Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America to American Wine Consumers: “HEY, F*CK YOU GUYS!” (The Case Against HR 1161)

Vinted on April 4, 2011 binned in commentary, wine news, wine shipping

I’ve officially had it with the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America and their unparalleled ability to continually flip the legislative bird to U.S. taxpayers and American wine consumers.

Their latest ploy has been the introduction of HR 1161 – called, strangely enough, the “CARE” act (for Community Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act of 2011″) but what I’d more accurately describe as the “SYFBWETBORA” act (for “Screwing You From Behind Without Even The Benefit Of a Reach-Around act of 2011”) – is, simply put, a colossal waste of legislative and taxpayer time and energy that could be spent on things slightly more important, such as reducing our national debt, helping to end starvation, fixing healthcare, or…

It’s tough to put into words how asinine this legislation really is, but I will try… for the impatient, I would describe HR 1161 as being the kind of legislation I would expect to be written by severely retarded monkeys, in so much as it promises to deliver a similar amount of potential “benefit” for U.S. consumers and taxpayers.

HR 1161 would basically amount to “exempting state alcohol laws from review under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.”  Which would mean that state laws governing alcohol distribution – no matter how potentially unconstitutional, anti-consumer, pro-monopoly they are currently – couldn’t be challenged in court.

How bad is that?  It’s bad enough that the National Association of Attorneys General have sent letters indicating that they do not support the bill.  Basically, the case for HR 1161 being unconstitutional seems to be quite strong – which strongly suggests that a lot of time is being wasted in drafting, promoting, fighting, and discussing it, because it’s (probably… hopefully!) unlikely to pass.

As a commercial body, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America asking to be protected from Constitutional commerce law is sort of like the U.S. Military asking to be exempted from ever having any of its members be tried for war crimes under any circumstances – we don’t expect that kind of behavior, but the threat of legislation and subsequent legal action at least is a deterrent.

If you want to learn (much) more about how bad HR 1161 really is, check out the on-going coverage of the details over at Tom Wark’s Fermentation blog.  What I will leave you with is this: the only logical conclusion I’ve been able to come to when thinking about why on our wine-lovin’-Earth any member of the U.S. legislative system would be in support of HR 1161 is that they are firmly entrenched in the pockets of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America.

And we know what we should do with politicians who are too firmly entrenched in the pockets of any big business group:


You can get started by joining up the movement against HR 1161 on Facebook, and by writing your legislative reps to let them know that you’ll be voting for their resignations if they support the bill.






  • @dctravel20

    Hey Joe,

    While I couldn't agree with you more, just one point of clarification. H.R. 1161 is a bill, not a resolution. House bills are labeled H.R. for House of Representatives (while Senate bills are labeled S for Senate). A House Resolution is labeled H.Res., and does not have the force of law. If H.R. 1161 was a resolution, it would only have effect inside the House or be used to express the opinion of the chamber. I know it is nitpicky, but there it is.

    dctravel20 (Jake)

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, dc – corrected!

  • PAWineGuy

    I'm a bit confused as to what would be unconstitutional. The commerce clause gives Congress the job of regulating interstate commerce, and if they choose to exempt an industry, it is well within their rights.

    I doubt that this will go very far. The brewers and distillers far outspend the wholesalers in federal lobbying, and should be able to derail it.

    My nitpick would be that Tom is not "covering" the issue, he is engaging in paid advocacy. Nothing wrong with that, but it's not to be confused with some sort of unbiased coverage.

    • 1WineDude

      PA – good point about Tom's take, I am not sure it's 100% sponsored but it could be.

      As for being unconstitutional, this bill could in theory allow states to treat inter- and intra-state commerce for wine differently (which is unconstitutional), and not be challenged legally when they do that.

      • PAWineGuy

        Yes, the bill would do that, but it would not be unconstitutional. The commerce clause is very short, and all it says is that Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce. (and thus the states do not have that power) Congress can exempt an industry, they did it to the insurance industry in the mid 40s.
        That's why the fight is an important one.

        • 1WineDude

          I agree the fight is important, PA (obviously! :-). But I think it could be argued, based on other cases, that treating inter- and intra-state commerce differently is Unconstitutional:

    • Tom Wark

      While it's true that I happily work as executive director of the Specialty Wine Retailers Association (since 2007), you'll note that I've been picking a nit with the way wine and beer wholesalers work consistently against consumers and the rest of the wine industry in their lobbying efforts long before 2007. So, it's not a matter of my being willing to advocate on behalf of the highest bidder. Just ask me how much I'd have to be paid to work on behalf of the wholesale tier.

      • 1WineDude

        Thanks, Tom W. – I can imagine the sum you would charge in that case would be measured in pounds of flesh instead of dollars? ;-)

  • todd stewart

    American greed at it's finest….this bill would crush the small wineries that support me, my family and my friends. Disgusting. Love the article, love the harsh language to express how strongly you (and others) feel.

    • 1WineDude

      THanks, todd – I guess I have all the subtlety of a Mac truck filled with high explosives falling off of the grand canyon, but you do know where I stand. ;-)

  • @ChTalleyrand

    PA Wine Guy says "I doubt that this will go very far. The brewers and distillers far outspend the wholesalers in federal lobbying, and should be able to derail it. "

    I could be missing something, but I was pretty sure wholesalers contribute far more than actual brewers, distillers, or wineries. David White's nytimes op-ed says the National Beer Wholesalers Assn by itself has donated over 15m in the last 10 years.

  • @ChTalleyrand

    Thanks for the clarification! Let's hope you're right and this thing gets shot down promptly. Being from PA myself I know how vital direct shipping is…

  • el jefe

    Joe, the monkeys called. You owe them an apology.

    • 1WineDude

      Jefe – I think you're right! I may need to stay away from the Zoo for a few weeks…

  • Thomas Pellechia

    We are agreeing once again. Must be an alignment of stars…

    I've never trusted the Granholm decision; first, for its narrowness and second, for the chilling message by Justice Kennedy about how alcohol is such a unique and special product that Constitutional rights are not automatic.

    • 1WineDude

      Thomas P & PAWineGuy – this is getting scarier by the comment!

      I suppose alcohol is actually special, if by "special" we mean "one of the few products/industries left that we can still hang esoteric laws on, in order to maximize what's coming into our own coffers…"

      • PAWineGuy

        No, special in that it is the only industry with its own amendment.

        • 1WineDude

          PA – to me, there isn’t much difference there. :)

  • David White

    @ChTalleyrand: Thanks for the link.

    @PAWineGuy et al: Most industries are regulated by the federal government. The exceptions, very generally speaking, are liquor and P&C insurance. So the real numbers to look for are state and local campaigns (contributions, lobbying, etc.), which isn't covered by opensecrets.

    Between 2000 and 2006, the wholesaling industry spent more than $50 million contributing money to those running for statewide offices. This is a mind-blowing amount of money, and far exceeds how much producers are spending.

    • PAWineGuy

      David, I am very familiar with the state numbers, but that's not the issue here, as we are discussing a Federal bill. If you read my post, I noted that "wholesalers generally donate more at the state level."

      Part of the reason is that many states do not allow corporate contributions in state elections, and so it is much easier for wholesalers to ensure their local people are making donations. Discus and the brewers do get VERY involved in local issues such as Sunday sales, wine and beer in grocery, etc…

  • 1WineDude

    Thanks, PA – understood (in all of the frightening hideousness that your words contain!).

  • Ron Saikowski

    This Bill should be re-labeled as S.M.U.G.E.R. (Strengthening Monopolies Under Government Enforement Rules) since it strengthens the monopolies of distributors at the expense of small wineries and wine consumers. What is the biggest gripe of small wineries? It is distributors who have all of these wineries on contract with the distributors not performing. Case in point…I accompanied a winemaker on two days of sales calls with cases upon cases committed for. However, the winery's distributor never delivered those cases because they chose not to. It was too "hard for them" to get the wines from the small winery delivered to those customers. SMUGER protects the distributors and kills the small wineries and cuts competition thereby establishing bigger monopolies.

  • moscato

    you’ve gotten an important weblog here! would you like to make some invite posts on my weblog?

    • 1WineDude

      moscato – if you're paying… ;-)

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