Anheuser-Busch, headquartered down at Arsenal and I-55, appreciates Lyda Krewson in ways seen and unseen.
On her campaign-finance report filed in January, the 28th Ward alderwoman noted her receipt of the $275 maximum allowable donation to an alderman from numerous local tentacles of the world's largest brewer. Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc., A-B Inc., A-B Recycling Corp., Busch Entertainment Corp. and Busch Media Group each kicked what they legally could for a total of $1,375.
The only thing the brewery didn't do was have the Bud Girls hold a benefit car wash for the Central West End alderwoman. Given all the legislative lifting Krewson has done for A-B, she might be forgiven for wondering why the Girls haven't shown up with sponges and squeegees, ready to lather up for the woman who filed Tuesday to run in the August election for president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.
What isn't visible on any of Krewson's campaign-finance reports is a $2,400 check written for her on July 31 to "help with travel on official city business." Duly noted in the disclosure report of the 28th Ward Democratic Campaign Committee and submitted to the Missouri Ethics Commission on Oct. 7, this check to Krewson was not reported in any of her campaign filings. Krewson says the 28th Ward group gave her the $2,400 to pay for what she says was a five-day trip to England and Ireland made "at the request of the mayor" to promote Missouri tourism and do "ward and city business."
That's her story, and she's sticking to it. But there's more.
In the previous report by the 28th Ward Committee, filed July 7 with MEC, another entry notes that a $2,500 donation was made to the 28th Ward committee. The donation came from Anheuser-Busch. The gift was a significant boost to the cash on hand for the 28th Ward committee, pushing its total to $7,004.77. The ward's next quarterly report showed the $2,400 check to Krewson and a drop in funds to $4,631.34.
You don't have to be an Oliver Stone junkie to conjecture that Anheuser-Busch paid for Krewson's junket to England and Ireland. Krewson admits she knew of the donation but believes A-B had not "directed" the money to her.
"They had donated money to the ward organization in the past as well, so I wasn't specifically aware of when they had donated," says Krewson. "But I was aware of it. To my knowledge, it certainly wasn't directed by them."
Why, of course not. And let's face it -- the $2,500 gratuity to Krewson looks like chump change for the King of Beers, probably far less than the cost of the cases of Bud Light that fall off delivery trucks in the course of a day. If this was a payoff, it was a bargain, considering what Krewson has done for A-B.
In December 2000, Krewson sponsored the lame-brained legislation that exempted stock options from the city's 1 percent earnings tax [Safir Ahmed, "Fuzzy Math," March 21, 2001], so it should be no surprise that the brewery is beholden to her. Ralston Purina sued the city in 1999 to exempt stock options from the tax, but the city won the case. So the corporate execs tried to get legislatively what they couldn't get judicially. Krewson was their point woman.
Court documents from that lawsuit show that in 1998, August Busch III earned $10.8 million in stock options. That would translate into $108,000 in earnings tax to the city. When Nestlé bought Ralston a month after the bill passed, six Ralston executives were expected to cash in stock options worth as much as $118 million. Before the passage of Krewson's bill, that would have meant about $1.7 million in earnings tax to the city.
But Krewson doesn't think her schlepping for corporate barons had anything to do with the money that was funneled through the 28th Ward for her trip.
"I don't think it was connected at all to the sponsorship of the earnings-tax bill," she says. "Now, they may support me for a whole host of things, and that may be one of them."
Well, not everyone agrees that innocent coincidence explains A-B's check to the 28th Ward on June 8 and the 28th Ward's check to Krewson on July 31. Word has it MEC sent an investigator to talk to Krewson last week, but when asked whether she's been questioned, she is coy.
"As far as I know, complaints at the ethics commission are not public information," says Krewson. "I don't know if that's accurate or not. I've asked them a couple of times if there had been complaints filed on other folks, and they've told me they can't say one way or the other."
Short Cuts will take that as a roundabout way of saying yes.
Laura Friedman, executive director of Missouri Alliance for Campaign Reform, says that if Krewson's trip was government business, government should have paid for it.
"It appears that the trip was a gift from supporters, which in reality is a campaign contribution, subject to state campaign-contribution limits and state reporting requirements," says Friedman. "It is disappointing when incumbents and challengers, as well as their supporters, use loopholes and laundering schemes to avoid voter-imposed limits on campaign contributions, which were enacted precisely to avoid such appearances of conflict of interest."
Anheuser-Busch may be investing in Krewson's future as much as paying her back for her past. Krewson is running for president of the Board of Aldermen against 16th Ward Ald. Jim Shrewsbury, who has been serving as interim board president since Francis Slay resigned to run for mayor. As a candidate for aldermanic president, Krewson can accept donations of up to $1,175, a sharp increase from the previous limit of $275 for mere aldermen. In the last campaign report, Shrewsbury's $103,197.74 gave him an edge over Krewson's $79,649.64.
For the record, the earnings-tax exemption for stock options passed on a 23-4 vote, with Shrewsbury one of the four opponents. At the time, Krewson's argument for the bill was that it would attract dot-com companies, which rely on stock options to reward workers, to the city. But the main problem with messing with the earnings tax is that it generates about one-third of city revenue, and, in the face of serious budget problems, any decrease in tax revenues is painful.
Krewson, who is often mentioned as a future candidate for Congress or mayor, tries to deflect speculation about her political future.
"Right now, I'm concentrating on being the 28th Ward alderman and getting elected president of the Board of Aldermen -- and I think Francis Slay is doing a great job," she says.
But when pressed, Krewson doesn't rule out a run at City Hall: "Sure, I think it would be great to be mayor."
Too bad the job doesn't come with stock options.