The Dept. of Justice recently reached an agreement with Gibson Guitars regarding the seizure of processed wood from two countries, Madagascar and India. No one will go to prison because of obscure amendments to the Lacey Act. It's likely no one would have gone anyway because the government had no case.
The terms the goverment imposed should raise questions, especially regarding the First Amendment.
As part of the “settlement”—recall the original government busts involved tactical teams and armed agents who descended on Gibson’s Tennessee factories—Gibson must pay a fine. DOJ dictated:
“[A] community service payment of $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation ("NFWF") to be used by NFWF or another organization selected by NFWF for the purpose of funding a project or projects related to research and/or activities to promote the conservation, identification, and/or propagation of protected tree species used in the musical instruments industry as well as the forests in which those species occur. Gibson acknowledges that no tax deduction may be sought in connection with this payment and that it shall not advertise this community service payment except as being a condition for resolving this matter.”
Gibson was raided twice—first in 2009 and again in 2011. The initial issue raised was the stage of processing in the wood. Obviously the government decided not to waste more taxpayer money in harassing a company that is part of America’s musical heritage.
The case was inspired by some federal employee’s interpretation of the Lacey Act, and amendments passed decades after that act. Legal scholars have called for clarification of these amendments and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) introduced legislation to address the issue.
Is it legal for DOJ to not only dictate a specific foundation as recipient of the Gibson money but also to prohibit the company from taking it as a legitimate deduction for charitable contribution at tax time?
Furthermore, Gibson’s First Amendment rights were shredded, with the government prohibiting Gibson from advertising the shakedown money as a “community service payment.”
This entire fiasco, complete with high value confiscated wood, amounts to a shakedown of a company by an out-of-control government. Neither country supplying the wood pressed the issue; only U.S. bureaucrats did.
At the moment, import protocol and anything related to natural materials is in the hands of well-funded environmental organizations—the “one percenters” of the activist nonprofit world. These organizations have usurped the power of Congress and now basically dictate laws related to natural resources.
I have often wondered whether Gibson's troubles began with a private sector non-profit who targeted Gibson.
The Gibson Guitars raids are a perfect example of the hostility towards job creators the Obama administration often displays.
In addition, Gibson’s factories are in a right to work state, raising the question of whether the big-labor-union-friendly Obama administration targeted the company for political reasons.
This entire process amounts to a shakedown that might occur in a country like China.
Such assaults on private industry should be investigated aggressively by Congress. Alternatively, we can just vote this administration out in November.
Gibson has placed relevant documents about the raids and settlement on their website.
(Commentary by Kay B. Day/August 15, 2012)
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