Earlier this week an article in Vice mentioned a confidential document obtained by Motherboard, which demonstrates that Amazon wanted to make an aggressive push into the alcohol space and change alcohol licensing laws in conjunction with a limited government think tank.
According to the article, the company would deploy a more aggressive strategy, which desired to eliminate licensing caps, fully legalizing delivery, and compete with package stores and wholesalers.
What drew the ire of the writer is that Amazon planned its strategy in concert with R Street Institute, a limited government/free market think tank, and that Amazon would us R Street to provide it cover in policy debates. The article quoting from Amazon memos states, “As we engage in these higher-profile, higher-risk activities, we will rely on RSI to shape the discourse in each state with a series of strategic media engagements, timely research to inform our advocacy tactics, and be the public face of overall reform efforts,” the document states. “Through RSI, we will facilitate allied activities with Walmart, Kroger, and other retailers to drive our three-tier modernization plan. They can shield us from sensitive issues through their established Free the Drinks initiative, providing cover when involvement by large retail brands is detrimental to progress.”
Amazon’s articulated strategy drew outrage from Craig Purser, the CEO of the National Beer Wholesalers of America, who stated that:
“It is concerning that a massive corporation is reportedly hiding behind a special interest shadow group to advance ways to circumvent a safe and effective alcohol ecosystem, including the local retailers that work every day to provide products in a competitive way to American consumers.”
Interesting conclusion that utilizing an independent third-party to push strategy is somehow wrong.
There is one interesting fact according to alcohol expert Professor David J. Hansson, “The Center for Alcohol Policy is a non-profit organization. The National Beer Wholesalers Association founded and funds it.” The Center for Alcohol Policy advocates for maintaining the three-tier system and is against free market reforms in the liquor space.
There is no doubt that there is a close like between The Center for Alcohol Policy and the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA), and that the Center puts on conferences and writes material that backs up NBWA’s position on maintaining the status quo in the alcohol three-tier system.
And know what, that is okay. If NBWA indeed funds the Center and works in conjunction with the Center, then that is their prerogative. It is NBWA’s money and they have a right to spend it as they see fit. And they have a right to advocate for their economic interest.
But somehow when Amazon works on behalf of its own economic interest, it is evil incarnate.
Amazon like the wholesalers wants to utilize the system to maximize profits, and where have we seen this before!
I remember being at the liquor conference when a member of the wholesaler community criticized my blog post about the Teamster’s member piece denouncing DTC spirits shipping. As I said to my wholesaler friend, “if he puts himself in the public eye, he, me or anyone else is open to critique”. The retort back was, “you know he didn’t write it!”
Again, the Teamster’s Driver was an effective piece for an advocacy campaign. A hard working man who is a afraid of what he deems are the economic consequences of a potential policy change.
I hold nothing against the wholesalers for advocating in partnership with third-parties or people, or even funding these efforts sometime.
But spare the outrage that Amazon is doing something nefarious that has never been done before. Man landed on the moon, 54 years ago, these political games have been going on longer than that.
Time for Vice to discover the truth about the liquor industry, the normal state of affairs it is out there, if they look hard enough.