DoorDash. Credit: Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images for Los Angeles Times

Daily Point

One for the road

A new chapter in the drinks-to-go legalization saga began this week, with an email from DoorDash urging customers to join the Albany battle.

"We know that DoorDash customers across the state have not only enjoyed ordering delicious food from their local restaurants but also cocktails and other alcoholic beverages to-go," said the Wednesday morning email, two separate copies of which were reviewed by The Point. "Safe alcohol delivery benefits customers, Dashers, and local restaurants, whose sales volume has gone up exponentially with to-go alcohol orders."

It’s the latest twist for a libation journey that began when the state in 2020 temporarily allowed carryout alcoholic drinks as a pandemic boost to restaurants. A 2021 bid to make that permanent failed at the end of the last legislative session, but Gov. Kathy Hochul wants to try again, and has included the measure in her budget proposal as part of a rescue plan for small businesses.

DoorDash is aligning itself with Hochul and the powerful New York State Restaurant Association on this topic, prompting email recipients toward a "TAKE ACTION NOW" button that helps you send a form email to officials. And these customers may not be the constituents who usually contact state lawmakers.

It’s not the first time the delivery-focused tech company has flexed its Albany muscles, given that the business paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to New York lobbyist outfits for a variety of issues last year, according to state records.

And the other side has a lot of heft, too: The entrenched liquor store lobby stopped the measure last year and is getting credit for keeping it out of the State Senate and Assembly budget proposals this time around.

But Hochul is still pushing for a solution, saying as recently as Monday that she’d find the "right venue" to get it done and wants to do so "before the end of session."

Meanwhile, DoorDash says that customers have already sent thousands of pro-alcohol-to-go emails to New York state lawmakers.

Assemb. Jarett Gandolfo told The Point that 5 or 6 to-go-drinks emails had come in by noon on Wednesday. The letter writers’ ages ranged from 24-32, from around the Sayville Republican’s district, and they were not constituents who were often in touch, he said.

Gandolfo said he understood the concerns from liquor stores and could see compromises, but supports to-go drinks as a benefit to restaurants and consumers, himself included: "It was great to be able to get some margaritas with tacos to-go."

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Talking Point

Big money

If former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo does indeed make another bid for office, he can rely on millions of dollars in past contributions waiting in his warchest.

How did he build up his huge sums, and how are declared gubernatorial hopefuls doing the same? With a little help from limits on individual contributions that are… not that limiting.

The 2021 constraints for people wanting to donate in the gubernatorial race are $47,100 for the general election plus a smaller amount if the candidate is in a primary. Those primary sums are determined by a formula taking into account party enrollment: $22,600 for a Democratic primary, $13,729 for Republican, and $7,500 for either the Conservatives or Working Families Party.

If a candidate is in two primaries — say, Conservative and GOP — an individual can give up to the limit for both. And winners of the primaries for governor and lieutenant governor run together, so in the general election $47,100 is the limit for one ticket.

These are the approximate limits for now: Updated 2022 maximum contributions based on recent party enrollment data are being calculated by the state Board of Elections’ Compliance Unit, spokesman John Conklin said last week.

And TBD on whether any candidate will be able to do the primary double dip: "We won’t know who is in a primary until petitions are filed in April," Conklin wrote in an email. "But candidates are allowed to take all potential limits with the assumption that they will be in a primary."

They must later refund any overcontributions.

The monetary sums, which rival the state’s median household income, are particularly astronomical compared with the stricter limits on federal elections. No matter how hot the congressional races, individual donors can only give candidates $5,800 for their primary and general combined.

New York will soon be getting a state public campaign finance program that will offer matching funds to encourage small-dollar fundraising.

But don’t hold your breath. The program "does not go into effect until the 2026 cycle for statewide offices," wrote Conklin. And though there will be a maximum matchable contribution of $250 for state races, that will not affect the unmatchable, enormous contributions: "The existing contribution limits will not be changed."

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Shredding a democracy

Bob Gorrell

Bob Gorrell

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Final Point

Vice history

With state regulations for legal marijuana being hammered out, The Point turned to Prohibition chronicler Daniel Okrent for some lessons about legalizing vice.

Is there any precedent for New York’s push to prioritize some licenses to those with past cannabis-related offenses, or their families?

Okrent, author of the 2010 book "Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition," noted that a few categories of people went from operating illegally to legally after the 21st Amendment ended Prohibition.

"Category number one is speakeasy operators," said Okrent, many of whom became bar or restaurant owners. A classic example of that transition was the 21 Club in Manhattan.

Another category: people and groups who went from smuggling to regular distribution, such as the Bronfmans of the Seagram liquor empire.

Okrent said he wasn’t aware of government regulations explicitly giving preference to people who had previously been operating illegally, though some powerful groups were able to work themselves "implicitly into legislation," such as smugglers-turned-wholesalers who had big sway in places like New Hampshire that centralized liquor sales.

Another potential parallel between the 1930s end of Prohibition and now could be the way legalizing a substance actually makes it easier to regulate. During Prohibition, illegal outfits like speakeasies "could do whatever they wanted," said Okrent, "because if everything is against the law, and it's not being enforced, nothing's against the law." That meant fewer in-practice restrictions on things like underage drinking or closing hours.

When those speakeasies had to get licenses, "everything changed."

Overall, Okrent cites two main messages from Prohibition that are worth keeping in mind as we navigate the brave new world of weed shops. First, "you cannot legislate against human appetites," says Okrent. "If people want liquor, they are going to find a way to get liquor," just as they did decades later with weed.

Second: "There’s a lot of tax revenue to be had."

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

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