DETROIT — A national campaign -- called MADDatGM -- has been launched with the backing of 17,000 bars, taverns and liquor stores, to attack General Motors and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), mostly for their efforts to lower legal blood-alcohol levels, according to the Detroit Free Press. The effort has so far been a low-key one, but GM officials say the Washington-based trade group behind it is threatening that its members will quit buying GM vehicles for corporate fleet use. The campaign, which already has a Web site and says it will distribute posters and coasters at various stores and bars, argues that MADD is no longer just trying to halt drunken driving, but has become a prohibitionist group that wants to criminalize all drinking. The campaign argues that GM, with its long-running support of MADD, supports prohibition and that tavern or liquor-store owners should think twice about buying GM cars or trucks. MADD denies that it's trying to halt social drinking, saying its mission is focused on three things: preventing drunken driving, helping victims of drunken driving, and halting under-age drinking. MADD notes that the MADDatGM push is from businesses that make money off alcohol sales and are angry MADD successfully lobbied for tougher national blood-alcohol levels for drunken driving. GM is one of MADD's top corporate sponsors, donating over $3 million the last five years and placing executives on MADD boards. GM spokesman Alan Adler says the automaker supports MADD because "our focus is on drunk driving and the 17,000 people killed each year by drunk driving on the highways." GM made a commitment in 2000, in honor of MADD's 20-year anniversary, to donate at least $2.5 million over five years to MADD. That commitment expired at the end of 2004, and GM hasn't decided how much it will donate to MADD in 2005 and beyond, Adler said. The MADDatGM campaign seems, in part, timed to the fact that GM's 5-year commitment has wound down. "We want to stop GM from contributing to MADD. We have a problem with GM money going to criminalize social drinkers. GM needs to recognize it is attacking legitimate businesses," said Rick Berman, the Washington, D.C., lobbyist running the MADDatGM campaign. According to the Detroit News, Berman has a history of representing tobacco firms, restaurant chains or beer distributors in fights against labor unions, consumer-health groups and efforts to raise the minimum wage. Berman estimates a "few hundred thousand dollars" has been spent on the MADDatGM campaign, but that could grow if the effort has success. The American Beverage Licensees, a Washington-based trade group representing 12,000 bars and 5,000 liquor stores, is funding it. DaimlerChrysler, Nissan, and Ford also give financially to MADD, but they are not part of this campaign. Adler, the GM spokesman, said GM doesn't feel it has lost any business yet due to the anti-MADD campaign. GM's director of regulatory affairs for safety, Steve O'Toole, is treasurer for MADD and a former GM official, Charles Babcock, was MADD chairman from 1996 to 1998. "We are aware of the campaign, but we're not aware of any negative feedback from it," Adler said.

Originally posted on Fleet Financials