Cheap Booze, Cheaper Congressmen


A bill that could wind up severly restricting interstate booze trade—thus raising prices, limiting selection, and generally making the world a dryer place, all while giving the Commerce Clause the heave-ho when it comes to trade in beer, wine, and liquor—managed to win a hearing today from the ready-to-get-outta-Dodge House Judiciary Committee. The legislation in question is the cheesily-acronymed Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness (CARE) Act, which would make it easier for state alcohol wholesalers to protect their monopolies. From the Wine Spectator's Twitter feed, this lively little exchange:

HR 5034 CARE Act hearing: Rep. Towns: "I oppose cheaper alcohol." Rep. Conyers: "You just slid into an invisible minority!"

That's Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.)—"Ed" to his friends and constituents—chatting with Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). And hey look! One of the major driving forces behind the bill, the National Beer Wholesalers, happens to be one of Towns's top donors in the 2010 cycle. But hey look again! The beer wholesalers actually gave much more money to Conyers, who also got a load of cash from the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers.

Towns is a co-sponsor of the bill, and committee chairman Conyers was obviously instrumental in getting the bill a hearing. Which means they're both on the side of control and limitation of trade. What's remarkable is how cheaply congressmen can be bought on issues like this one. While some of their willingness to back the bill no doubt comes from the desire to seem tough on excessive drinking or other ideological considerations, what the campaign contribution bought in this case was the willingness to take action on an otherwise peripheral issue in a busy legisative season. Towns is willing to say crazy stuff like "I oppose cheaper alcohol" for only $17,800. And Conyers' price, $66,000 from the beer wholesalers, is a bargain given what he has done for the cause, even if he does sneak in the occasional joke.

(Note: This is not to suggest that we should try to eliminate corporate donations to politicians. It won't work and it would be unconstitutional. Just keep in mind where these guys are coming from.)