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Wine stores owner gives Wharton $5M to probe laws, runs for Congress

David Trone of Total Wine backs 'alternative' to CBO

David Trone, a cofounder of Potomac, Md.-based Total Wine, the discount wine-liquor-beer store chain which has expanded to 150 "superstores" and $2 billion yearly sales in 21 states, and his wife June Malament Trone, a former Scott Paper Co. engineer, have given $5 million to the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, where the couple graduated with MBAs in 1985.

The money will fund the Trone Family Public Policy Initiative Fund, part of Wharton's "hub for public policy research and education," in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., Wharton says.

Trone is a veteran advocate for beer, wine and liquor sales deregulation -- his company prefers to say he's for "pro-consumer regulation" -- who got his start competing with Pennsylvania's liquor monopoly from supermarket-sized stores in Claymont, Del. and Cherry Hill, N.J. But "there's no connection here to the liquor business," Trone told me. "It's focused on Washington, D.C., on taking the metrics of Wharton to Washington policymakers."

Wharton is developing a federal budget model that allows scholars and public servants -- and eventually all Web-using citizens -- to plug in tax and spending data to measure the longterm impact of proposed federal laws and policies on taxpayers and the economy. "The PPI is putting together economically rigorous analysis. It's not making any policy recommendations," just showing the cost and benefits, he adds.

"We have endowed a federal budget model to give policymakers and members of the media a kind of sandbox to test ideas that come from Republicans, Democrats, anyone, about the budget, about immigration, about National Institutes of Health funding, to test how these ideas impact the budget and the economy."

Isn't that what the Congressional Budget Office does? "On a static basis. But they don't provide the detail over time. This model lets you look on a 75-year basis, what the Cruz tax policy or changes in immigration law will do in your life and in the economy. It's a lot of rigorous results.

"It's a phenomenally complex model with 30 major data sets -- Census Bureau, health, data, Obamacare -- with all kinds of algorithms. Eventually we'll have it so individuals can go online and do queries.

"So we're connecting Wharton to Washington DC policymakers. And we're working with CBO. Kent Smetters, who worked at CBO, is in charge of the model."

Trone's ambition goes beyond wine and data: He's running for Congress, as a Democrat with national business-building (and bureacuracy-fighting) cred, in Maryland's open Eighth District seat.

Total Wine & More calls itself "America's largest independent retailer of fine wine," with 5,000 staff.

The Trones' "visionary" gift "adds fantastic momentum" to Wharton's public policy initiative, Wharton dean Geoff Garrett said in a statement. Other donors to the program include Wharton grads Marc Rowan and Mark Spilker.

Wharton plans, among other projects backed by this funding, "a new federal budget model that will offer policymakers a compelling alternative to the Congressional Budget Office for considering the budgetary impact of proposed legislation," according to the school.

The program will also fund "summer internship programming for students to pursue life-changing opportunities in D.C.; a new honors certificate program for students interested in domestic public policy and the economy; and lectures featuring senators, members of Congress, and other policy leaders," while promising to employ "rigorous data and analytics" and "connections between the public and private sectors."