Government corruption. Yeah, that’s an attention grabbing headline for sure. We can debate about whether the story I’m about to share represents corruption, greed, or just how the system works. But whichever it is, it is wrong.
We have all heard stories about big corporations donating money for access to politicians. I always thought that was hyperbole and an exception to the rule. Silly innocent me. Acting as President of the GA Craft Brewers Guild last legislative session opened my eyes quite a bit. I watched as the Guild’s bill that advocated for breweries to be able to sell a limited amount of beer the to the public went through the process of becoming a law. And along the way, as everyone had their hands on it, the bill went from selling one case to giving away one 6pack for free. It was still way less than breweries in 48 other states could do but at least we made some progress.
On July 1st I proudly watched as the first few 6packs went out the front door with consumers. Even though they were technically souvenir packages and not for sale, I still thought GA was coming into the modern era. Little did I know how wrong I was.
At the beginning of October, the GA Dept. of Revenue released a bulletin that changed how the law that went into effect on July 1st would operate. Originally a brewery could charge different prices for tours that included souvenir beer. As an example Terrapin offered 3 choices: 36oz maximum on premise for $12, 72oz maximum to-go for $12, or both options for $20. But the new rules meant that we had to choose between charging everyone $12 and giving everyone the to-go beer (losing money in the process) or charging everyone $20 whether they wanted the to-go beer or not (losing customers in the process). If any brewery was cited for charging variable prices based on the beer provided, the brewery would lose its taproom license for one year! And that is just for your first offense!
Of course GA breweries were upset over that new ruling. Many of us had spent lots of money building out tasting rooms and getting ready to work within the law that we thought had passed. The DOR had given us WRITTEN assurances the variable pricing model was approved and allowed. Then out of nowhere – BAM, they changed their minds.
Here is where the corruption comment comes in. One of the most sacred principles of governmental ethics is that everyone has equal access to government officials. That’s a no-brainer. Maybe the government rules in a way that goes against your interests but at least you had the same opportunity to be heard as did the opposing side.
But not in this case. An open records request was filed with the DOR and it was shown that while they were creating rules that affected how breweries could operate their businesses, the DOR was in discussions about it with the GA Beer Wholesalers Association while at the same time refusing to tell the GA Craft Brewers Guild the potential new rules were even being considered. Let me repeat. When debating rules that affected breweries, the DOR refused to interact with the association representing the breweries that were affected by the new rules. Instead the DOR was in constant communication with the association representing the wholesalers, whom the revised rules did not affect.
What do you think. Can unequal access be equated to corruption?