Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dealer Lawsuit Against the U.S. State Department to Continue

Yesterday, Peter Tompa, attorney, lobbyist and a former president of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), gave an update on the status of the ACCG's lawsuit against the U.S. Department of State.

The American dealer lobby, which I term such because every leading officer is an active or former dealer (with the exception of Tompa, who acts as a lobbyist for organized ancient coin dealers) and most of its large financial backers are also dealerships and auction houses, is joined in its lawsuit by two other dealer organizations: the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) and the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG). As many readers are aware, the ACCG and these other groups launched the suit in the fall of 2007, alleging a lack of transparency in the way that the State Department agreed to extend the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to coins of certain Cypriot type.

It was expected that the ACCG had every intention of pressing the lawsuit as far as they could since they hosted a "benefit auction" last year in order to raise funds "in opposition to State Department imposed import restrictions" (see discussion here, here, here, and here). Along with the progress report on the lawsuit, the ACCG has also announced the plan for another "benefit auction" in 2009 (note the heavy distortive and alarmist rhetoric used by Sayles that we have heard from him and the group before: see some discussions here, here, and here).

Two documents relevant to the ACCG's lawsuit are on its website: the progress report and a declaration from Jay Kislak, former chair of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee of the State Department. Curiously, Kislak's declaration all but explicitly states that CPAC did not recommend to extend the restrictions to coins. Therefore, it will be interesting to see what comes out in the end, although it remains unclear to me personally if the State Department must be bound by the recommendations of CPAC since it is an advisory committee and deliberations and decisions are no doubt often split considering archaeologists, museum specialists, and members of the trade serve simultaneously on the committee. On the other hand, CPAC members are meant to keep the activities of the committee confidential and so it appears that Mr. Kislak may have been sharing privleged information with the coin dealers the whole time - the same sorts of hidden activities the dealer lobby consistently accuses members of the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center of.

In any case, Mr. Tompa expects the court to rule on the release of further documents within the next six months. The ACCG has not shared the documents released thus far to outside parties, though its own interpretation of them has been relayed several times.

Other commentators on these developments include:
D.W.J. Gill, "Cyprus and the Coin Collectors: Yet Another Round," Looting Matters (27 April 2009)

P. Barford, "Leaky Old CPAC - Mystery Solved?," Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues (27 April 2009).

P. Barford, "'ACCG Presses Claims to Hidden Information'," Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues (27 April 2009).

P. Barford, "Per Lucem ad Veritatem, sed nemo surdior est quam is qui no audiet" ("Through light to the truth, but no one is more deaf than one who shall not listen"), Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues (28 April 2009).



“although remains unclear to me personally if the State Department must be bound by the recommendations of CPAC since it is an advisory committee”Well, the President does not have to. Its rather like the situation between the recommendations of English Heritage and the British government. According to the “Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act” http://culturalheritage.state.gov/97-446.html#306, Section 303 (f) “the President shall-[…] (3) consider, in taking action on the request or proposal, the views and recommendations contained in any Committee report”, and the Act specifically notes that he can take a contrary action, but if he does not comply with those recommendations, Section 303 (g) there should be documentation of that fact. It is this documentation that the ACCG accuses the former President of not having provided. It seems to me that the Bush administration kept quite a lot of "documentation" under wraps. I'd like to see this one too.


Dear Nathan;

As I have stated repeatedly, your constant assailing of ACCG as a "Dealer Lobby" would clearly be contested by the 607 individual members and more than 5,000 Affiliate Members. If the trade were so large, a benefit auction would hardly be needed. Why don't you put your hard earned research skills to work and educate yourself about the actual facts relating to ACCG. As Executive Director of ACCG, I regularly receive letters of support, accompanied by donations, from doctors, lawyers, school teachers, law enforcement officials, government employees, military members, librarians, and a host of others including, believe it or not, archaeologists. The national press has been condemning the U.S. State Department for many years over the transparency issues that we are now litigating. Senator Bond (R-MO) called for greater DOS transparency and if that brand of politics doesn't suit you, Senator Schumer (D-NY) did as well. President Obama has called for it as a Senator and issued a memo to staff just recently that directs it. Leading proponents of the archaeological point of view have decried the same lack of transparency. Yet, you insist on painting ACCG as some sort of Evil Empire for seeking truth. What you present to your constituents is proof that you can create an argument, not that you can unveil or even care about truth. I always thought that archaeology was about the latter. Let's hear the facts for a change.




Hello Wayne,

You appear to be spinning things a bit: I am not painting the ACCG as an "evil empire" for seeking any "truth." By seeking "truth," you must be referring to the suit. Read my post and you will find no criticism of the merits of the lawsuit.

The only thing I question, and continue to question, are the goals and agendas behind the ACCG's activities. I still think it is fair to call the ACCG a dealer lobby considering the occupations and financial interests of those leaders who set its agendas, guide its activities, and largely fund its activities. There is no doubt that collectors are also members of the group, though I suspect the affiliate members you use to inflate your numbers consist largely of modern and world coin collectors since affiliate groups are often local collector societies encompassing a number of collectors with varied interests. Nevertheless, the ancient coin dealers are financing and running the ACCG's activities.

You and other ACCG officers (dealers) have called SAFE an "archaeology advocacy group" in spite of the fact that it was not founded by archaeologists, that it is not funded by archaeologists, nor are its activities and agendas set by archaeologists. On the other hand, the ACCG was founded by dealers, is financed by dealers, and clearly dealers are setting its goals. The facts do indeed inidcate that the lobby caters largely to a dealer interest. Collectors themselves have even recognized this on online collecting discussion lists. So why do you condemn public advocacy groups like SAFE as an "archaeology group," yet you seem disgusted when people can clearly see the ACCG is at its core a lobby for dealers, especially when so many facts support that understanding? If the ACCG were truly interested in the rights of the collector and not in "free market" interests for dealers, then the groups activities and tactics might be rather different as would the composition of its leadership.