PLCB Must End Costly Mission Conflict

DECEMBER 12, 2011 | Commentary by DAWN MELING

In high school, I threw the javelin in track and field, badly wanting to be recruited by a college athletics program.  My dad would joke that he never had to worry about high school boys and unwanted attention towards me because I could out bench press almost every guy in my school.  And that was my attitude too – nothing to worry about. 

So it was rather eye-opening when I got to college, taking part in rape awareness programs, learning my javelin throwing skills were no match for a roofie or inconspicuous predator.  It was heartbreaking to meet girls who had endured tragic, unspeakable assaults that would haunt them for life, and I silently vowed to do everything in my power to prevent this from ever happening to me.  I would never take a drink from a guy I didn't know, leave my drink unattended, lose contact with my friends, or drink too much.  But despite my commitment to these practices, it didn't erase the most unsettling, frightening fact underneath it all – rape isn't the choice of the victim.  

Sadly, a recent Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board campaign sent just the opposite message to women across the state.  The PLCB launched an ad campaign and Web site called Control Tonight to warn of the dangers of binge drinking.  The ads show thin, bare legs on a bathroom floor, panties around the ankles, with the words, "She didn't want to do it, but she couldn't say no." 

At best, this ad campaign is in poor taste, but at worst, it tells girls that binge drinking, not rapists, is to blame for rape.  This is unacceptable.

An agency spokesperson says this campaign is "separate and distinct from LCB marketing and advertising efforts."  But what is painfully obvious remains the egregious conflict of interest the PLCB operates under.  Not only does the PLCB spend taxpayer dollars for tone-deaf "dangers of drinking" ads, but this very same government entity designs and spends our money on advertising campaigns to encourage alcohol consumption.  In essence, they sell us the ailment and the solution, all on our dime.

One PLCB Web site says binge drinking leads to impaired decisions and potential rape, the other has a recipe for a cocktail called "Wake-up Whipped," featuring PLCB-selected spirits.  The disconnect is astounding.  Can you imagine if other government entities functioned this way?  If our firefighters advertised for and sold fireworks, lighters and gasoline?  If our teachers had taxpayer-funded afterschool programs selling Cliff's Notes?

There should be no doubt then that the PLCB enforcement of alcohol regulation and simultaneous promotion of its consumption is an inherent conflict of interest that prevents it from effectively protecting and serving the public.

The date rape scenario has already been pulled from the Web site after a massive outcry from women and men across the commonwealth, but the damage has already been done. Like the failed wine kiosk program, the inventory system fiasco, and the massive revenue lost to border bleed, the PLCB has failed to understand the market in which it operates, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars in the process.

As for the agency, its spokesperson said, "We don't see it as a conflict we see it as fulfilling our mission."  If that's true, then the PLCB must be assigned a new mission.

Ultimately, our legislators must conclude that operating contradictory missions has yielded negative consequences that have been as obvious as they are numerous.  Nonprofit groups and subject matter experts who thoroughly understand the issues and sensitivities behind them can better educate the public without using taxpayer money.  It's time our government sends the right message to Pennsylvanians by immediately removing the PLCB from this dangerous conflict of interest.

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Dawn M. Meling is the deputy director of public affairs of the Commonwealth Foundation (www.commonwealthfoundation.org), Pennsylvania's free-market think tank.



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