Vandy prof files ethics complaint over wine in grocery stores

Wednesday, July 16, 2008 at 12:02am

Mikhael Shor, an assistant professor of economics at Vanderbilt’s Owen School of Management, has filed a complaint with the Tennessee Ethics Commission over the “wine in grocery stores” bill.

The bill, which failed this past legislative session, would have allowed the sale of wine at grocery stores. Opponents of the measure cited a number of what they perceived as flaws in the legislation at the time — an example was that not all grocery stores would be allowed to sell wine — and pointed out that law enforcement officials opposed the legislation.

One issue that came up during the debates was the role of Nashville public relations firm Seigenthaler Public Relations. The firm, contracted by the Wine and Spirit Wholesalers Association of Tennessee, had built a Web site that, among other things, urged citizens to contact elected officials in opposition of the bill.

State Sen. Doug Jackson (D-Dickson), a proponent of the bill, took issue with the site and asked the state’s ethics commission for an advisory opinion on whether the it constituted “lobbying.” If it did, Seigenthaler would have been in violation of rules requiring lobbyists to register.

In May of this year, the ethics commission determined that they would not issue an opinion on the matter since it was not a complaint.

Tuesday, Jackson’s office notified the media that a formal complaint had been filed by Shor against Seigenthaler, the Wine and Spirit Wholesalers of Tennessee, and the Tennessee Malt Beverage Association.

Amy Sieigenthaler, when contacted by NashvillePost.com stated, “We take this for what it is — a move to continue a legislative battle that has already been heard and vetted by the state Legislature. This was brought before the Ethics Commission before and they decided not to hear it. This is more of the same.”

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By: imdyinhere on 12/31/69 at 7:00

In the first place, a website to prod voters into contact legislators is not lobbying, it's activism. Secondly, wine in supermarkets is not a big deal. Most supermarkets tend to be part of plazas that have liquor sellers anyway.More restrictive and ridiculous is that Tennesseans can't have wine shipped to their homes as people in other states do. This has been especially cumbersome since TSA rules tightened up carry-on rules. I rarely buy wine since I moved to Tennessee because the mark-ups are outrageous. A bottle that's $7 in another state is $10 here. $30 in a neighboring state, it's $40 here. Allowing actual competition would bring reality to pricing.

By: TNReader on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I agree. We need the competition. I will see wine reviews in national publications and go to buy a bottle and they always cost at least 25% more than shown in the national publication. Naturally, the state legislature cares more about the liquor lobby money, than us consumers.

By: yazoo on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Jeez, Forget competition, If you don't live in Davidson County, good luck finding anything, no less cheaper wine. This backwards state has more dry counties than anywhere I've seen this side of Tehran. The nice thing about Roman Catholics is they handle wine, not snakes, during their bizarre ritual called, uh, church..

By: Anna3 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I'll drink to that!

By: Hoppesm on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Regardless of Gas prices, any wine lover, or beer or, bourbon, or etc Should become familiar with Bowling Green, KY less than an hour away. A six pack is on average $1.50 cheaper; microbrews much cheaper. Wine and spirits selections far more varied as well as cheaper. Thanks mostly to more distributors competing and better taxes. I recommend one of the 3 Chucks Wine and Liquors or Barren River Beverages. Stock Up!

By: MJB on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I have such mixed feelings about this issue.1. We should loosen or eliminate rules about selling liquor (including lowering the age of purchase back to eighteen, but that’s another matter). Thus, why shouldn’t supermarkets—or any market—sell wine, beer, & all other liquors?2. Most of the wine & liquor stores have local owners while the supermarkets are big conglomerates owned elsewhere. Permitting the supermarkets to sell wine &c. will result in these chain supermarkets to “wal-mart” the small stores: undercut their prices & drive them out of business.3. A friend of mine, VERY knowledgeable about wine, just opened a store, runs it well, & loves to talk about wine with customers. He would lose his business. Others would do the same, and those of us who want help with our wine choices would be up the creek. The clerks at Kroger-Publix (Krolix?) won’t know anything about wine.Letting everyone sell wine, beer, & liquor will result in driving the locally-owned specialty shops out of business, eliminating selection, diversity, knowledge, & appreciation.NOT letting everyone sell wine, beer, & liquor makes wine & liquor into a special case for no good reason.See the problem?

By: chrisd on 12/31/69 at 7:00

No one is going to stop going to knowledgeable wine stores, they have more selection. But if someone wants to pick up some two buck chuck or dreadful white zinfandel with their porkchops, they should be allowed to do that. This is just a move by distributors to protect the goose that lays golden eggs.

By: elamons on 12/31/69 at 7:00

The real issue here is that our legislature is owned by lobbyists for the most part, and certainly the liquor lobbyist, Tom Hensley. If they were so concerned for small mon and pop shops, where were they when Wal-Mart put the small tire stores out of business,the small jewelry shops and on and on. Of course there are still small shops, speciality shops, but they have to offer something that a Wal-Mart does not, service, convenience, unique products. We allow large companies to provide all types of products in the Wal-Marts, Walgreens, Kroger, etc, so why is our legislature so concerned over this one product....simple answer is the lobbyist power, not the peoples.

By: global_citizen on 12/31/69 at 7:00

MJB, they sell cigars at Kroger, but I still get mine at Uptown's Smoke Shop. I think it's a specious argument to say selling wine in Kroger will put wine shops out of business. Kroger will stock Robert Mondavi and the like. They won't carry my favorite Chilean Carmenere, I guarantee that. There is room for both to sell wine. And I will still do business with the wine shops.

By: MikeS on 12/31/69 at 7:00

As the author of the ethics complaint, I hope to clarify several issues raised in the article and the comments. First, an ethics complaint is separate from the success or failure of certain bills. It refers to *how* the legislative process functions, not to its outcomes. Similarly, our opinion about the proper conduct of lobbyists and their employers should be independent of whether or not they are on our side.Second, I was not a vocal proponent of Senator Jackson's bill, and have not read it until recently. I do agree with it in spirit, but not in the details. I was, on the other hand, a proponent of a related bill allowing up to two cases of wine to be shipped from out of state retailers and wineries. Third, the decision of the T.E.C. not to hear the case was made on procedural grounds, not on a consideration of the issues. My goal was to request this consideration.

By: Wineforall on 12/31/69 at 7:00

You'd think free enterprise and open competition would reign supreme in TN but it doesn't. The TN retail liquor stores and liquor wholesalers have a TN government sanctioned monopoly. This is NOT about big "out-of-state" conglomerate grocery stores vs. mom & pop liquor stores. Tenneseans shop at Kroger and Walmart everyday - purchasing 99% "non-TN grown/made" goods.This is about money and control and the TN liquor wholesalers have both. Sure, they'll make more money selling wine in grocery stores - but then they'll lose control because they won't be selling just to "mom and pops" anymore. They will have to answer to modern, effecient large chain stores, which they DO NOT want.Why don't they come right out and SAY that? As opposed to "hiding" behind a "Keep TN Teens from Drinking" website? That's not activism, that's LOBBYING.