I tend to talk a loud game here at Fermentation about the corruption that surrounds the politics of wine distribution. I tend to accuse politicians of being in some people’s pockets on the issue of the three tier system. But rarely do I have the opportunity to point my readers to an example of integrity so obviously bloodied and scarred by bald faced corruption. Allow me.
Late last year, the state of Michigan lost a court battle in which they vigorously defended their discrimination against out-of-state wine stores. Michigan allowed in-state wine stores to ship wine to Michiganders. It allow in-state wineries to ship wine to Michiganders. And it allow out-of-state wineries to ship to Michiganders. But out-of-state wine merchants? They were prohibited.
The Federal District Court Judge told both the state of Michigan and the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association that their arguments in favor of denying adult consumers access to the wines they want and denying out-of-state wine merchants the right to fulfill Michigan consumers’ demands was unconstitutional. The Judge, predictably, cited the Supreme Court decision and reasoning of Granholm v. Heald.
It was no surprise that the state appealed this decision to Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals where, I’m sure the Michigan wholesalers knew, their arguments in favor of blatant, anti-consumer discriminatory laws would be shot down by an even higher court. The problem the Michigan wholesalers in particular had was that a decision in favor of retailer direct shipping from an Appeals Court is a very powerful slap to their face and would have advanced the goal of allowing wine merchants outside Michigan and other states to be treated fairly where wine shipping was concerned.
So what happened? Rather than play out the Appeal, the Michigan Wholesalers decided to go to their bench. They decided rather than get a bad decision in a higher court, they’d fix their problem of having to compete on only a slightly more level playing field by getting a law passed that, while seemingly fair, would make sure there would be no retailer shipping at all in Michigan.
The Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers went to Representative Barbara Farrah and asked her to introduce a bill they had themselves written that would have banned ALL direct shipment of wine in Michigan by both in-state and out-of-state retailers, an approach to Direct Shipping policy that incredibly anti-consumer and anti-business, is constitutional.
The wholesalers also asked Representative Farrah to introduce this bill into a committee and to arrange to have that committee “hear” the bill without giving any notice to its opponents. Essentially, the wholesalers wanted to ram it through the Legislature under cover of darkness.
Representative Farrah did everything the Wholesalers asked. Everything.
Now, it just so happens that Representative Farrah counted Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association, the folks that wrote the anti-consumer bill that was successful in killing retailer to consumer shipping in Michigan, as her largest campaign contributors during her three terms as a state Representative.
This was one of her last acts as a state representative. It also turns out she was a lame duck. Term limited out of office. Needing no more support from the Wholesalers, she could have done the right thing and denied the Michigan Wholesalers her involvement in screwing the consumers of Michigan and her representatives by engaging in a seriously dirty end run around representative government.
So why didn’t she do the right thing? Because there was a job waiting for her after she left office.
Today, former Representative Barbara Farrah works for the Lansing lobbying firm “Governmental Consultant Services Inc.” Imagine who one of their largest clients is:
The Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association, the very people that were giving her money throughout her political career and the folks for whom she choose to assist by taking a sharp carving knife and sticking in the side of Integrity, leaving it bloodied and wounded next to the capital steps while she went down the street to take a six figure job that was one can only assume was promised her if she did the deed for their benefactors.
If you are even a little bit appalled by Ms. Farrah’s blatant lack of integrity in the Michigan Direct Shipping debate, you should write her and tell her. I did.