After Gibson Guitars was raided by federal regulators for the second time this year, the company’s chief executive, Henry Juszkiewicz, parlayed the company’s legal troubles into a publicity windfall, casting himself as a victim of overregulation and overzealous enforcement of import laws. And he became a Republican celebrity when Rep. Marsha Blackburn brought Juszkiewicz as her plus-one to President Obama’s jobs speech. But environmental advocates say that fears about what the law that Gibson fell afoul of, the Lacey Act, mean for American consumers are overblown, and suggest the Republican rush to embrace Gibson isn’t the best way to show support for American small business owners. “No one is coming to take your Les Paul guitar,” said Andrea Johnson, the Forest Campaign director for the non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency on a conference call. “Companies can and are complying with this law.”
The Lacey Act, first passed in 1900 and expanded in 2008, is the first federal wildlife protection law, and is essentially intended to prevent the sale of illegally killed, captured, or harvested material in the United States. The original intent was to stop poachers who were killing endangered species in one state and selling them in another. Now, it’s intended to block the demand for wood illegally harvested from places like Madagascar’s national parks or protected Indonesia forests. But it’s also been a boon to domestic hardwood manufacturers who saw their business decimated by the collapse of the housing market and ongoing recession.
“Perhaps they didn’t really do the research before they jumped on the bandwagon,” said Jameson French, chairman of the Hardwood Federation, which represents American producers. “I can assure you that large numbers of the 13,000 small businesses that are members of the Hardwood Federation many of them are Tea Party and many of them are Republican voters, the vast majority of them are…I think the small businessman is saying ‘What’s going on here? We like the Lacey Act. It’s helped keep jobs in our facility.’”