A recent memo sent by the N.C. Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association to its members this week provides us a revealing glimpse of how politics works in real life.
The new deal with state lawmakers that the memo discloses is a little in the weeds. The bill in question is House Bill 500, currently under consideration. It’s an omnibus ABC bill, meaning that it makes a lot of little adjustments to the state’s alcohol laws. It passed the House last April and is now in Senate committees.
The bill got a few new amendments in a Senate committee. One enables wholesale business owners to transfer control of the company to a family member. Previously, this could only be done upon the business owner’s death.
A second new provision ends a practice where big brewers were able to determine who a wholesaler could sell his business to.
Another new provision ends a mechanism where “suppliers” — meaning beer brewers — could own part of a wholesale business for eight years and make business loans to help other companies acquire wholesale businesses.
In all three cases, the changes make North Carolina’s alcohol laws just a little bit more wholesaler friendly. In the third part, that comes at the expense of beer brewers.
The bill passed committee as amended, but must first go to the full Senate and then back to the House now.
All that’s not the interesting part, though. The bill as a whole makes sense. Why should a big beer brewer be able to dictate how a wholesaler sells his business?
The interesting part is how the changes came about.
According to a memo sent by executive director Tim Kent and obtained by Longleaf Politics, the N.C. Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association has wanted these changes for a while.
But while at a meeting in Asheville, the lobby’s leadership unexpectedly found an opportunity to push for the provisions1.
Because there were so many beer brewers around in Asheville, Kent and his team “considered it prudent to hold that information closely,” the memo says before warning his members that they might get pressured by beer brewers when they find out about it.
“Please accept my apology for any perceived lack of transparency,” he goes on to write.
Maybe it’s unsurprising to find out that it’s still effective to corner a politician while out and about to get your policy preferences put into a bill. It will likely burn up small craft brewers who have been trying to convince lawmakers to help their “craft freedom”2 movement.
But it’s fascinating to see that even in the modern era, a little political sleight of hand can go a long way.