Wholesale Special Interest Manipulation

Sometimes politicians say things so dumb that no one could have made them up. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff told the Salt Lake City Tribune yesterday that the National Beer Wholesalers Association drafted testimony he offered before the House Judiciary Committee earlier in the day on H.R. 5034. H.R. 5034 is an alcohol regulatory bill pushed by wholesalers who want to advance anti-competitive state laws — laws that mandate all alcohol be sold through wholesalers rather than direct to retailers or consumers from wineries, breweries, or distilleries. Reported in the Tribute today, Shurtleff explained:

“He gave me some information,” Shurtleff said in a telephone interview as he was boarding a plane Wednesday evening. “I was communicating with him, and he drafted it for me because I was coming straight here [to Washington, D.C.]”

This is just more evidence of exactly what this debate is all about: It’s about wholesalers manipulating legislators to get special-interest legislation. Nothing more. And they are willing to use unsuspecting politicians — in this case a Mormon whose personal beliefs are anti-alcohol. But taking away consumer freedoms and undermining voluntary contracts to serve personal values isn’t an answer. And letting Washington lobbyists lead you into such folly is even worse.

When Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R), a co-sponsor of H.R. 5034, heard about Shurtleff’s comments he responded by saying:  “I feel like I have to share this with the ranking member and the chairman and I feel that I have to take some action.”

Well then, if that is the case, Chaffetz should also call an investigation into who is writing the bills he cosponsors. According to pretty much all news reports, it was the National Beer Wholesalers of America that drafted H.R. 5034, pressed for congressional hearings, and is spending millions (also with the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America) in PAC contributions to bill sponsors. And now we know that they are also writing testimony.

When the Tribune asked Chaffetz about the recent $10,000 campaign contribution that he received from the wholesalers for this election cycle, he said he didn’t even know about it. I’ll give him that. After all, there seems to be plenty things related to this bill that he — and other lawmakers — don’t know. But maybe he should at least know who he’s taking money from. After all, he seems to have moral problems with the industry wholesalers represent.

Chaffetz says that Utah needs this bill because advocates of a free-market “want to loosen liquor laws so they can sell Jack Daniels next to snow sleds at Costco.” Likewise, Shurtleff’s written testimony (which he did at least read himself!) notes: “The people of Salt Lake City feel differently about alcohol than the people in Detroit … That’s the beauty of the American system.”

Really? Taking away personal freedoms and undermining commerce between the states is “the beauty of the American system?” Is working for special interests part of that too?

I thought toleration, personal freedom, private property, and free trade were the values that make America great. Surely, there is someone in Utah that might enjoy a sip of vino sometimes or the convenience of picking up Jack Daniels at Costco. Why should their rights be less important?

Image credit: Jere Keys on Flickr.