Wholesalers talk about alcohol abuse, but profits are at stake

  • David Hollander's title is picker and shipper---he rolls cart holding laptop computer and the customer's wine order through the warehouse and places bottles into foam packing cases for shipment from the Portland, Oregon on-line company.

"Follow the money."

This short phrase, made famous by the film "All the President's Men," may never have been spoken by Mark Felt, the shadowy G-man dubbed Deep Throat, but when the subject is politics, it's wise counsel indeed.

Savvy voters ask themselves why PG&E is spending so much to prevent expansion of publicly owned utilities, and would Mercury Insurance bankroll an initiative if it didn't expect to recoup its investment.

You also might ask whether beer and wine wholesalers are truly concerned about "an alcohol epidemic" unless Congress cracks down on consumers?

Sure they are.

So what's really behind HR 5034, a bill that could make it nearly impossible to order wine by phone or over the Internet and have it delivered to your door?

Money, plain and simple.

The commerce clause of the Constitution bars states from erecting trade barriers. Texas can't ban sales of California produce, California can't close its borders to Texas beef, and so forth. There's one exception: alcoholic beverages.

The 21st Amendment, which ended prohibition, gave regulatory power to the states. We ended up with laws prohibiting brewers, vintners and distillers from dealing directly with consumers or retailers. A profitable wholesale industry was born, and its free spending on political campaigns has made it a force in state capitals and Congress.

The wholesalers have battled to outlaw direct shipments from wineries to consumers, but their legislative gains were largely reversed by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2005. HR 5034, which is supported by the wholesalers, would effectively overturn that decision and sharply limit future oversight by the courts.

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