Alcohol middle-men pay lawmakers to protect industry

An article today in the Washington Post highlights the massive amount of money the beer wholesalers have been throwing at Washington these days. The reason, apparently, is to garner support for a measure that would allow states to restrict direct sales of alcohol from out of state producers.

Why would alcohol distributors want states to discriminate against out-of-state producers? The answer is simply: they want vineyards, distillers, and brewers to have to depend on the middle man wholesalers (aka distributors).

The Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness (CARE) Act springs from a long-running legal battle over the powers of states to control alcohol sales within their borders. After Prohibition, most states established a three-tiered system of producers, wholesalers and retailers.

While the article correctly highlights some of the methods bills are pushed through the legislative process by interested parties, it seems to demonize the wholesalers. While their tactics are less than honest competition on the open market, the true -market competition, the real villain in this story is any lawmaker who is selling his or her vote to the highest bidder.

On April 15, a bill backed by the National Beer Wholesalers Association was introduced in the House aimed at limiting direct sales of beer, wine and other alcohol, which the trade group views as a mortal threat to its industry.

Over the next two weeks, the group contributed more than $45,000 to the campaign accounts of Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the committee considering the bill and the guest of honor at a fundraiser during the association’s annual Washington meeting this spring. The group hired as an outside consultant Conyers’ former chief of staff, who met with members of the chairman’s staff.

In addition, the group has donated nearly $300,000 this year to more than 100 House members who agreed to co-sponsor the legislation, often within days of securing the lawmakers’ formal support, according to Federal Election Commission records. More than a dozen lawmakers received donations within a week of endorsing the bill, records show.

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), for example, received a $2,500 contribution three days before the bill was introduced with his name on it. Another co-sponsor, Rep. Pete Olson (R-Tex.), received $8,000 in donations from the group this year, including $2,500 two days after pledging his support.