Money Hungry Lawmakers in Maryland to Ban Shipment of French Wines
I've watched a lot of legislatures debate direct shipping policy and watched many lawmakers give in to special interests over and over. However, I've never seen lawmakers so blatantly be bought off by local special interests at the expense of consumers, state tax revenue and free trade like has recently happened in Maryland.
I listened to Senator Joan Carter Conway— who chaired the Maryland committee that gets to hear testimony on alcohol policy—in both a private meeting with stakeholders that I attended as well as in public hearings not only demonstrate a profound lack of understanding for the most basic issues at hand, but also blatantly take her cues from those that contributed to her campaign: The local wine wholesalers and the local retailers who convinced Senator Conway that they are so inept at selling wine, they need protection from out of state retailers.
Meanwhile, yesterday, the Maryland House sub-committee on alcohol decided to endorse a direct shipping bill (HB 1175) that literally only had 2 sponsors: Charles Barkley, the chair of the Alcohol Sub-Committee in the House and Dereck Davis, the Chair of the House Economic Matters Committee from which the Alcohol Sub-Committee springs. The committee chose not to endorse a bill (HB 234) that actually had more than 80 sponsors in the Maryland House of Delegates. That makes the members of the Alcohol Sub Committee and set of cowards who can't count—unless its campaign contributions they are counting.
Davis is a known opponent of direct shipping and consumer rights. But one has to wonder if he simply is against consumer rights and direct shipping on principle or not, considering that since 2006 Davis has hauled in more than $17,000 in "campaign contributions" from Maryland wholesalers and retailers, who are against this bill. Conway has taken $10,000 since 2006.
So, Marylanders will be able to have wine shipped to them from out of state wineries when all this is said and done. And many will hail this as a victory for consumers. But it isn't.
When HB 1175 is passed it will be against the law for Marylander to have any of the following wines shipped to them from either in-state or out-of-state:
-New Zealand winesa
-Wines sold at auction
-Wines from "Wine-of-the-Month" clubs
-Most rare and out of vintage wines.
You see, these are wines not shipped by out of state wineries. These wines are sold by wine stores, auction houses and wine-of-the-month clubs.
When I asked both Senator Conway to her face and the wholesalers in the room to their face, why they would want to make it illegal for Marylanders to buy these wines I got the following response from Senator Conway: "Well wineries from outside the country can't be shipping into the state!"
After what I fear was an audible heavy sigh, I responded, "Yes, Senator Conway. However, these are the wines that only wine retailers in America sell. Wineries in America don't sell French wines or any other foreign wines. By excluding retailers from shipping either from within Maryland or into Maryland, you make it illegal to get these wines. I can't see why you would want to do that. Can you or anyone else in the room explain why you would want to pass a law that bans Marylanders from having French wines shipped to them, but making it legal to have Oregon wines shipped to them?"
Senator Conway's response was: "Well I don't see many other retailers in this room who think that's a good idea."
I'm sure they all heard by sigh after that.
Both Senator Conway's and Delegate Davis' slavish concern for their campaign contributors desires is very unimpressive. There is a word for someone who will sell themselves for cash.
If you want an idea of how sure the campaign contributors were that the lawmakers they own would do their bidding, consider that in public hearings wholesalers and retailers in Maryland who oppose consumers having wine shipped to them from out of state retailers offered but one single reason for their opposition: "It will be competition!"
So, once again consumers and free trade get screwed by lawmakers who are dragged around by the scent of cash.
Maryland retailers and wholesalers think they won the battled to hold competition at bay. However, the not-so-secret fact is that the vast majority of wholesalers and retailers in Maryland are considered among the worst in the country. This is why the state's wine drinkers regularly make the drive to the District of Columbia and Virginia to find a decent bottle of wine. There are a few good retailers in Maryland. But guess what, those competent retailers were IN FAVOR of allowing Marylanders to have wine shipped to them from out of state wineries AND retailers.
At some point, consumers need to stand up and make some noise about this. At some point, consumers need to band together and start calling lawmakers who ignore them exactly what they are and demanding better. Or…Consumers could simply gather up enough cash to impress the Maryland lawmakers and buy themselves a real direct shipping bill since it seems pretty clear that it's cash that is necessary to get a lawmaker in that state to do the right thing.