Corporate Contributions (of Beer, Cash, or Anything else) Have No Place in Pa. Inauguration

Dick Yuengling is being snubbed. That's the accusation State Rep. Mike Vereb is making ahead of Gov.-elect Tom Wolf's inauguration, whose planners have received over $1 million in contributions but allegedly turned down the offer of "free beer" from Yuengling's Pottsville-based brewery.

Vereb says the Yuengling ban is politically motivated retaliation for the CEO's support for anti-union "right-to-work" legislation.

So what does Vereb think Yuengling is missing out on?

Or, more broadly: What do corporate sponsors of inaugurations -- or of electioneering, for that matter -- expect in return?

It seems fitting that the governor's corporate-sponsored inauguration coincides almost exactly with the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's disastrous Citizens United ruling (on Jan. 21), which allows corporations, organizations or individuals to spend unlimited sums to influence elections.

Comcast gave $50,000 for the inauguration. Verizon gave $20,000. Not to be outdone by its competitor, AT&T gave $25,000. Health insurance companies together gave $125,000. Drug manufacturer AstraZeneca, $25,000.

And a slew of breweries and wineries pledged to donate products more comparable to the beer that Yuengling would apparently be only too happy to provide.

Even assuming inauguration planners are acting in good faith, with no conscious intent to favor donors, it's hard not to see those who have written $50,000 checks - or provided "free beer" - having their calls returned sooner, or their policy proposals looked at in a light more favorable than those who gave nothing.

Polls show that most Pennsylvanians think the state is off on the wrong track. Could a significant portion of this dissatisfaction come from our lawmakers' responsiveness to the interests of Big Business and other well-heeled groups that connive to rig the system against the vast majority, who are simply struggling to get by?

True, there are signs that Wolf's administration will be an improvement on the previous one, whose allegiance to deep-pocketed polluters was all-too-clear. That sets a low standard -- one which Pennsylvanians who expect more from their leaders must work hard to raise.

Vereb, meanwhile, says he thinks the refusal of free beer is "un-American."

What's truly un-American is staying silent while corporations attempt to use their money - or beer - to drown out the priorities of struggling middle- and working-class Pennsylvanians.

Rick Claypool is the online director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division. Follow him on Twitter @RickClaypool.