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- Bucko - 02-12-2007 09:51 PM

Feb. 9, 2007, 4:55PM
Panelist calls Texas liquor regulation 'corrupt' system
Associated Press

AUSTIN — A citizen member of the state's Sunset Advisory Commission wants the Legislature to dismantle what he calls the "corrupt system" of alcoholic beverage regulation that he says protects wholesale distributors.

Austin attorney Howard Wolf, in a scathing position paper, criticized the relationships among lawmakers, wholesale distributors and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

The paper, delivered Thursday to the Sunset Commission, comes less than two weeks after state reports showed groups representing wholesale liquor distributors donated more than $1 million to the campaigns of at least 150 state officials, including most legislators and Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

Made up of legislators and citizens, the Sunset Advisory Commission regularly reviews state agencies and programs to recommend whether they should be continued by the Legislature.

Wolf wants his comments included in the panel's final report on the Alcoholic Beverage Commission that's to be presented to the Legislature soon.

That decision will be left to commission Chairman Kim Brimer, the Republican senator from Forth Worth who has discouraged Wolf from publicly voicing his criticisms.

Wolf said the alcoholic beverage lobby did everything in its power to keep the Sunset Commission, which periodically reviews state agencies' performance, from conducting "an objective, critical review" of how the industry is regulated.

"Poised like lions on a patch of high ground in the Serengeti, occasionally swishing their tails so their presence would be noted, the lions of the lobby watched at hearings to ensure that no Republican elephant or Democratic mule would dare stray from the prescribed path," Wolf wrote of the Sunset Commission hearings in December.

Representatives of the alcoholic beverage distributors have said the campaign contributions served as a prelude to an effort to pass a law requiring restaurants and bars to buy their liquor solely from distributors.

Businesses that sell liquor by the drink have been required, since 1971, to buy from package stores. The more than 600 package stores licensed to sell to bars and restaurants buy much of their liquor from wholesale distributors.

Wolf does not assert wrongdoing on the part of anyone, but the report contends that the system of regulating alcohol in Texas thwarts the free market and protects the industry at the expense of consumers.

So powerful is the liquor lobby in the Legislature that the Texas Tax Reform Commission, led by former state Comptroller John Sharp, dismissed the suggestion that a tax increase be imposed on alcoholic beverages, the first since 1984.

The commission recommended, and lawmakers later imposed, a $1-a-pack tax increase on cigarettes that took effect Jan. 1.

Wolf, who also served on the Tax Reform Commission, wrote that Sharp "advised the members that the alcoholic beverage industry has a controlling influence with the Legislature, and inclusion of increases of taxes on the industry would probably prevent approval of any tax reform legislation."

Wolf called it evidence of a fundamental corruption.

Sharp said Thursday that it was proof only that there was no legislative support to raise alcohol taxes.

"Whether you call it a controlling interest or not, they have sent a message that they had the controlling votes to defeat that kind of tax," Sharp said.


- hotwine - 02-12-2007 10:56 PM

Well-written article.... but the situation is a lot worse than it appears. The corrupting influence is money, lots of it, and the fact that the lawmakers are virtually ALL LAWYERS. Guess who they prey on?


- winoweenie - 02-13-2007 11:10 AM

Seems the animal doesn't change stripes regardless where it roams. We've faced the same stupid, unethical, prohibitive laws here in Arizona ever since I can remember. We finally broke some ground last year by applying so much pressure the legislature took the felony shipping statue off the table and we can now get wine shipments. We had to face not only the Distributors but also MADD, GLADD and the Baptist ministry. Good luck down there Gil. It can get done! WW