View Full Version : Alcohol Lobbyist Fighting GM

02-24-2005, 07:03 PM
Alcohol lobbyist fighting GM<p>Carmaker faulted for backing Mothers Against Drunk Driving<p>February 24, 2005<p>BY JEFFREY McCRACKEN<br>FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER<p>General Motors Corp., which is a lightning rod for criticism on everything from air pollution to auto quality, has now become a target for, of all things, one of its charitable efforts -- its financial and political push to combat drunken driving.<p>A national campaign -- called MADDatGM -- has been launched with the backing of 17,000 bars, taverns and liquor stores to attack the automaker and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, mostly for their efforts to lower legal blood-alcohol levels. The effort has so far been a low-key one, but GM officials say the Washington-based trade group behind it is threatening that its members will quit buying GM vehicles for corporate fleet use -- which could cost the automaker millions of dollars.<p>The campaign, which already has a Web site and says it will distribute posters and coasters at various stores and bars, argues that MADD is no longer just trying to halt drunken driving, but has become a prohibitionist group that wants to criminalize all drinking. The campaign argues that GM, with its long-running support of MADD, supports prohibition and that tavern or liquor-store owners should think twice about buying GM cars or trucks.<p>MADD denies that it's trying to halt social drinking, saying its mission is focused on three things: preventing drunken driving, helping victims of drunken driving and halting under-age drinking. MADD notes that the MADDatGM push is from businesses that make money off alcohol sales and are angry MADD successfully lobbied for tougher national blood-alcohol levels for drunken driving.<p>GM is one of MADD's top corporate sponsors, donating over $3 million the last five years and placing executives on MADD boards. GM spokesman Alan Adler says the automaker supports MADD because "our focus is on drunk driving and the 17,000 people killed each year by drunk driving on the highways."<p>GM made a commitment in 2000, in honor of MADD's 20-year anniversary, to donate at least $2.5 million over five years to MADD. That commitment expired at the end of 2004, and GM hasn't decided how much it will donate to MADD in 2005 and beyond, Adler said.<p>Outsiders say GM seems caught between its support of MADD, its desire for the positive publicity that comes with supporting MADD, and the threat of losing millions of dollars in business from personal or commercial sales to bar owners, liquor stores and beer, wine and liquor distributors.<p>The MADDatGM campaign seems, in part, timed to the fact that GM's 5-year commitment has wound down.<p>"We want to stop GM from contributing to MADD. We have a problem with GM money going to criminalize social drinkers. GM needs to recognize it is attacking legitimate businesses," said Rick Berman, the high-powered Washington, D.C., lobbyist running the MADDatGM campaign.<p>Berman has a history of representing tobacco firms, restaurant chains or beer distributors in fights against labor unions, consumer-health groups and efforts to raise the minimum wage.<p>Berman estimates a "few hundred thousand dollars" has been spent on the MADDatGM campaign, but that could grow if the effort has success. The American Beverage Licensees, a Washington-based trade group representing 12,000 bars and 5,000 liquor stores, is funding it.<p>There does appear to be pent-up anger with MADD by restaurant owners -- even those with close geographic ties to GM.<p>"MADD has become nothing but a prohibition group. I think pressing GM is a small step, but it's the way to go," said Tom Brandel, owner of four Tom's Oyster Bars in Michigan, including one in Detroit across from GM headquarters at the Renaissance Center.<p>"MADD has successfully changed the way people dine. They forced people in groups to have one person who can't drink at all, not even one glass of wine. That's just wrong. Accidents are caused by hard-core alcoholics, people who are really drunk but keep getting on the road," said Brandel.<p>Berman said no Michigan associations are funding the MADDatGM campaign. However, a spokesman for the Lansing-based Michigan Licensed Beverage Association said it "philosophically supports the effort against MADD," but has not yet financially supported it.<p>"All of my clients are corporations, so it's odd we are taking on GM," said Berman. "But I think someone inside GM is trying to buy MADD's silence on issues like the speed of vehicles or driver distraction that comes from something like OnStar or satellite radio."<p>OnStar is GM's in-vehicle navigation system and the automaker is one of the leading sellers of satellite radio systems like XM.<p>"GM is talking out of both sides of their mouth when they say they are concerned about safety, but then they build or sell Corvettes. If they really cared about safety they'd say they won't sell the Corvette to someone who has a certain number of traffic violations," said Berman.<p>MADD and GM both chafe at Berman's comments. MADD notes GM specified that its money go to underage-drinking prevention for three years and the next two years to help people harmed in drunken driving.<p>MADD spokeswoman Heidi Castle says preventing driver distraction is not MADD's focus.<p>"Our mission is to prevent drunken driving. We want people on the road that are safe. We are not against drinking by people who are over age 21. This group is just trying to scare people because of our effort to lower the blood-alcohol standard to 0.08," said Castle.<p>The national standard for drunken-driving is a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent, as part of legislation signed in 2000. GM and other automakers banded together with MADD to help pass that legislation, which forced all 50 states to adopt a 0.08 standard.<p>A 170-pound man can have four to five drinks in an hour on an empty stomach before reaching a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level. A 137-pound woman would reach 0.08 after approximately three drinks in an hour on an empty stomach.<p>A spokeswoman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency in charge of auto safety, defended MADD, saying that because of it the number of alcohol-related deaths has dropped from 26,173 in 1982 to 17,013 in 2003.<p>There were 42,643 people killed in all traffic accidents in 2003, with alcohol-related deaths accounting for about 40 percent of that total.<p>"We have no problems with MADD. They are getting the word out about drunken driving," said NHTSA spokeswoman Liz Neblett. "We and our partners like MADD have gotten the percentage of alcohol-related deaths down from 60 percent to 40 percent, which makes us feel better."<p>Joan Claybrook, president of the consumer-advocacy group Public Citizen and a former NHTSA chief, has butted heads with Berman and GM. She's also a longtime supporter of MADD.<p>"I think this is just a very shrewd, tactical stunt to intimidate anyone who supports MADD," said Claybrook. "I don't think it will intimidate GM. They are the big kid on the block. Maybe it will backfire and make GM look good for their support of MADD."<p>Berman said he has had two meetings in Washington, D.C., with GM lobbyists, but said he was "given a polite stiff-arm." DaimlerChrysler, Nissan and Ford also give financially to MADD, but they are not part of this campaign.<p>Adler, the GM spokesman, said GM doesn't feel it has lost any business yet due to the anti-MADD campaign. GM's director of regulatory affairs for safety, Steve O'Toole, is treasurer for MADD and a former GM official, Charles Babcock, was MADD chairman from 1996 to 1998.<p>"We are aware of the campaign, but we're not aware of any negative feedback from it," Adler said.<p>Contact JEFFREY McCRACKEN at 313-222-8763 or mccracken@freepress.com.<br><A HREF="http://www.freep.com/money/autonews/gmadd24e_20050224.htm" TARGET="_blank">http://www.freep.com/money/aut...4.htm</A>

Naga Royal Guard
02-24-2005, 07:27 PM
beats bein chased around by PETA, right?

02-27-2005, 10:18 AM
Only in America could a corporation be attacked for some of the good work it tries to do. Wouldn't happen over here, the company and government would both tell the complaining group to shut the f*** up.

02-28-2005, 09:55 AM
That is absolutely moronic. How about bars encouraging a designated driver, a key drop (like a coatcheck for your car keys - you get them back if you're below the limit), or having a board with a list of assorted cab companies available for the patrons. No, that would make too much sense.