Posted on September 5, 2006

Miller Denies Financing March

Rick Romell, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 1, 2006

Miller Brewing Co. on Friday denied providing financial help for a planned march in Chicago supporting illegal immigrants, but a newspaper report of the firm’s involvement in a controversial political issue could create marketing headaches for the Milwaukee brewer.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Miller had paid more than $30,000 for “a planning convention, materials and newspaper ads” connected to this weekend’s “Immigrant Workers Justice Walk.”

Not so, Miller spokesman Peter J. Marino said.

“The money supported a recent convention on immigration issues in Chicago, which provided attendees with information on how to become legally naturalized citizens of the U.S.,” he said.

Miller isn’t sponsoring the march and didn’t authorize use of its trademarks in association with the event, Marino said. The Tribune reported that advertisements for the march bear Miller’s logo.

The 40-mile walk is to go from Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood to the Batavia, Ill. office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

“We are asking him to pay attention to the contributions of undocumented immigrants, and to pass immigration reform that allows for legalization for all; family reunification and civil liberties protection,” says the Web site of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, one of the groups organizing the march.

Marino said Miller supports reform of immigration law, but not illegal immigration.

Corporations typically seek to avoid political controversies, but Miller may be forced to dance along a fine line on Latino immigration.

With their numbers in the U.S. growing rapidly and a relatively young population, Latinos are a prime target for brewers. In October 2004, Miller said it planned to spend $100 million over three years on marketing via Spanish-language media, a major increase for the company.

Latinos are “extremely” important to Miller, said Benj Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer’s Insights.

And Miller recently had to deal with a boycott threat from an umbrella group of Midwestern Latino community organizations upset that Miller’s political action committee had made $2,000 in campaign contributions to U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), sponsor of an immigration bill the group viewed as too harsh.

The boycott was quickly canceled after the two sides met in Chicago, and Miller agreed to run newspaper ads against the bill and help the group fight it.

Steinman said getting involved in the immigration question was chancy, and pointed to criticism of Miller already appearing Friday on Internet blogs.

“It’s just such a controversial issue that when a corporation takes a side, you risk alienating the other side,” Steinman said.