Friday, April 21, 2006

Protect 21: Arizona astroturfing

I received a mailing today from the "Protect 21 Coalition" asking me to contact my legislators to tell them to oppose Senate Bill 1276, which it describes as "alcohol deregulation." The bill actually legalizes Internet-based sale of wine by Arizona wineries in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Granholm v. Heald (which was combined with two other cases, including the Institute for Justice's case from NY, Swedenburg v. Kelly), which held that state regulation of Internet-based wine sales must be the same for in-state and out-of-state wineries. A 1982 Arizona law permits only in-state wineries to ship wine to restaurants and retail stores, and so is unconstitutional under that decision.

The Protect 21 website argues for a three-tier model of alcohol distribution (manufacturers, distributors, and retail sales) on the grounds that it is somehow better able to protect communities and prevent underage drinking. Actually, this model is an anti-competitive model held in place by regulations which benefit the middleman, whose role would otherwise disappear.

Their main argument is that allowing wine sales over the Internet will lead to underage drinking, despite the fact that purchases require credit cards and deliveries require a signature and ID verification, same as a retail store purchase. (For more on this argument and discussion, see this Jacob Sullum post at Reason magazine's blog.)

And who would you guess is behind the Protect 21 Coalition?

The two people who testified against Senate Bill 1276 on February 15 were Howard Romm, the president of Republic Beverage Company, and Marcus Osborn, the "Manager of Governmental and Public Affairs" of the Protect 21 Coalition. Actually, Osborn's title is for his position at the Phoenix office of R&R Partners, a Las Vegas-based advertising and lobbying firm. Osborn is a busy lobbyist, who also testified on behalf of the "PACE Coalition" in favor of H.B. 2383, a bill for a "Program for All-inclusive Care for the Elderly" at taxpayer expense, on the same day. He's also lobbied the Arizona legislature for Jack-in-the-Box restaurants and YUM brands. You can see Osborn's lobbyist record with the state of Arizona here.

The domain was registered by R&R Partners, and the group's mailing address listed on its website is a commercial postal mailbox at a branch of The UPS Store in downtown Phoenix.

And who is a client of R&R Partners (though not listed on their website)?

Republic Beverage Company, of course.

If you're in Arizona, contact your legislators and let them know that you'd rather not have your tax money spent to funnel money into the pockets of middlemen through archaic regulations, especially not to middlemen who hire lobbying firms to create fake grassroots efforts to promote their positions to the legislature.

In 2004, expenditures by lobbyists had grown by 30% from 2003 to over $3 million, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity.

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