Illinois & Wine Politics

I have been for quite some time convinced that the single most important factor in determining whose interests are represented by the Governing Class is campaign contribution. I believe this is the case whether you consider the issue of Gun Control, Taxation, Environmental Policy and, especially, Alcohol regulation.

To that end, I thought it time to use a few posts to shine the light on how campaign contributions by alcohol interests are dispersed in various key states.

In this post we take up the State of Illinois


The break down of how much campaign contributions were given by sectors of the alcohol industry in Illinois looks like this:

Wholesalers/Distributors     $1,588,484
Beer Producers                   $243,162
Wine & Spirit Producers      $96,958
Liquor Stores                       $17,659

The most prolific contributors to state political campaigns from the Alcohol Industry in Illinois in 2008 included the following:

Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois (wholesalers): $1,164,609
Southern Wine & Spirits (wholesalers): $179,550
Wine & Spirit Distributors of Illinois: (wholesalers): $162,900
Anheuser-Busch (beer producers): $157,912
SABMILLER: (beer producers): $78,250
DIAGEO: (wine & spirit producers): $66,450
Judge & Dolph (wholesalers): $50,500

Illinois represents one of those states where control of the alcohol regulatory structure and process has been completely co-opted by the alcohol wholesalers. As in most states, the Illinois legislature sets policy where alcohol is concerned and the Illinois Liquor Control Commission carries out the will of the legislature. Where alcohol policy is concerned, Illinois alcohol wholesalers control legislative policy.

Consider HB 2462, a bill that would allow Illinois residents to have wine shipped directly to their door from out-of-state wine stores. Illinois residents may have wine shipped to them from in-state wineries, out-of-state wineries and in-state wine stores; but not from out-of-state wine stores. There is literally no sensible argument that can offered to oppose HB 2462 unless hypocrisy is deemed "sensible."

Yet, this bill will not get out of committee this year. After it was introduced it was assigned to the House Businesses & Occupational Licenses Committee. The sponsor of HB 2462 quickly had it pulled from this committee because it became clear that even without any debate, it would fail to be approved by this committee and sent to the floor of the Senate for a full vote by the Illinois House of Representatives.

The only significant opposition to this bill comes from Illinois alcohol wholesalers.

It should not be a surprise that the the Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois is the single largest campaign contributor to members of the House Businesses & Occupational Licenses Committee. Among the other largest campaign contributors to this committee's members are Southern Wine & Spirits and the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of Illinois.

It has long been known that Illinois is one of the most politically corrupt states in the Union. In this case, that corruption is represented by the fact that a very small industry, controlled largely by two alcohol distributors, has been granted control of the state's alcohol regulatory structure in exchange for campaign contributions. The losers are clearly the citizens of Illinois.


9 Responses

  1. Tim Freehan - April 17, 2009

    All that you say is correct, but I hardly place Illinois amongst the worst in the nation to do business in. Take a poll of vintners and importers and they will tell you IL is a dream compared with control states like PA and MS, Franchise Law states like MI, MO and GA and Price Control States like OH. The amount of business stifiled by direct shipping laws is meaningal in comparison to the massive over-regulation that the above mentioned states have installed to guarantee high prices, repression of niche distributorships, and an end to meaningful competition. The consumer suffers FAR worse under these circumstances. Generally, the consumers do not even know of the existence of such regulations and, given the indirect nature of their effects, take no action to stop it.

  2. K. L. Sullivan - April 19, 2009

    I hope you will include Maryland data in one of your posts. Again this year, a bill to allow direct shipping of wine to consumers did not pass. It’s unfortunate that contributions influence our elected officials to the detriment of the Maryland consumers.
    Since many other states can successfully allow the shipping of wine,
    why can’t Illinois, Maryland and others? Citizens of these states are being treated unfairly. After all, wine is legal. Does everyone know that Prohibition ended?

  3. Dylan - April 19, 2009

    You want answers? Just follow the money.

  4. steve - April 19, 2009

    Tom – do you know what happened to Ron’s Hosemasterofwine Blog?

  5. JohnLopresti - April 19, 2009

    The ballot initiative process is robust only in some states. Consider the issue of redistricting. One political party propagated similar initiatives in several states who have processes which permit industries to aggregate bundles of cash to finance ballot measures. In most campaigns of solely candidates of two parties contesting for voter approval, entities which routinely engage in substantial donations usually contribute to both sides, weighting the larger of the donations toward their favored candidate, but giving enough to the opponent to guarantee a ‘voice’ if the opposition wins. I think Tom’s examination of this lucrative political process statewise with respect to the issues which affect the wine industry is a refreshing perspective, one worth more study.

  6. Mark Storer - April 19, 2009

    Based on tips from you, Tom, I took up this story and wrote the news piece for Decanter. I spoke at length to the State Rep. who sponsored the bill-and she was, quite out of character for a politician in my experience, quite blunt: Special interests will control this issue (and by extension, I think–all other issues) until a grass roots movement of people demand differently. Money talks–and it it is awfully, awfully loud.

  7. Tish - April 20, 2009

    Tom, is any consumer wine magazine reporting this sort of data regarding gross influence? I have not seen much of a peep out there in Gloss Mag Land, though I confess to not checking every issue. It’s a shame that the publications that are so intent on publishing scores for every wine under the sun are not applying a modicum of energy toward the legal and grassroots efforts that would actually free up shipping to the point where consumers could actually get their hands on all those wines.

  8. bobzaguy - April 21, 2009

    RE: “After all, wine is legal. Does everyone know that Prohibition ended?”
    I think the “…what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” syndrome is applicable to Illinois and legal wine shipping.
    The largest wineries (2-3 of the 80 in the state) are not allowed to sell their wine directly to restaurants and retail accounts any longer. They have to use the 3-tier system, thus raising the costs (and the prices) of their wines to consumers everywhere.

  9. bobzaguy - April 21, 2009

    in addition to above post…
    The Prohibition movement is thus still alive and doing very well in Illinois.
    Businesses legally sanctioned and licensed to conduct business in the state are continuously given new state legislation to limit their legal business. The legislation is written by a group of unelected businessmen who then profit from those same legal businesses.

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