Costco really wants to sell you a bottle of whiskey … or vodka … or, well, your call, but the nation’s largest membership warehouse chain has its sights set on selling liquor to consumers in the state of Washington, and it's willing to put its money where its mouth is.
Last year, Costco spent $4.8 million on a failed initiative to privatize liquor sales and let retailers like, oh, Costco sell the stuff, according to the Seattle Times. The company doesn’t want to lose again so, this year, it has laid down more than $22 million on lobbying, the most money spent by a single donor on a voter initiative in state history, to try and get the initiative pushed through on Election Day in November, the Times reports.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, "Washington and some other states are weighing whether they can generate money by privatizing alcohol sales or tweaking rules, replacing sales receipts with tax revenue while shedding the cost of running a business. Initiative 1183, as the ballot measure in Washington is known, would replace hundreds of state-run liquor stores with private retail outlets and allow retailers to buy liquor directly from distillers and negotiate volume discounts."
"Consumers will be able to make their choices, rather than politicians,'' said Kathryn Stenger, spokeswoman for the Yes on 1183 Coalition, to the Journal. However, the Journal adds, "Liquor, wine and beer distributors have raised the bulk of $11.9 million for a "no'' campaign, fearing the changes could spill into other states and erode their powerful position as middlemen in alcohol sales across the U.S."
Other organizations throwing in cash with Costco include Safeway and Trader Joe’s, who each put in $50,000. On the flip side are a number of organizations that are also looking out for their members' interests: The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America have put in $9.4 million, the Washington Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association have put in $500,000, and so on.
Don’t worry, Costco shareholders. Nell Minow, a board member at Governance Metrics International, a corporate-governance research firm, doesn’t think your money is being wasted. "I'm assuming the return on investment is going to be considerable if they're successful," she said, the Times reports.
"If there were really truth in advertising, Costco would say, 'If we change the law, we'll make this much money,' and the distributors would say, 'If we keep the status quo, we'll keep making this much money,' " said Bill Allison, editorial director for the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that works for transparency in government, to the Times. "While [public-policy questions] are probably referenced in some of the advertising, the main players are looking at their bottom lines."
As it is now, Costco execs may be clinking their glasses at the end of Election Day.