From the Hill: Lawmakers enjoy a bottle of Jack at virtual reception

A pickup truck emblazoned with the Jack Daniel's Distillery logo parked in front of the Cordell Hull Legislative Office Building Wednesday. Inside the building, officials with company gave one-fith bottles of Jack to legislators. (Photo: Sam Stockard)
A pickup truck emblazoned with the Jack Daniel's Distillery logo parked in front of the Cordell Hull Legislative Office Building Wednesday. Inside the building, officials with company gave one-fith bottles of Jack to legislators. (Photo: Sam Stockard)

COVID-19 rules remain partially in effect at the Legislature, including a ban on most fundraising receptions. But that didn’t stop Jack Daniel’s from handing out bottles of the state’s top Tennessee sipping whiskey to lawmakers Wednesday.

Brown-Forman, the Kentucky-based owner of Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, was to hold a virtual legislative reception from 7-9 p.m. Wednesday featuring a private screening of the documentary Chasing Whisky: The Untold Story of Jack Daniel’s, which is to be released soon, according to the company’s invitation.

The whiskey maker was to email lawmakers more information “and other fun ways for you to participate” closer to the date of the event.

“Please mark your calendars for this exclusive opportunity as we toast and honor the Tennessee Legislature,” the invitation says.

But even before the 7 p.m. viewing time, Jack Daniel’s representatives had already given legislators goody bags filled with Jack Daniel’s items, including a fifth of whiskey, not just a couple of mini-bottles.

The Cordell Hull Legislative Building. (Photo: John Partipilo)
The Cordell Hull Legislative Building. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Years ago, a lobbyist kept a running tab at a local liquor store where lawmakers could stop in and get a bottle of their favorite booze. Not so, anymore.

Those kinds of gifts are banned under more modern rules governing the relationship between lobbyists and legislators. These days, though, if lobbyists offer a reception for every lawmaker to attend, they can get away with plying them with free wine, food and whiskey, as long as they have state permission.

According to the Ethics and Campaign Finance Bureau, Brown-Forman properly applied to hold the virtual reception, although the expense per person is pending.

Brown-Forman didn’t run it by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s office, according to a spokesman. A spokesman for Speaker Cameron Sexton said the the reception kits were provided in conjunction with a virtual Jack Daniel’s reception taking place Wednesday and that all members received the invitation from the event’s sponsor.

The whiskey maker doesn’t have any major bills pending this session. But it successfully lobbied legislation a few years ago defining Tennessee whiskey and protecting its distillery method. Brown-Forman also persuaded the Legislature to kill an effort by Moore County to tax its whiskey barrels.

Other events this session include one this week by the Tennessee Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs, one by University Health System, Inc., Tennesseans for Quality Early Education and the Tennessee Charter School Center.

It’s unclear whether those groups provided gift packs for lawmakers, but it’s safe to say they didn’t give them a bottle of whiskey to take home.