A Victory over Evil

For three years, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) investigated Spec’s Wine, Spirits, and Finer Foods, the state’s largest liquor retailer. At the conclusion of its investigation, the TABC sought to pull the licenses for Spec’s 164 stores, unless the company paid a fine of $713 million.

The TABC alleged that Spec’s had accepted millions of dollars from wholesalers and competitors, both of which violate state liquor laws. This, the agency claimed, threatens the “general welfare, health, peace, morals and safety”  of Texans.

As it turns out, Spec’s had paid an invoice from a wholesaler twice, and the over payment was refunded. The alleged payments from a competitor was actually a company Spec’s was buying, and during the transition was using its merchant accounts. The TABC could have easily discovered these facts, if it had bothered to ask. But it didn’t.

The truth didn’t come to light until an administrative hearing on the matter. During the hearing, every charge leveled against Spec’s was rejected by the judges, except for one–five years ago the company may have paid a $778 invoice a few days late. And even that wasn’t clearly established.

During the three years of the TABC’s investigation, Spec’s was denied permits to expand its business. It has incurred huge legal bills to defend itself against false allegations. It’s reputation has been tarnished.

This case illustrates the life and death control that regulatory agencies have over businesses. The arbitrary claims of the TABC could have put Spec’s out of business, not because the company violated anyone’s rights, but because Spec’s allegedly violated the agency’s arbitrary rules.

Spec’s has the resources to fight the TABC. But many companies and individuals don’t. They must grovel at the feet of petty bureaucrats for permission to operate their business. They must pay fines and subject themselves to further controls, or lose their business. We will never know how many lives are destroyed by regulatory agencies. They are the unseen victims of a monstrous evil.

We should celebrate Spec’s victory over this evil. But we must not lose sight of the fact that that evil rules over nearly every aspect of our lives.

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