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The LCB's conflict

| Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 8:52 p.m.

Conflicting stories about the state Liquor Control Board's in-house brands keep multiplying. Records obtained by the Trib under Pennsylvania's Right to Know Law contradict CEO Joe Conti's claim that the LCB devoted no resources to promoting those brands.

In fact, the LCB spent nearly $475,000 — about 10 percent of its last fiscal year's advertising budget — with Harmelin Media of Philadelphia to place newspaper, magazine, billboard, mass-transit, radio and online-sponsorship ads for five of its eight in-house brands.

More than 960 private-sector brands — which compete with the in-house brands — had to compete for the rest of the ad budget.

Even the producers of those in-house brands are disturbed. They're members of the California-based Wine Institute, whose counsel says special ad treatment for LCB in-house brands was “government ... picking winners and losers.”

“(T)hey were doing something they should not have been doing and spending money that rightfully should have gone to taxpayers,” says the Allegheny Institute's Frank Gamrat.

Various LCB officials' conflicting stories about the in-house brands make the LCB's self-dealing even worse. Yet the more conflicting stories that emerge, the more the LCB makes the case for its own demise through privatization.

The state has no business in the wine-and-liquor business — as monopoly wholesaler and retailer or as provider and promoter of products competing with the private-sector brands it regulates.

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