Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 17, 2014

Driving ABI to Drink

The American Beverage Institute is against drunken driving. But buzzed driving? Well … that’s another story.

The trade association, which is one wee part of unregistered super lobbyist Richard Berman’s empire of corporate-backed nonprofits, is afraid that legislation aimed at encouraging the use of anti-drunken-driving technology will turn restaurant-goers into teetotalers.

Provisions in the House and Senate versions of the surface transportation authorization bill would grant extra monies to any state that requires convicted drunken drivers to equip their cars with breathalyzers that prevent their sauced-up rides from starting.

Earlier this month, Virginia became the 16th state to enact such a law.

The ABI says the law should apply only to “hard-core offenders” because they are the most likely to cause alcohol-related accidents.

But with the Senate passing its own version last week and the House needing to take up legislation before the current authorization expires, the beverage institute might be running out of, ahem, vehicles for its cause.

When asked to provide examples of Congressional allies who might fight the provisions, Sarah Longwell, managing director of ABI, came up empty.

“We’re talking to a lot of people in the House,” she said. “Lobbying is not a core competency of ours.”

Also driving the ABI to drink is a provision in the Senate bill that would appropriate $24 million for the development of more sophisticated technology that could become standard in all cars — such as a device that could sense blood alcohol content through the skin.

The groups that actually count lobbying for the booze industry as one of their skills — the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America — are not touching this one. In fact, they sent a letter to lawmakers in support of the proposal way back in July.

J.T. Griffin, a lobbyist with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, on the other hand, is toasting the proposed provision.

This could be a valuable tool for hard drinkers who are worried about their reputations, he told us.

He’s talking to you, all of Washington.

Clarification: March 21, 2012

This item should have clarified that the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America sent a letter supporting a proposal to appropriate $24 million for the development of more sophisticated technology that could become standard in all cars.

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