Indiana, US: Big Alcohol Lobbies Locally

A 17-member panel of elected officials and lay members has begun work to examine Indiana alcohol laws. In the first year of its two-year study, the Alcohol Code Revision Commission is to look at retail laws. A final report is due November 1, 2018.

The State of Indiana is planning to revise the state’s alcohol code. To that end a new panel, the Alcohol Code Revision Commission, has been created to make recommendations about how to change Indiana’s retail rules on alcohol sales. The alcohol industry is spending money to sway commission members, even though this type of influencing is formally banned.

Indiana is the 38th largest by area and the 17th most populous of the 50 United States. Its capital and largest city is Indianapolis.

The committee includes eight legislative and four lay members. The Alcohol Code Revision Commission doesn’t have any alcohol industry lobbyists or members with an ownership interest in an alcohol license. Members of the commission aren’t allowed either to accept gifts or entertainment offers from lobbyists or other alcohol industry representatives. However, campaign contributions are still allowed.

Big Alcohol buying influence locally

The committee restrictions are necessary because alcohol regulation is a high-profile issue in the state. The gift and entertainment ban was added because while legislators and lobbyists report spending, there isn’t a similar requirement for lay members.

But these rules have not kept the alcohol industry from trying to exert influence. Lawmakers on the panel have received at least $200,000 from all sides of the alcohol industry, per reports from the Houston Chronicle. In fact, all of the nine current and past legislators named to the commission have accepted campaign contributions from the liquor lobby, according to campaign finance reports, per THB.

For example, Fort Wayne Democrat Rep. Phil GiaQuinta has received at least $32,000 since 2007, with “contributions” coming from all sides. Of course he is not worried about money’s influence:

You can’t read votes into donations,” Rep. GiaQuinta claimed.

But the tactics of the alcohol industry seem clear. For them, a lot is at stake in the alcohol code revision.

The two-year panel will likely look into rules regarding carryout sales on Sundays, selling cold beer for carryout, and the state’s three-tier distribution system.

Lawmakers created a similar two-year panel in 2008 through 2009 to look at alcohol regulation. Back then, the commission denied Sunday alcohol sales and came out against expanding the sale of cold beer. The committee also recommended mandatory identification checks for alcohol sales.

Local lawmakers and Big Alcohol

The Herald Bulletin has now compiled an overview of commission members and the most recently reported campaign contributions from the alcohol industry.

  • Beer Industry PAC represents beer wholesalers.
  • Indiana Licensed Beverage Association represents liquor wholesalers.
  • Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers represents liquor stores.
  • Southern Wine & Spirits is a beer, wine and liquor distributor.

Among other findings, the overview shows that the world’s largest beer producers has been buying access to and support from five of the committee members with donations, in local Indiana.

Lay members of the commission are, however, not permitted to hold or have an interest in any type of alcohol permit. But all in all, lawmakers selected to serve on the commission have received at least $200,000 over the years from the alcohol industry.

Hence, there is increasing concern that legislators serving on the panel could potentially be under the influence — of the industry whose regulations they’re charged with reviewing.

Source Website: Houston Chronicle