Unethical LCB: The monopoly’s ex-officials were targets for gifts

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As if Pennsylvania needed one more reason to end the government’s liquor monopoly, the State Ethics Commission declared Monday that three former top officials of the Liquor Control Board had violated state ethics laws.

The commission ordered them to pay the state for the value of gifts and hospitality given by alcohol vendors doing business with the LCB. The former LCB officials who must pay are director of marketing James Short, $13,587; board member Patrick Stapleton, $7,258; and CEO Joe Conti, $2,338. The three were also told to file amended state financial disclosure forms.

The ethics commission said the ex-officials, who were instrumental in running the state-owned and state-operated system that markets all packaged wine and spirits in Pennsylvania, received expensive dinners, golf trips and liquor from industry representatives. Rob Caruso, executive director of the commission, said of the LCB, “If they’re not evaluating their processes and their code of conduct, they probably should.”

LCB defenders argue that state control of liquor sales is better for the consumer and Pennsylvania. But this case is a reminder that it’s much easier for special interests to influence a government monopoly that controls 600 stores than an open marketplace of hundreds of private, independent merchants.

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