Grocers give big to Smith County pro-alcohol campaigns
Major grocers, the expected big winners if alcohol comes to Tyler and Smith County Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 area, wrote big donation checks to support legalization efforts, according to campaign finance reports.
Campaign finance reports show the political action committee Buy Local First, which successfully circulated petitions to put beer and wine sales to a Nov. 6 vote in both jurisdictions, received $182,260 since it formed in April.
Brookshires' donated $100,000. Wal-Mart donated $80,000.
Buy Local First is supporting two separate local-option alcohol measures in the jurisdictions. One proposal would legalize the sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption, meaning a person could purchase beer to take home. The other would expand mixed beverage sales in restaurants within those jurisdictions.
Legalization would apply within the city and Precinct 2 limits.
Precinct 2 includes southern Tyler and unincorporated areas south and west of the city, Flint, Noonday and Bullard. According to state law, those cities would be "wet" but could opt out by holding another local-option election to make reverse the measure within the city limits.
Sam Anderson, Brookshire Grocery Co. community relations director, said via email, the company believes voters should decide the fate of alcohol sales.
"We do support the elections being called so that the issue can be decided by the individual communities in November," the email states.
Brookshires' opened its first store in downtown Tyler in 1928. It now has more than 150 stores in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. The company also operates Super 1 Food stores and FRESH by Brookshires' on Old Jacksonville Highway.
Anderson said nine stores would be affected by the two elections. He said the company has experienced 5 to 7 percent sales increases when beer and wine sales are permitted.
Stand Strong for Tyler, the political action committee opposing the sale of alcohol, reported $400 in contributions since it formed June 1.
Both groups filed their reports late. The reports were due July 15. Stand Strong filed its July 23. Buy Local First filed its Tuesday.
Stand Strong for Tyler consultant Billy Horton said it's no surprise who is financially backing the pro-alcohol message. He said the pro-group was attempting to hide its supporters by failing to file the report on time.
Bob Westbrook, a local restaurateur and chairman of Buy Local First, said failing to file the report was an oversight.
"If that's all I am guilty of during this whole process, I will be OK I think," he said. "It is embarrassing though."
Westbrook said Brookshires and Wal-Mart understand the multiplier effect alcohol sales have on general sales. He said alcohol adds $3 for every $1 spent on a six pack of beer or bottle of wine, according to economic analysis.
Tyler Chamber of Commerce President Tom Mullins said the economic gains and losses regarding alcohol legalization are stark. Mullins said grocers indicated they were losing more than $1 million a week on beer sales alone based on store performance in other markets where beer and wine is sold.
Mullins said he expects voters will consider the local economic impact on businesses, increased revenues for taxing entities and improved quality of life the choice to buy alcohol will bring.
Westbrook said alcohol also is becoming more socially acceptable.
"Culture is evolving with regard to wine and beer," he said. "It enhances meals and improves the quality of life of communities. It's not just a recreational beverage."
All the money received by Buy Local First went to Austin-based Texas Petition Strategies, a campaign consulting firm specializing in local option elections. Texas Petition Strategies ran a successful campaign in Winona and an unsuccessful campaign in Justice of the Peace Precinct 4 in 2009.
Westbrook said Texas Petition Strategies handled the petition drive and successful placement on Tyler and Precinct 2 ballots. He expects convenience stores, developers, business owners and residents to donate.
Buy Local First will use all mediums to get its message out and circumvent opposition campaigns, Westbrook said. He said the group does not have expectations for its fundraising effort.
"We are earnestly seeking contributions from $5 to $5,000, however passionate they are to contribute," he said. "We'll make sure we have enough presence to get our side out to the public."
Horton said the opposition is having a difficult time raising money. Pastor Mike Daniels of Landmark Baptist Church in Tyler, a Stand Strong member, could not be reached by press time but said he would accept money from outside alcohol interests to defeat the option here.
Mullins said Brookshires may experience some backlash for supporting the introduction of alcohol to Tyler but could expect as much support because of its stance.
"I am sure there will be some negative comments, but I am sure there will be some who say 'why did it take so long?,'" he said. "I guess it depends on which side of the issue you are on."
Other donors to Buy Local First include:
Hannah Simmons, of Austin;
John Scroggins, of Nursery;
WR Ventures, DBA CiCi Pizza; Kitchens Unique;
Donors to Stand Strong for Tyler include:
Scott Smith, John Waters;