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March 21, 2013 | By | Posted in Legislature

Pre-privatization, beer lobby chips in to top PA lawmakers

By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent

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BEER MONEY: The beer industry in Pennsylvania makes campaign contributors to the top lawmakers who are presently discussing a privatization of the state wine and liquor system.

HARRISBURG — Liquor privatization in Pennsylvania is a decades-long battle with piles of money behind it.

Not surprisingly, the labor union representing state-owned store employees has given generously to state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as a way to keep its voice heard in the debate. But the beer industry also chips into the campaigns of elected officials, and has for years.

In Pennsylvania, beer can be purchased at distributors by the case, or at bars and grocery stores with restaurant licenses, creating a niche market.

Beer distributors are represented by the Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania. The association doled out $20,510 to state candidates in 2008, and $32,836 in 2010, according to campaign finance records.

Last election cycle, the association gave $26,500 to statewide candidates. A majority of the cash, about 53 percent, went to Republicans, who control the Legislature.

But it was three top western Democrats who took in the most from the group’s political contributions. Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, and Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Allegheny, received a combined $5,750 in donations. Democrat caucuses in both chambers have said they support modernizing the state-owned liquor store system over privatizing sales.

But MBDA’s support to lawmakers doesn’t swing in one direction. House Liquor Control Committee Chairman John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, got $2,500, and four top senators received a total of $6,000.

The association gave $300 donations to both Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Allegheny, a co-sponsor of the privatization proposal, and Rep. Paul Costa, D-Allegheny, the Democrat chair on the House Liquor Control Committee and a vocal privatization opponent.

Mark Tanczos, president of MBDA, said the organization doesn’t play partisan politics, partially because of the diversity of Pennsylvania’s population.

“We need to work with everybody because our state is totally different, from Pittsburgh to Wilkes Barre to up in Erie County in the northwest corner,” he said. “We respect all legislators because ultimately, they all have beer distributors in their district.”

Distributors aren’t the only beer industry heavyweights writing checks. The Pennsylvania Beer Alliance, which represents wholesalers, gave $45,550 to state candidates in the 2012 election cycle.

They were one group, along with breweries, that pointed out earlier this week the privatization plan would eat up shelf space for their products as beer competes with liquor and wine in new markets.

Last election cycle, Republicans received 70 percent of the contributions. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, received the most from the association that year, with $6,500 in contributions, while Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin, received $5,500.

Costa received the most of any Democrat member with $3,950 in donations last election cycle.

On the House side, Taylor, the Liquor Control Committee chairman, received the most from the association with $2,500 in donations.

For the 2010 election, PBA chipped in $92,410 to statewide elections. That cycle, Gov. Tom Corbett and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley collectively received $7,900 from the association.

Contact Melissa Daniels at melissa@paindependent.com

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Melissa Daniels is a reporter for PA Independent. She can be reached at 717-350-0962 or Melissa@PAIndependent.com

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