A special prosecutor is investigating whether the big Indiana beer wholesaler Monarch Beverage and an affiliated company broke state law by making more than $1.47 million in campaign donations since 2002.
Marc Carmichael, president of the Indiana Beverage Alliance, which represents smaller beer wholesalers that compete against Monarch, said he received a letter in December from former Indiana Inspector General David Thomas saying he was appointed special prosecutor. Thomas said in the letter that the Indiana State Police is conducting the inquiry.
Carmichael filed a complaint with the Indiana Election Commission in August 2014 about the donations, which were made through a Monarch affiliate called Vision Concepts LLC that sells promotional products.
Indiana imposes strict limits on donations by corporations like Monarch—whose giving can total no more than $22,000—and the state also bars contributors from hiding the source of campaign cash.
However, election laws don’t address limited liability companies like Vision—a business structure that did not exist when they were written. Seizing on an apparent loophole, many Indiana companies have affiliated LLCs that donate far more than the corporate limits.
The Monarch-Vision Concepts inquiry could have sweeping implications for the political world, since it puts the propriety of that practice to the test. In his election division complaint, Carmichael questioned whether Vision's giving violated both the law on corporate limits and the law on hidden donations.
“I just want to know what the rules of the game are, so we all play by the same rules,” Carmichael said Monday.
The extensive campaign contributions from Vision Concepts coincided with Monarch’s aggressive push to get lawmakers and courts to throw out Indiana’s Prohibition-era laws barring beer wholesalers from also distributing hard liquor.
Indianapolis-based Monarch is the largest Indiana beer wholesaler, selling in 89 of the 92 counties and serving as the exclusive wholesaler for MillerCoors in 70 of them.
The Indiana Beverage Alliance and the Wine & Spirits Distributors of Indiana are fighting Monarch, saying it would parlay its already strong position in the state to gain a further competitive advantage over smaller wholesalers.
Carmichael said he took his complaint to Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry late last year after growing frustrated that the election commission was taking no apparent action on his complaint.
Curry told him he had a conflict, Carmichael said. It’s not clear whether Curry appointed the special prosecutor.