless, sponsorship — which comes with free food and beer for event attendees — gives Anheuser-Busch exclusive access to “a narrow band of political and media elite,” the company’s hometown St. Louis Dispatch reported in 2012.

The Commission on Presidential Debates is “a largely secretive tax-exempt organization, created and run by former chairmen of the two major parties, funded by a small group of unidentified major donors, and designed, it seems, to exclude nearly all third-party candidates,” per a 2008 analysis by the left-leaning Center for Public Integrity.

This election, we’re told, is the most important of our lives, featuring life-or-death policy issues that could guide the country for a generation. Yet we’re doing the same old debates we’ve done for the last 24 years. Some historic moment.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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