Wine, Dine and Bribe — the latest PLCB revelation

“Today’s featured wine has notes of bureacracy, boondoggles, and waste, with a lingering aftertaste of corruption. May I interest you in this PLCB blend?”

Unlike a fine wine, the PLCB seems to get worse with age. The latest revelation concerning the booze bureaucracy comes to us via the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission. The commission found three former PLCB officials violated state ethics laws.

The violations include: accepting gifts from vendors who had ongoing contracts with the PLCB, using a position in government for personal benefit and failing to disclose gifts on annual financial interest statements. The three officials, former CEO Joe Conti, former PLCB Board Chairman Patrick Stapleton and Director of Marketing Jim Short, were showered with numerous gifts during their respective tenures. The gifts included invitations to golf outings, sporting events, meals, lodging and alcoholic beverages.

Many of these violations occurred on the taxpayer’s dime with officials attending functions and accepting gifts during work hours. Not only that, but taxpayers were actually billed for some of the expenses related to these social functions. How many of you get to bill your employer for non-work related golf outings?

The findings of the Ethics Commission aren’t the only things troubling taxpayers — so are the punishments. Chris Comisac of Capitolwire reports that some good government watchdogs are questioning why the penalties for these public officials are so light.

“ ‘It encourages public officials to roll the dice and take the chance they won’t get caught,’ said Barry Kauffman, executive director for Pennsylvania Common Cause. But beyond that, Kauffman said it also creates a situation where those giving the gifts are buying access to those public officials, and at least the possibility of getting what they want from those officials.

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‘The only real penalty is that they have to pay for what they already have,” added Kauffman. “That’s really not much of penalty at all.’ ”

The corruption at the PLCB is a symptom of a larger problem. When a government monopoly has the sole authority to determine what products are sold on state store shelves, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some businesses will try to influence those with such authority. Moreover, these same officials are tasked with regulating and enforcing the state’s liquor laws. It’s an inherent conflict of interest, and they serve neither purpose well.

This is just one of the many reasons Pennsylvania needs full privatization. Leaving goverment in the booze business will leave the door open for more corruption.

Bob Dick is a policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives.

This column originally appeared on the Commonwealth Foundation’s Policy Blog.