MADD founder lobbies for group in liquor industry

January 15, 1994|By Nelson Schwartz | Nelson Schwartz,Contributing Writer

WASHINGTON -- Candy Lightner, who gained fame a decade ago as the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, is now fighting MADD-backed legislation to tighten drunken driving standards as a lobbyist for a restaurant industry group opposed to stricter alcohol laws.

Mrs. Lightner, whose 13-year old daughter, Cari, was struck and killed by a drunken driver in Sacramento, Calif., in 1980, began working as a lobbyist for the American Beverage Institute several weeks ago.

The institute, which represents T.G.I. Friday's, Chi-Chi's and other large restaurant chains that serve alcohol, was formed 1991 to combat the efforts of "neo-prohibitionists" to discourage drinking.

The institute receives 10 percent to 15 percent of its funding from the beer and liquor industry and opposes legislation in dozens of states that would tighten the legal minimums for driving while intoxicated from a 0.10 blood-alcohol content to 0.08.

Mrs. Lightner, 47, rejected yesterday the notion she had betrayed the organization she created in 1980 and left in 1985. She refused to say what she is earning in her new job.

"This is not a conflict," she said. "It would be a conflict if I became a defense attorney for drunk drivers."

Describing her clients as the "hospitality industry," she said, "I never looked at the hospitality industry as the other side or the bad side. They are an industry that cared about the issue."

There is nothing wrong with having a drink at a restaurant or bar, Mrs. Lightner maintained. "I'm a social drinker," she said.

While she opposes the move to tighten the minimum blood alcohol level to 0.08, Mrs. Lightner is backing legislation that would increase penalties for repeat offenders and drivers with high levels of alcohol in their blood.

She said drivers with a blood alcohol content of 0.15 or more cause many more fatalities than motorists with with a blood alcohol content below 0.10.

In Maryland, motorists are charged with driving while intoxicated if they have a blood alcohol of 0.10 or more. Drivers with 0.07 or more are considered driving under the influence, which carries lesser penalties.

The Maryland chapter of MADD, like the national organization, supports changing the standard to 0.08. Mrs. Lightner said it is possible that she would be lobbying Maryland state legislators in Annapolis, but she has yet to do so.

MADD officials stopped short of attacking Mrs. Lightner, but some conceded that they were troubled by her new job.

"Personally, I'm a little disappointed," said Shirley Johnson, a Towson native who is co-coordinator for victim assistance of the Maryland chapter of MADD.

Beckie Brown, national president of MADD, said her group and the American Beverage Institute "are on different sides of a life-saving issue."

MADD fanned national outrage about drunken driving and forced almost every state to adopt tougher laws and penalties. Its campaigns are credited with a significant drop in alcohol-related fatalities.

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