If you are a foreign journalist and are thinking of taking a whiskey-soaked trip across Kentucky’s famous Bourbon Trail, you’re in luck: The federal government could pick up the tab for your transportation. That’s right—international reporters can imbibe without care as they are shuttled down back roads on the taxpayers’ dime.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) contributes funds for this egregious example of crony capitalism in conjunction with the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, which recently hosted a five-day liquor lobby tour for journalists. The USDA supplied the liquor lobby with a $400,000 subsidy for 2014 through its Market Access Program (MAP), some of which went toward chauffeuring the swilling journalists to distilleries in Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.
The MAP, which is designed to aid American businesses in boosting international sales, has a history of providing taxpayer funds for ventures that should be far outside the scope of the federal government. The program has subsidized international wine tastings, a prune-centric dinner party, an animated squirrel advertisement for walnuts, and organic hair products for cats and dogs. Other beneficiaries of the $172 million in MAP subsidies for 2014 include the timber, wine, nut, and fruit industries.
Indeed, it is not wrong for a successful American industry to build goodwill among journalists—so long as it does so with its own resources. The booming bourbon industry has experienced a renaissance over the past decade; there is no reason taxpayer funds should finance the promotion of its own popular product.
Offering millions of taxpayer dollars to successful American industries that can operate on their own is well beyond the proper role of the federal government, and the use of these funds is sadly indicative of the crony capitalism that has become endemic among today’s government agencies. Congress should announce last call for MAP and any other programs that shower well-connected recipients with inappropriate and unnecessary federal subsidies.