The Corruption Chronicles – Volume One: A New Hope

A new publication has emerged on the industry scene, and it promises to be one of the most useful resources we have seen in a long time – Spirited Magazine (the website for the new magazine is www.spiritedbiz.com. There is another site for an old publication called spirited magazine.  Don’t confuse the two). Spirited crosses beverage types (wine, beer, spirits, cider and mead), looks at issues common to all licensed producers, wholesalers and retailers of all beverages and tries to make sense of it all.  We now live in a world where the large and small winery, brewery and distiller are all competing, and are all facing the same marketing and regulatory challenges. 

Many of our clients in each space are involved with other alcoholic beverage products and, as a result, are now experiencing first-hand the fundamentally inconsistent regulatory treatment of the different products.  Something legal for wine is unlawful for beer, something legal for spirits is unlawful for wine, and so forth.  It creates a very frustrating dynamic not only for the industry member but for the regulator who, let’s face it, has a very difficult job.  To add to the chaos, every state is a regulatory island unto itself.  That means national and regional marketing and other programs have to be carefully vetted against multiple different laws and regulations, and narrowly tailored to comply with the strictest.

The challenge with cross-involvement is that while most of the regulatory rules of the road (including licensing, distribution, marketing, event privileges and consumer sale privileges) are different for each beverage type, the penalties for violation of the historic “tied-house” laws, which apply to all beverage types, are almost identical and are often draconian.  We talked to the Spirited Magazine founders about this and the response from us will be the “Corruption Chronicles” – a series of tales of actual violations (and the lessons to be learned from each) published on an occasional basis in Spirited, and republished on Booze Rules for the edification of our friends and colleagues.

Volume One can be found here. Volume Two will be in the next edition of Spirited.

The point of the Chronicles is to illustrate the types of actual violations that regulators in California and around the country are pursuing. Bribery of retail accounts, smuggling of alcohol from one jurisdiction to another to evade taxes, suppliers managing retail account liquor departments and choosing what products the retailer will buy and in the process shutting out their competition; these are all examples of corrupt activities that impact the marketplace, threaten fair competition and justify vigorous regulatory responses.

But, and this is the big BUT, where is the line between clean competition and corrupt activity? When does an innocent act or agreement cross the line?  Is intent required (sometimes yes, sometimes no). Does the “everyone else is doing it” defense ever work? Those are the questions the Corruption Chronicles will explore.  Welcome to the world of Hinman & Carmichael LLP!