Monday, February 13, 2012

Money in Politics: Case Study

            In the early 90’s I was on the board of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Family Resource Institute (FAS*FRI).  We were a family driven organization dedicated to helping families find services for their loved ones affected by prenatal exposure to alcohol.  Our mission statement included preventing this disability.  We had state funding though the Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse (DASA).

            We worked closely with the University of Washington researchers, especially Sterling Clarren MD and Ann Streisguth PhD.  At the time these were the top researchers in the field. They are certainly people to be held in high regard for the excellence of their work. 

            I think it was Dr. Streisguth who first proposed signs in places where liquor is sold to warn women about the hazards of drinking while pregnant.  The governor called together a task force to work on the details of the signs.  Of course Drs. Clarren and Streisguth were at the table to present their research and educated opinion.  Our state Liquor Control Board had representatives at the table.  Three members of the FAS FRI board were present.  The Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse was present.  Curiously, representatives of the liquor industry were present.

            I was terribly confused as to why the liquor industry needed to be at meetings to determine what kind of signs to use to warn of the dangers of drinking alcohol while pregnant.  I understood why the researchers were present.  I understood why the liquor control board was present.  Since FAS FRI was a state funded prevention organization working with families, I understood that it was legitimate to include our board members.

            It took months for the signage to be approved.  First, the liquor industry refused to approve any signs larger than five by seven inches.  The Liquor Control Board agreed with them over the protests of the researchers, DASA personnel and the FAS*FRI board.

            Second, the liquor industry insisted on softer language than the research indicated.  This was a big fight.  Again the Liquor Control Board acquiesced to appease the liquor lobby. 

            Even the artwork was toned down to be less graphic than the researchers, our board, and DASA wanted.  We couldn’t even use an eye-catching border.  Graphics were subdued. 

            In the end we got our signs, but they didn’t represent the reality exposed by the research.  It was less than those of us who worked with the disability wanted.  It was less than DASA wanted.  

            The signage is vague. It is not particularly noticeable. It does not address the severity of the disability that it is supposed to prevent.  It was the maximum the liquor industry would allow. 

            I still see no reason why a particular industry even had a place at the table when a public health issue was discussed. It would be understandable if they were trying to take aggressive action to prevent this disability.  I am appalled that they were able to push their agenda of playing down the risks at every turn.  If this were an isolated incident in the battle against alcohol related birth defects, I would still be mystified.  We’ve lost too many battles.  I have to come to the conclusion that the money the liquor industry spends on elections in my state buys them a place at the table.  Actually, it seems to give them the majority vote at the table.



  1. I couldn't agree more, but it's difficult to know how to fight groups that powerful. It seems that so many people these days are lacking both integrity and common sense. We have a relative with FAS and it has so complicated her life and her relationships. Thanks for your post!

  2. It happens so often it is reprehensible. And activism is the only way to combat this pernicious syndrome, not only the disease, but the business groups (legion) who put product and profit above people.

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