As I have mentioned before, the ACCG is a 501(c)4 organization to which contributions are not normally tax deductible since up to 100% of contributions can be used for the purposes of political lobbying. Indeed, it is well-known that the ACCG actively lobbies senators and congressmen to oppose any sort of legislation which might hinder a "free market" in ancient coins and grants them "Friends of Numismatics Awards" for their support (see here, here, here, and here). Legislative measures are almost universally endorsed by archaeologists and ancient world scholars as a way to diminish looting and the irrecoverable loss of information that results from the unscientific procurement of ancient objects to supply market demand. Looting can be both a casual "hobby" activity for some or can be much more organized and systematic, as is presently the case in Balkan countries, which are major sources for the ancient coin and antiquities trade (for example, see the report on "Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends," which is briefly discussed and to which a link is provided here).
In the past, we have heard much from several members and leaders of the ACCG. For example, some collectors and antiquities dealers belonging to that group have labeled archaeologists who are concerned about looting as "radicals," "extremists," "zealots," "jihadists," and "fascists," and these are just a few of the pejorative terms out there. Several ACCG leaders have tried to assert that the ancient coin trade is independent of the antiquities trade as a whole, that fresh material does not enter the market to a significant degree, and that market demand does not play any role in looting that occurs in source countries. They have also attempted to argue that looting in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion is either fiction or greatly exaggerated (e.g. see David Gill's response to Peter Tompa's discussion of old news on Iraq looting).
Although the ACCG itself is a 501(c)4 organization that uses its contributions for political lobbying, it consistently accuses and criticizes archaeological professional groups such as the AIA, American research centers abroad such as CAARI, and advocacy groups such as SAFE for what it calls political lobbying and manipulation. Of course the irony in this is that all of these are 501(c)3 organizations, which could not pay for political lobbying with the same freedom that the ACCG can.
During the course of the "benefit auction," there has been an increased amount of noise coming from certain ACCG leaders making new allegations. On these David Gill has been making some very useful observations (Looting Matters: "Lobbying and Archaeological Material", "Collecting Coins: 'A Fundamental Aspect of Citizenship'", and "Burns: 'I Wear this Title of Philhellene Rather Proudly'"). Peter Tompa, has criticized the use of foreign "lobbyists" on the decision to impose import restrictions from Cyprus. In response, David Gill has pointed out some of the irony in this since Mr. Tompa is himself the paid lobbyist for two major international coin trade (i.e. dealer) organizations, the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) and the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN). The IAPN is based in Brussels, Belgium. One might also wonder whether or not he is the official paid lobbyist for the ACCG or if this work is pro bono. In regards to Iraq, it is noteworthy that Mr. Tompa is currently lobbying Washington lawmakers to exempt ancient coins from the emergency import restrictions on antiquities from Iraq that were imposed to curb the flow of plundered material into the U.S. As we all know, the U.S. is an important market country for ancient objects. Why does the ACCG have an interest in importing ancient coins from Iraq?
Dave Welsh, an ancient coin dealer and Chair of the ACCG's International Affairs Committee, has publicized Tompa's comments about foreign "lobbyists" on the Internet with an interesting spin; on the British Archaeology list, he posted it with the headline: "Lobbyists paid by foreign government to join assault on collecting." What Mr. Welsh fails to mention, of course, is that his own lobby, the ACCG, has accepted donations, financial contributions, and memberships from foreign collectors and dealers who may well have interests in U.S. legislation on ancient objects and market regulations. Mr. Welsh also advertised the ACCG's news article on the success of its "benefit auction" to several online discussion lists with the subject heading "ACCG Raises $45,000 to fund the Struggle Against Radical Archaeologists" (I thought it was to fight "State Department imposed import restrictions"!). Last year, he urged collectors to donate and join the ACCG using what may be best referred to as "fear-mongering" tactics, asking them to envisage this unrealistic world:
"If the AIA sent a squad of radical archaeologists to your house to seize your collection, in the process verbally abusing you as a moral cripple responsible for everything bad that is happening to archaeological sites, wouldn't you be mad as Hades? Wouldn't you be ready to fight? Well get ready to fight, because that is more or less what they intend to do, and actually are doing, one small step at a time."
In the context of Welsh's behavior and actions, and even his use of insensitive language and slurs such as "cripple," it is interesting to note that they are apparently endorsed by the ACCG leadership since he was recently awarded with the "exceptionally meritorious service award." The online notice about this states:
"As founder and moderator of the Unidroit-L discussion list, Dave has dedicated countless hours to providing a balanced forum for discussion online of cultural property issues. He also represents the collector fraternity very effectively on numismatic discussion groups that reach a broad range of interested parties."
As the moderator and owner of the Unidroit-L discussion list, one might wonder how "balanced" the forum is when he posts headlines like the ones above and moderates the postings of opinions contrary to his own, but allows like-minded individuals to publish various diatribes, and even ad hominem attacks, freely on the list. Although it claims to give a voice to collectors, the behavior, tactics, and views of some ACCG leaders have been questioned by other collectors and metal detectorists before (see here and here, for example).
Instead of adopting more stringent due diligence practices in their business transactions or engaging equitably in a dialogue with the historical scientists who encounter, study, analyze, and publish ancient material on a daily basis and as part of their professional career, ancient coin and antiquities dealers have locked themselves in a public relations battle with archaeologists and other scholars and the medium for this battle is, by-in-large, the Internet. For example, one may recall the ACCG's widely circulated and self-promotional press release (via the PR Newswire) of its benefit auction, which misrepresented archaeology and the issues surrounding looting. This press release appears to have been authored by Wayne Sayles, a coin dealer and founder and executive director of the ACCG (click here and here for discussions of the press release).
The Internet is a double-edged sword in the sense of the information it provides. With it, we can share and access information unlike ever before, but at the same time anyone can use it is a platform to "publish" anything they wish, thus making it difficult for casual browsers to discern between the quality of information available. Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing our Culture (New York, 2007), explores these issues in detail and comments more specifically on how the Internet is being used by some individuals and groups to grind political axes. For example, he discusses the junk science that is disseminated through the internet and backed by certain energy companies that claim that climate change is fiction. Without more thorough investigations, casual readers are not usually aware of the sources of information they read or the political agendas that may guide them or the spins that are put on available data.
Several informed commentators and scholars have discussed the looting issue as one similar to climate change, the ivory trade, and the hunting of endangered species. Indeed, these are all issues which seem to pit the profiteer against the scientist, the commercial and self interest against that of knowledge and preservation.