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By Eric Stirgus September 9, 2013

Is Price guilty of "Tomfoolery"?

Who’s side are you on, congressman?

That’s the question some Georgia activists are asking U.S. Rep. Tom Price. The Georgia Campaign for Liberty recently distributed fliers that contend the Roswell Republican "is trying to have it both ways on the small-business killing Internet Tax Mandate."

"Rep. Price has been sending letters in support of the Internet Tax Mandate to constituents who support it … and letters expressing concern over the Internet Tax mandate to his constituents that oppose it!," the flier states.

PolitiFact Georgia wondered whether the organization was correct in its assertion.

The Campaign for Liberty states on its website that it believes "the free market ... is the most just and humane economic system and the greatest engine of prosperity the world has ever known." The Virginia-based group also supports a "noninterventionist foreign policy" and opposes the Federal Reserve system, according to its website.

The organization’s interim state coordinator, Ike Hall, sent us a copy of the flier to support its argument about Price. Hall did not know how many fliers were distributed, but the flier has been posted on various websites, which is how we saw it. On the back of the flier are two letters Price wrote to different constituents concerning the issue. Both letters were nearly identical. The key difference is one paragraph.

Before we examine the contents of the letters, PolitiFact Georgia thought we’d briefly offer some context about this issue.

On Feb. 14, a group of U.S. House lawmakers introduced Resolution 684, titled the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013. The legislation was intended to allow states to collect taxes on some items sold online. One study concluded that in 2012 Georgia lost about $455 million in uncollected Internet sales tax revenue.

"Small businesses and states alike are suffering from the inability to collect due – not new – taxes from purchases made online," said Rep. Steve Womack, an Arkansas Republican who was a lead sponsor of the legislation. "The Marketplace Fairness Act is the bipartisan, bicameral, common-sense solution that promotes states’ rights and levels the playing field for our Main Street businesses rather than continuing to allow the government to pick marketplace winners and losers."

The Senate passed the legislation in early May by a wide majority. Both U.S. senators from Georgia, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, voted for the legislation. The resolution was referred to a House subcommittee.

Some activists have fought the legislation. A Facebook page was created to urge House members to hit the delete button when the legislation comes their way. Grover Norquist's influential Americans for Tax Reform has labeled it a tax increase. Former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, chairman of the Campaign for Liberty, has described the bill as an "Internet tax mandate."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in May that Price was unsure about his support for the bill. Price has not publicly stated a position on the bill. His office told us the congressman doesn’t want to see any changes to the tax code that would hurt the economy.

Many members of Congress face difficult political choice on the legislation. Many local business communities support the tax. They contend that not charging taxes on Internet purchases gives online merchants an unfair advantage. But many taxpayers, who also vote, view the legislation as creating a new tax.

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The Georgia Campaign for Liberty, like its national chairman, has qualms about the legislation. It accuses Price of "two-faced taxation Tomfoolery," using the letters as evidence. Hall said it received the letters from supporters and says Price has admitted he’s "waffled" on his position. One letter, to a supporter of the legislation, was dated July 10; the other, to an opponent, July 12. There are two differences in the letters.

The second paragraph of the July 10 letter begins "Your support for this legislation is appreciated." The second paragraph of the July 12 letter begins "Your concerns for this legislation are appreciated."

The only other difference in the letters was a sentence in the third paragraph.

"At a time when regulations and taxation are out of control at the federal level, it is critical that we continue to examine avenues that involve a complete and comprehensive overhaul of our tax system so that we may see a positive effect and simplification of our tax code," Price wrote in the July 10 letter.

The July 12 letter has a sentence that begins the same, but ends differently.

"At a time when regulations and taxation are out of control at the federal level, it is critical that we do not potentially inflict further damage on an already delicate economic recovery. Responsible solutions are needed to ensure the survival of our small businesses."

So, is the Georgia Campaign for Liberty correct that Price is trying to have it both ways?

"As all can clearly see from the text of the letters themselves, any claim the congressman is expressing support for the bill in one letter and opposition to it in another is baseless," Price spokesman Ryan Murphy said in a statement. "Any accusation that he is trying to provide two opposing opinions depending on the audience is a blatant PolitiFact ‘Pants on Fire’. The letters clearly show the congressman being consistent and responsive to the concerns of his constituents."

Hall chuckled when we read Price’s statement to him.

"We stand by our flier," he said, declining to comment further.

To sum up, the Georgia Campaign for Liberty put together a flier accusing U.S. Rep. Tom Price of Georgia of writing letters for and against legislation that would allow states to tax some items sold online.

The letters were nearly identical. And they are indicative of everyday correspondence from a congressman’s office to constituents concerned about pending legislation.

Part of one sentence could be interpreted as suggesting Price has problems with the bill. But the organization’s conclusion about the congressman’s position is a stretch.

Our rating: False.

Our Sources

Georgia Campaign for Liberty flier, front cover.

Georgia Campaign for Liberty flier, back.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Online shopping tax closer: Georgia would boost revenues by millions; critics label it a tax hike," May 7, 2013.

Email from Ryan Murphy, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Tom Price, Sept. 5, 2013.

Library of Congress, Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013.

Telephone interview with Ike Hall, interim state coordinator, Georgia Campaign for Liberty, Sept. 5, 2013.

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack news release, Feb. 14, 2013.

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