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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why the PLCB should be abolished: Reason #17

I see in the Inquirer this morning (in Michael Klein's Inqlings column) that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has sent a cease-and-desist letter to former PLCB chairman Jonathan Newman. What do they want him to c&d? Long story short...oh, hell, no, let's do the whole story.

Background: Newman got himself appointed to the PLCB board, educated himself on wine, then brought new power to the PLCB chairman slot, bringing PA's purchasing power to bear on getting the state stores some great wine deals, and then selling those (largely excellent) wines as "Chairman's Selections." He was also behind the state stores opening on Sundays. For reasons unknown (p*a*t*r*o*n*a*g*e), Governor Rendell appointed a PLCB "CEO" (a former state legislator who found himself out of work after the post-pay increase elections...), a new position with a $150,000 salary -- which would have been about "Why the PLCB should be abolished Reason #14," by my count -- and apparently no interview process, which knocked Newman out of the driver's seat. Newman, rightly pissed that he had not even been asked to interview for this job after arguably being the best PLCB chairman ever, resigned in protest. He rested a bit, then opened a wine brokerage business, a privately-owned for-profit business.

Well, the PLCB sent the C&D letter to Newman. It's Klein's story, I'll let him tell it:
On Friday, Newman got a 60-page cease-and-desist complaint from the LCB, sent by the Center City law firm Eckert Seamans.
The LCB grumbled about a graphic on Newman's Web site, which showed a mockup bottle bearing the tiny wording chairman's selection. The LCB also was irked that Frank's Union Wine Mart in Delaware had dared to put its own sign reading "xChairman's Selection" next to a wine display.

Can you say "petty bullshit"? I knew you could. Pennsylvanians, think about this. The PLCB, which has a whole damned troll-cave full of lawyers its ownself, hired a Center City law firm to draft a 60-page letter to get Newman to take down that graphic? (The graphic's gone, by the way: Newman as much as said that all they'd have had to do was call him about it.) That's what, at least 20 billable hours at around $300 an hour? And the PLCB's response to Klein's question about the incident? "The board's interest is in protecting the taxpayers; this is not personal." What exactly did you protect the taxpayers from? Free enterprise? Damn that attitude.

We are treated to the exhibition of a government monopoly suing a private business because that private business may slightly dilute the value of one of the monopoly's marks...a mark that was devised and built by the person who owns that private business. The letter of the law, yes, but... “If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble,… “the law is a ass—a idiot." Thank you, Mr. Dickens.

I may just have to do a series of reasons fact, I will. See my new blog: Why the PLCB Should Be Abolished. I won't be updating it often, but there should be plenty to write about.


Anonymous said...

Here, here. The PLCB is long overdue for complete dismaltlement. However, as we know it will never happen. It's too bad that Government at all levels now seems to want to run our lives. Hey, here's an idea, lets get some poor soul who became an alcoholic sue the Commonwealth for providing the alcohol.

- Rick Mayberry

OSBC said...

Great article, well-written! It's absolutely pitiful, embarrasing, and idiotic how PA runs a monopoly over alcohol distribution.

Alan said...

See, that is excellent work - combining journalist, consumer advocate and just plain pissed off citizen.

Unknown said...

Ed Rendell is an embarrasment.

He should stick to drinking the Clinton Kool-aid and stay out of the Beer and Wine Business!

Rich said...

Hey, don't trash Rendell completely, he got us gambling in the state after finally realizing all the revenue that is going to AC. There are gamblers in PA, who knew. It's only slots but that is a start.

Anyhow, we can go further. Every movement starts with a pissed off citizen that has a voice and a platform. Get enough people to stand on the platform behind you and suddenly people listen.

Anonymous said...

Well, just like great comedy, timing is everything. I just happened to send a note off to the LCB earlier today complaining about the dwindling selection of quality domestic spirits available in the PA stores. They replied promptly, BTW, and promised answers soon.

Not to worry about the monolithic State Store system. With the inroads about to be made regarding beer in grocery and convenience stores, will wine be so very far behind? This particular push by private retailers is, I believe, the first volley in a battle that will end with the dismantling of (or at least the gutting of) the PLCB.

And you're right, the politics at work here remind me of the summer patronage job I had during college...gratuitous bullshit!

Anonymous said...

Nicely done, Lew.

Anonymous said...

We have a fat cheese steak head of state who never met a tax proposal he never liked just wait until this fat man who has most of his friends running the lottery system who give the beer distributors in penna five cents on the dollor to try and change anything unless he or his buddies will receive anything in return..
This money grubbing fat man will also issue new licenses and render anyone selling wine or beer in this state left holding an upside down asset and after knocking down another round of chow say buyer beware.Chang what chang not in this play for pay state...

Lew Bryson said...

If the licensing system is broken -- and I think it is -- it's going to take a radical fix to make it better. Not going to happen in Rendell's term.

Anonymous said...

There are many legit reasons not to like the PLCB, I don't think this is one of them. Newman should not be allowed to use a form of 'Chairman's Selection' to market his business and another wine store in another state should not be allowed to use it either. Hopefully the PLCB will be just as aggressive in finding more quality wines for the Chairman's Selection (since the number available are very low right now) as they are in protecting the name.

Lew Bryson said...

I disagree. I see this contention as pointing up the whole problem with the State acting as a retailer. The State should not be in business in the first place; the State should not be spending thousands of taxpayer dollars in what certainly looks like a personal vendetta with limited returns. Newman was "The Chairman" who made the selections and every wine lover in PA knows it. As I said, "letter of the law," sure. I disagree with the law; not trademark law, but the one that makes the State in the business of holding that trademark. That's the whole point of the post.

Anonymous said...

I know full well Newman was the chairman and he created the Chairman's Selection. He did some great things for the PLCB and I whole-heartedly disagreed with the actions that forced him to resign. Still he should not use the name 'Chairman's Selection'. Plain and simple.

I'm not a champion of the PLCB but if it does go away like many want it to don't think for a minute that prices are going down. The state will still collect the outrageous taxes they put on liquor and no democrat OR republican is going to change that. Both parties have had plenty of opportunity to reduce those taxes, neither have showed much interest in doing so.

Lew Bryson said...

Read the response. I don't think you're getting what I'm saying.

As to your second point, the 18% "Emergency Tax" is one thing that really does make people angry...largely because the State has been dumb enough to continue to refer to it as the "Emergency Tax." Get people angry enough about that, and it may just get swept away.

So long as those prices stay high because of the tax, Pennsylvanians will continue to cross the border. Take the tax away -- or cut it in half -- and the increase in revenues from increased sales may well make up for it. It's not how legislators think, but it's reasonable.