The American Beverage Institute (ABI) is a corporate-backed organization representing the alcohol and restaurant industries’ efforts to combat laws from interfering with their alcohol-related profits. The group is part of Richard Berman’s ill-reputed family of trade associations that protect corporate interests under the veneer of having consumers’ welfare in mind. Berman, who has been dubbed “Dr. Evil” because of the unscrupulous tactics he has employed against his foes, started ABI in 1991 and serves as its president, director and chief counsel. In 2011, Berman told CBS’ 60 Minutes, “If a bartender can cut you off for visibly being intoxicated, why won’t we get to the point where a restaurant operator is not allowed to let you order dessert? I mean, you could get there.” This slippery slope fear-tactic is used to carry out ABI’s mission to protect and promote “the responsible on-premise consumption of adult beverages.”

The group boasts on its website that it represents “America’s favorite restaurant chains as well as hundreds of individual restaurants and on-premise retailers.” While it does not openly discuss its corporate sponsors, 2013 promotional materials obtained by The Huffington Post show that some of those restaurants include: Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Hooters, Olive Garden, Ruby Tuesday, Chili’s, and Applebee’s. The flyer also shows that ABI’s members consist of adult beverage companies—an industry not mentioned on its website. Some of those companies include: Samuel Adams, Heineken USA, Bacardi U.S.A.and the Patron Spirits Company.

ABI has a history of coordinating big tobacco company Phillip Morris and Berman and was listed as a “hospitality ally” in the company’s presentation materials from early 2000. It appears the relationship between the groups was formed around 1994, according to a 1995 internal memo between Phillip Morris employees: “We [Phillip Morris] have been acquainted with Berman for nearly a year now. Our colleagues at Miller made the initial introduction – and he was highly recommended by them.” ABI even sponsored a 1998 study by KPMG to test the impact of California’s smoking ban on restaurants according to documents listed under the Phillip Morris collection in the University of California’s tobacco documents library.

In 1995, Berman wrote a letter to a Phillip Morris executive in which he used ABI as an example for a program he was crafting to combat bad PR for the tobacco industry to show the association would work best if, like ABI, its dubious sponsors were hidden. Berman wrote, “[I]f perceived as driven by restaurant interests, there will be more flexibility and creativity allowed than if it is ‘owned’ by Phillip Morris. The American Beverage Institute, which opposes overly aggressive DWI laws, enjoys this profile.”

ABI works on behalf of its corporate members to stop laws that would decrease the amount of alcohol consumers would be able to drink and legally be able to drive. In addition to thwarting laws lowering legal blood-alcohol limits for drivers, ABI fights against sobriety check points, alcohol tax increases, and interlocks, which prevent a car from starting if its driver has a blood-alcohol level higher than a certain limit. A 2013 promotional flyer from the group advertises that the group tracks and fights legislation that is unfavorable for the liquor, restaurant and hospitality industry. According to Slate, “Like the National Rifle Association, [ABI] opposes any restriction, no matter how reasonable.” In 2013, ABI unsuccessfully tried to get Mississippi Gov. Phil Brayant to veto a bill aimed at cracking down on first time DUI-offenders and mandate that a fourth offense DUI automatically be a felony.

The group is continually at odds with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a group that advocates for stricter laws for underage drinking as well as drinking under the influence. ABI Managing Director Sarah Longwell has described MADD as having a “neo-prohibitionist philosophy. Ironically, MADD’s founder and former leader, Candy Lightner, joined ABI in 1994 as a lobbyist after being removed by MADD’s board in 1985. Lightner was criticized during her tenure at MADD by the Council of Better Business Bureaus and the National Charities Information Bureau “for spending too little on its programs and too much on fund-raising efforts.”  In addition to MADD, ABI also fights against the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and other organizations that it considers as having “very radical agendas..”

In 2012, the most recent year for which financial information is available, the group did not receive any contributions, but it did generate about $1.5 million in program service revenue. ABI spent a little over $1.6 million on its operations, including $1.4 million for management fees paid to Berman’s for-profit company, Berman and Company. According to The New York Times, “Rick Berman & Company not only lobbies for the American Beverage Institute, but also leases it space.” The arrangement is not unique to ABI, millions of contributions given to Berman’s network of non-profits flow to Berman’s for-profit business.

Read more about ABI’s Founder Richard Berman and his other non-profit front groups by clicking on the links below:

Richard Berman
Center for Organization Research and Education
Center for Union Facts
Employment Policies Institute Foundation

View Financial Record
#
Year
Assets
Revenue
Grants In
Grants Out
Total Expenses
Link
12013$389,031$1,717,649$0$0$1,680,632View 990
22012$352,014$1,545,823$0$0$1,635,175View 990
32011$441,695$1,756,201$25,500$0$1,716,784View 990
42010$401,949$1,746,133$30,080$0$1,622,228View 990
52009$278,044$1,365,461$50,153$0$1,511,842View 990
62008$424,425$1,678,484$46,573$0$1,664,286View 990
72007$410,227$1,697,009$9,192$0$1,628,790View 990
82006$342,008$1,555,514$12,973$0$1,590,102View 990
92005$376,596$1,445,308$18,984$0$1,470,442View 990
102004$401,730$1,600,872$31,547$0$1,566,372View 990

9 transactions on record as a donor.

Ordered By: Year (Newer to Older)

#
Donor
Recipient
Amount
Year
Link
1American Beverage InstituteBerman and Company$1,413,8102012+
2American Beverage InstituteBerman and Company$1,353,3642011+
3American Beverage InstituteBerman and Company$1,395,5192010+
4American Beverage InstituteBerman and Company$1,296,1852009+
5American Beverage InstituteBerman and Company$1,292,8502008+
6American Beverage InstituteBerman and Company$1,294,3602007+
7American Beverage InstituteBerman and Company$1,207,9692006+
8American Beverage InstituteBerman and Company$1,149,8522005+
9American Beverage InstituteBerman and Company$1,044,9232004+
Contributions from private foundations and other nonprofit entities are based on a review of publicly available Forms 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service. For more information about our methodology, visit our about page.