This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Washington • Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday in support of a measure that would cede control of liquor sales to states, a move that comes as some groups are using federal courts to strike down state laws regulating alcohol.
After the hearing, Shurtleff acknowledged that the general counsel for the National Beer Wholesalers Association, Paul Pisano, drafted his testimony with Shurtleff's input.
"He gave me some information," Shurtleff said in a telephone interview as he was boarding a plane Wednesday evening. "I was communicating with him, and he drafted it for me because I was coming straight here [to Washington, D.C.]"
Shurtleff later explained that Pisano arranged for his trip to the nation's capital and he knew Pisano could print it out for him. An electronic copy of Shurtleff's testimony submitted to the Judiciary Committee indicates that the author of the Word document was "ppisano."
Pisano didn't return a late call seeking comment.
Shurtleff says the testimony mirrors what 40 attorneys general said in a previous statement about their concerns with state laws being overturned by federal judges after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Michigan couldn't deny an out-of-state winery to make direct-to-consumer sales while allowing an in-state winery to do so.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, aims to pre-empt a series of lawsuits based on that precedent. The beer distributors association backs the legislation, while groups such as the National Association of American Wineries and the Beer Institute oppose it.
While Utah enjoys a monopoly over liquor sales in the state, Shurtleff says he fears the lawsuits challenging states' control could end up circumventing Utah's power over the sales or force the state to deal with hundreds of thousands of distillers, wineries and breweries that want to sell to residents.
"The people of Salt Lake City feel differently about alcohol than the people in Detroit," Shurtleff said in his testimony. "That's the beauty of the American system."
Chaffetz says his bill is insurance against lawsuits eroding Utah's ability to control alcohol sales within its state lines.
"That's under assault," he said, noting that lawsuits have been filed against other states and citing an appellate court decision striking down a Michigan law.
"They're trying to dismantle the states' rights to control alcohol," he added. "They want to loosen liquor laws so they can sell Jack Daniels next to snow sleds at Costco."
Chaffetz, a first-term congressman, was one of 74 House members who received a $10,000 donation this election cycle from the National Beer Wholesalers Association, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Chaffetz said Wednesday that he was aware of the donation, but added it didn't affect his sponsorship.
"I believe in this, regardless," he said.
Alerted to the source of Shurtleff's testimony, Chaffetz said he feels compelled to speak to congressional leaders about the role played by a lobbyist.
"My friendship aside, I take this very seriously," Chaffetz said. "I feel like I have to share this with the ranking member and the chairman and I feel that I have to take some action."
Chaffetz added, "You're supposed to be providing your own personal prospective."
Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif., argued before the committee that liquor distributors were just trying to carve themselves out of any application of the U.S. Constitution, which regulates interstate commerce.
"They want Congress to expressly give states the ability to regulate without limits of national fairness and market equity," he said, according to written testimony.
Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Calif., added that the legislation allows states to discriminate against producers and promotes "economic protectionism."
"It would still seriously harm American business and take choice away from American consumers," Thompson said.