Politics & Government

Liquor dealer in Kentucky legislature files a half-dozen booze bills

State Rep. C. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond, is a liquor dealer who has filed a half-dozen House bills so far in 2017 related to liquor sales.
State Rep. C. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond, is a liquor dealer who has filed a half-dozen House bills so far in 2017 related to liquor sales. Legislative Research Commission

In his first five days as a Kentucky state representative, C. Wesley Morgan, a longtime Richmond liquor dealer, filed six bills that he thinks would make life better for the liquor industry.

Morgan, a 66-year-old Republican, is chief executive officer of Liquor World, with stores in Richmond, Manchester, Irvine and Barbourville. He also lists himself as a vice president of the Kentucky Association of Beverage Retailers, an industry group that represents the interests of package liquor stores before state government.

When Morgan ran for election last November, seeking to oust Democratic Rep. Rita Smart, he campaigned on a platform of tax reform, fixing the state pension system and fighting crime and addiction.

During the first week of the 2017 legislative session, however, Morgan was the sole sponsor of:

House Bill 164, to prohibit certain liquor dealers from selling for less than purchase cost;

House Bill 155, to make it easier for certain liquor dealers to transport their products between commonly owned stores;

House Bill 154, to prohibit the granting of exclusive distributing rights for any particular liquor brand to only one wholesaler;

House Bill 136, to delete the law that says liquor wholesalers may not sell to a retailer who has exceeded the 30-day credit limit with any one wholesaler;

House Bill 134, to require wholesalers and distributors to deliver to liquor dealers within one week after an order is received, and;

House Bill 133, to permit brewers and distributors to extend 30 days of credit to dealers on the purchase of malt beverages.

None of Morgan’s bills had been assigned to a House committee when the legislature began a month-long break Saturday, to return Feb. 7 for the remaining 25 days of the session.

Morgan did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday. In Twitter messages to the Herald-Leader, he said his business background makes him well qualified to sponsor legislation related to the liquor industry, just as doctors and lawyers in the legislature sometimes sponsor bills involving medical issues or tort reform.

“My focus is on jobs and making it easier to do biz. Having years of experience in liquor industry, I know where to cut tape,” Morgan wrote. “The real story here is that desperate wholesale liquor lobbyists are worried their monopoly is going to be busted. Shame on them!”

It’s a conflict of interest for Morgan to “use his public office for his personal betterment,” said Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause of Kentucky, a government watchdog.

“When he ran for the House, Mr. Morgan should have been running to help, first, the people of his district, and second, all of the people of the commonwealth,” Beliles said. “But it looks instead like he ran to help himself.”

Kentucky lawmakers are allowed to act on legislation that benefits them in their private lives provided that it’s not tailored so narrowly as to be “particularly personal,” said John Schaaf, executive director of the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission.

“Speaking generally, they can vote on bills that affect their business as long as it’s not specific to their business only,” Schaaf said. “It becomes more of an area for his constituents to decide if there is a problem, rather than for the law. We assume that his constituents knew what he did for a living when they elected him.”

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics