From a purely practical point of view, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry's decision to allow the Adolph Coors Co. to pay for a reception the mayor hosted last week makes good sense economically. As a source of investment in the city, the Coors connection -- if managed properly -- offers considerable potential.
In the wake of a barrage of criticism -- most notably from organized labor -- the mayor has sought to buy time by instructing aides to prepare a position paper for him on the Coors controversy.
The mayor doesn't need a position paper on the Coors controversy. What he needs is a position paper outlining the city's plan to use the relationship with Coors as an economic development tool and as a base for expanding business opportunities for minorities in the District.
The controversy itself is ancient history. The mayor knows it as well as anyone. By now, it's a well-known fact that Coors, the country's fifth-largest beer producer, has had a long history of disputes with labor unions and minority groups who have accused the company of unfair employment practices. As part of a continuing war of words with Colorado-based Coors, the AFL-CIO hopes to strengthen a nationwide boycott that it launched against the company seven years ago.
At the same time, Coors has come under heavy fire from critics who disagree with the ultra-conservative philosophy of its principal owners, William K. and Joseph Coors. The Coors brothers make no bones about their unwavering vocal and financial support for right-wing causes and politicians.
But that didn't stop major civil rights organizations from reaching an agreement last month with Coors on a significant pact that could expand opportunities for black professionals and businesses. All of which proves that political incompatibility sometimes becomes secondary to the profit motive and economic gains.
Coors has embarked on a major marketing and advertising campaign in an attempt to improve market share as it expands into eastern states. Plain and simple, Coors wants to sell more beer. And Barry's reception -- a major event at the annual Congressional Black Caucus legislative conference -- provided valuable exposure for Coors' product to an influential and affluent segment of the market. Score one for Coors.
So far, all Barry has to show for his effort -- besides making an impression on his reception guests -- is a loud chorus of criticism for accepting Coors' offer to pick up the tab for the reception. The mayor is no political neophyte. Nor has he shown himself to be so naive as to think that Joseph and William Coors embrace his political views.
Coors is in business to sell beer. Period. And the mayor's reception fit perfectly in the company's marketing strategy. Beer drinkers will ultimately determine the success of the overall strategy. Meanwhile, Barry and his aides have an opportunity to provide a true test of Coors' corporate citizenship.
Under the agreement with the NAACP and five other civil rights groups, Coors has promised to increase promotional opportunities for blacks and to involve them in the formation of policy. The company has agreed further to increase black ownership of Coors distributorships and to "provide capital assistance needed to assure success in distributor ownership." The agreement also calls for Coors to begin "aggressive" use of black suppliers and vendors, to invest in black-owned banks, to purchase insurance from black-owned carriers, to use services of lawyers and other black professionals, to expand its use of black-owned advertising, marketing and public relations agencies, and to make major expenditures for advertising in black-owned media.
The value of the agreement has been placed at $325 million over a five-year period.
Similar agreements have been signed by other major corporations over the last year or so, although many -- including Coors -- insist that they were already doing many of the things agreed to in the pacts with civil rights groups.
Anheuser-Busch Inc., the nation's biggest beer brewer, has invested millions of dollars in certificates of deposit in minority-owned financial institutions -- including those in the District -- for more than 15 years. A major contributor to the United Negro College Fund, Anheuser-Busch also has established lines of credit with minority-owned financial institutions and encourages its independent wholesalers to make deposits in them.
Commenting on the importance of those deposits a couple of years ago, Samuel Foggie, president of Washington's United National Bank, declared: "Those funds mean a lot to us. We can increase our income with those funds and make investments that will generate new dollars for the community."
In the final analysis, that is the issue that should be addressed in the mayor's position paper. Surely, Coors could do no less than treat it as a business transaction -- a quid pro quo, if you will.