Pennsylvania Beer Alliance Defense of Shady Politics

Sore loser shirt via Zazzle

Before the July 4th holiday we wrote about how Pennsylvania Senator Chuck McIlhinney managed some pretty shady political tactics in an attempt to kill Governor Tom Corbett’s liquor privatization bill.  In its place he offered an extremely toothless “compromise” bill that kept power and influence in the hands on the Liquor Control Board and major distributors.  MediaTrackers then found significant donations to McIlhinney’s campaign from distributors and state liquor store employee unions.  These donations certainly suggested a quid-pro-quo relationship and an explanation for Senator McIlhinney’s biased hearings and stall tactics.

Last week PhillyBurbs.com reported a response to some of these accusations from Pennsylvania Beer Alliance president, Jay Wiederhold.  Mr. Wiederhold claims that these accusations “are both unfair and untrue” and lays out his reasons below:

We did lobby and contribute to Sen. McIlhinney and others on the Law and Justice Committee. We did this because this committee is charged with issues pertinent to our industry and the future of our members. We have the constitutional right to participate in the process and we did.

As the basis of these attacks has been that contributions from interest groups in some way resulted in legislation to their liking, I would think the appropriate question to ask is: Did your group’s efforts and financial support achieve your goals during the liquor privatization debate?

The answer, unequivocally, is no. While there are some parts of the proposed legislation we support, there is more included in the bill that we worked against.

Others interested in this issue — and with views diametrically opposed to our organization’s — also made contributions and lobbied the Senate Law and Justice Committee. These included groups like Wal-Mart, FoodPAC of PA (which represents grocery stores), Pennsylvania’s beer distributors, and others.

For each of these groups, the final proposed legislation did not meet their goals either.

This simple fact, more than any other, should prove that the attacks being made against Sen. McIlhinney and other elected officials are simply not true.

I don’t dispute anything specific that Mr. Wiederhold is claiming in his response (click the link above for the full quote) but I think his response is exceedingly specious.  While it is true that the bill McIlhinney proposed was ultimately defended and the compromised bill between all interested parties were ultimately defeated before the end of the fiscal year it doesn’t mean that they money donated to Senator McIlhinney’s campaign was not intended to influence the crafting of the bill or to encourage the misuse of Senator McIlhinney’s influence as a member of the Law and Justice Committee.

I would argue that the Senator keeping the Governor’s bill in committee until the last moment, holding committee hearings where opponents of the bill testified but supporters were turned away, and then offering a toothless barely compromised bill at the eleventh hour without time for adequate debate are all legal tactics but certainly not fair one.

In the end I think Mr. Wiederhold’s argument boils down to: “It can’t possibly be considered a bribe because we didn’t get what we want!  And the other side did the same thing!  And their side had Wal-Mart!”

While I am weakly in the compromise camp on this issue (seeing how our current system is both a mess yet oddly beneficial to upstart and smaller craft-breweries) and I don’t support any shady tactics on either side I think Mr. Wiederhold’s refutation of accusations of an inappropriate relationship between his organization and Senator McIlhinney is more a case of being a sore loser (though in this case both sides are) while cheating rather than being unjustly accused.

I think the Pennsylvania Beer Alliance is best served to ignore this issue and hope similarly fantastic investigative reporting isn’t done when this issue comes up again.  I just don’t see how you defend legal but clearly shady political practice motivated by campaign contributions.