Wednesday, January 11, 2006


A sop to the liquor lobby? Cheers!

Posted: May 3, 2005 - Cary Spivak & Dan Bice

You could almost hear the clanking of champagne glasses as Gov. Jim Doyle's campaign team counted about $45,000 in contributions from liquor wholesalers. Cheers! And it's just as easy to picture the wholesalers contentedly sipping some fine cognac from snifters as they read the governor's budget and saw that he inserted language reinforcing the decades-old, state-mandated protection of liquor distributors. Here's to ya! And there's the drinkers gathered at the bar, enjoying shots of their favorite spirts - be it whiskey, vodka or brandy - whining about the ever-increasing cost of their favorite beverage.
Here's mud in our eye. "All the people who make that wonderful nectar that we enjoy should not be taxed for making that wonderful nectar and shipping it to Wisconsin," said Chris Tackett, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Merchants Federation, which is fighting what it admits is likely a losing war. Yup, it's another skirmish in Wisconsin's Great Liquor Wars. Still, when you mix liquor with politics, you know you'll come up with one pricey concoction. Tucked deep in Doyle's budget is a provision that would spell out exactly what a liquor wholesaler is, saying that distillers always have to ship booze to a middleman when selling it in Wisconsin - pretty much the current practice. The measure also would mandate that a wholesaler have at least 10 retailers to which it dishes out spirits. In addition, the wholesalers would have to pick up the $750,000 tab for the eight state inspectors who are responsible for making sure that nobody cheats - a cost, we are sure, that eventually would be passed to consumers. All of this, according to Doyle's budget summary, is to "strengthen the three-tier liquor distribution system." Betcha didn't know the liquor distribution system was in need of shoring up. Doyle flack Dan Leistikow dragged out an old boogeyman in making the case for protecting the wholesalers, a.k.a., Doyle contributors. "The danger is that a company like Wal-Mart, which is such a huge distributor, could completely bypass Wisconsin wholesalers," he said, "so they basically become the retailer and wholesaler and actually drive people out of the market." As for the new tax to pay the state inspectors, Tackett said Doyle was speaking out of both sides of his mouth. "Everything I hear is that they're against tax increases, but this one is right there in the budget," Tackett complained. Leistikow's response: Take a few sips of a nice Chardonnay and relax - the tax works out to a mere 8 cents per gallon of liquor. "That's an increase of about one penny for every 11 shots you drink," the flack said in a Tuesday e-mail. "If someone's had 11 shots, they're probably not going to notice that extra penny." Or so the administration hopes. And maybe Joe Six-pack won't notice all the money from wholesalers sloshing around in Doyle's campaign account. Since 2000, officials with Madison's General Beverage Sales Co. have given the guv about $34,000. By the way, in the 1980s, when Doyle was between jobs on the public payroll, he had the owners of General Beverage as a client. And since 2002, two execs at Edison Liquor Co. - a subsidiary of a giant Chicago wholesaler - have contributed $10,500 to Doyle's campaign. Asked about the cash, Leistikow said, of course, that Doyle isn't rewarding his donors. Still, the only contributor who would even take our call had little to say. "I don't have any comment," said Edison's Mark Cirillo. Not even to say Doyle's a great guy? "I really don't have any comment."


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