No matter how busy you are today, I hope you take a moment to stop and congratulate yourself.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate passed in a bipartisan vote of 69 to 27 the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013. As you know, this landmark legislation would give states the ability to require businesses with large gross online sales — over $1 million — to collect state sales tax.
To say that this victory was long in coming can’t begin to chronicle the record of hard work on the part of indie booksellers nationwide for more than a decade. Literally hundreds of booksellers, as well as the regional trade associations, have been involved — meeting with public officials; testifying on behalf of legislation; e-mailing, calling, and writing their elected representatives; sending letters to the editor; and much more. In addition, we were joined in this fight by many other indie retailers and their trade associations, forming a powerful coalition whose outreach to lawmakers was indispensable in countering the efforts by eBay and other opponents to somehow frame this as an issue of small versus large businesses. And we are very grateful to both the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Retail Federation for their continued support throughout the long fight.
Through your leadership, outreach, energy, and dedication, you and your colleagues spearheaded the difficult work necessary to completely reframe the national debate on sales tax fairness. What was once dismissed as a political fool’s errand (“no politician will ever vote for a new tax...”) is now widely recognized across the political spectrum as an important issue of economic development and appropriate government action. When one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), explained the importance of the bipartisan Marketplace Fairness Act, the first retailers he mentioned were booksellers.
Once again, you and your colleagues nationwide have shown an extraordinary ability to influence public policy. The truth is that you can fight City Hall, but it’s also clear that some fights can be a very long campaign. But make no mistake, this week we have taken a giant step forward. As was the case in a number of individual states where e-fairness legislation has become law, the grassroots advocacy of booksellers and their business allies led the way to this win. And while we have long believed that federal legislation is ultimately the best solution, those key in-state victories were instrumental in helping to build an effective coalition, which now includes a wide range of retailers, elected officials, media editorial boards, and consumers.
However, we can’t become complacent. Importantly, President Obama has said that, if it is passed, he will sign the Marketplace Fairness Act into law. But enormous challenges face us in the fight for approval for the bill in the House of Representatives.
While there is bipartisan support for the Marketplace Fairness Act in the House, both House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) have been clear in their public comments that they are not yet behind the bill. And we know that opponents of sales tax fairness will be ratcheting up their efforts in the coming days and weeks.
I have long said that I am convinced that we will win this fight, and I am no less sure of that fact today. But that victory will only come if we continue to work with the same energy and focus that brought us this far.
This week, we are calling on you to once again reach out to your elected officials to make very clear to them how critically important sales tax fairness is to you and your business. And, as before, we will work to give you all the materials you need to easily and effectively make a persuasive case. Also, if you should have any questions or suggestions, I strongly encourage you to contact ABA’s senior public policy analyst, David Grogan.
Regarding another issue, I hope that you saw my e-mail last month about the class action settlement over rapidly rising Visa and MasterCard swipe fees. In that e-mail, I noted that ABA was recommending that members opt out and object to the settlement because we believe that option is the most complete way to express your opposition to the settlement. The settlement notice offers merchants several options: to file a claim for monetary damages (equal to approximately two to three months’ worth of interchange fees); to opt out of the settlement; to object to the settlement; or to opt out and object to the settlement.
Importantly, the decision whether to accept the settlement, to object to it, or to opt out and object to it is clearly up to you. However, if a bookseller takes no action, the court may interpret silence as total acceptance and support of the terms of the settlement, and the deadline to file is May 28, 2013. Here’s a link to more information. Please also read Judge Gleeson’s advisory, which is noted in this week’s BTW article on the swipe fee settlement.
As we conclude this year’s season of ABA Spring Forums, I just wanted to again say many thanks to all of you who have joined my colleagues and me for these very productive meetings — and a big thanks to all the regional associations with which ABA works closely to organize the meetings. We were delighted at the large turnouts, the opportunity to discuss a broad range of key issues, and the chance to hear directly from you regarding ABA and its programs. We’re looking forward to the upcoming BookExpo America, and we hope to see you there!
All best regards,
CEO, American Booksellers Association