Congressman Jim Cooper joined the defenders of Nashville-based Gibson Guitar Corp. Monday, saying the law that makes certain imports of wood illegal is “way too broad.”
Also Monday, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey called the federal raids of the guitar maker “downright scary” and “abhorrent.” In a commentary on his Facebook page, which he titled “The Criminalization of Free Enterprise,” Ramsey suggested the Obama administration might have targeted Gibson because its chief executive officer, Henry Juszkiewicz, has made donations to Republicans.
“In fact, the only beef the Obama administration could really have with Gibson Guitars is the political habits of its CEO,” Ramsey wrote, adding: “I hope this is simple coincidence and not something more sinister.”
Federal agents raided Gibson factories in 2009 and again on Aug. 24, confiscating guitars and wood. The Justice Department is pursuing a possible criminal case against Gibson for importing ebony from Madagascar for guitar fingerboards.
Cooper said his office is looking into how to tighten the law that investigators are trying to use against Gibson. That’s the Lacey Act, which bars the purchase of wood and other goods exported in violation of a foreign country’s laws.
“In theory, anybody who travels across the state line with an old guitar is in legal jeopardy,” Cooper, a Democrat, told reporters. “You make all these magnificent instruments unsellable and untransferable and unshippable. The most famous violins in the world are Stradivarius violins. I’m sure all of those violate the law. You can’t sell a Stradivarius violin anywhere. This is just like way too broad.”
Gibson has become a cause célèbre of the Tea Party and conservatives, who see the company as a victim of an out-of-control federal government. With Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, Juszkiewicz attended President Obama’s jobs speech to a joint session of Congress last week.
“If Gibson Guitars has broken the law, they must pay required penalties,” wrote Ramsey, a Republican state senator from Blountville. “But the resources which have been brought to bear and the manner in which this company has been targeted amounts to a classic case of overreach and overkill.
“In an ever increasing competitive global economy, the federal government should be looking for ways to assist and nurture American businesses — not seek to criminalize companies who provide high-paying jobs to American workers.”