An industry proposes a pocket-change fee upon the companies in its field, and to fund promotional activities that would help boost sales. Those companies overwhelmingly favor it, because they already know first-hand that such programs work. They ask the government to help them in the project, and the government agrees, too.
But this project of the National Christmas Tree Association just turned into a nightmare, though, and thanks to right-wing think tanks and the media that cater to them.
Like the Heritage Foundation, for instance. Right before the program was to begin, Heritage issued articles on its website claiming the program was a tax – not just on consumers, but on Christmas itself. And said it originated not from NCTA, but at the whim of Pres. Obama (who had nothing to do with this project, by the way).
The claims then got milked around by pseudo-media likeDrudge Report and Fox News, marched on to blogs that used the incident to allege “Barack Obama hates Christians,” and got repeated until some mainstream media were silly enough to take the cue. South Carolina’s own Sen. Jim DeMint joined the tirade, too, calling it “the stupidest tax of all time.”
So, what exactly is this program? It’s called a “commodity checkoff.” A business association can, with government approval, charge companies in its industry a small fee, and the total collected is then used for advertisement and promotion of that industry’s products.
Checkoffs are quite common, too. We see them on our television screens regularly, ranging from “Got milk?” to “Pork: the other white meat” to “Beef – it’s what’s for dinner.”
Under this checkoff proposed by NCTA, tree farmers in the U.S. (as well as companies that import trees to the country) would have to pay a fee of 15 cents per tree. That’s right – a mere 15 cents. And that’s a per tree fee, not a tax percentage imposed on sales.
The small funds collected would be used on promotional campaigns and industry research “to strengthen the position of fresh cut Christmas trees in the marketplace and maintain and expand markets for Christmas trees within the United States.”
And it was eagerly anticipated right here in the Palmetto State, too. The tree farmers in this state are in favor of the checkoff, says Halley Booth, owner of Booth’s Christmas Tree Farm in Conway who’s also vice-president of the South Carolina Christmas Tree Association.
The response from local tree farmers mirrors those in the rest of the nation, too, apparently. The National Christmas Tree Foundation says that more than 70 percent of U.S. growers expressed favor in the checkoff program since the concept was first introduced in 2008.
Able to look at it from two sides – as both a tree producer and as an industry association executive – Booth says the small 15-cent per tree fee won’t have any negative effect on farmers. “If you sell 1,000 trees, that only comes to $150.”
Smaller tree farms won’t have to pay a dime, either; those producing “less than 500 Christmas trees annually will be exempt,” according to the USDA’s proposal.
Most of the Christmas tree farms in South Carolina are that small, too. Julie Walters of Charleston’s Toogoodoo Farms, for example, wasn’t even aware of the checkoff program until she was contacted by media for her response to the Heritage Foundation’s claims.
Like most tree farms in the state, Walters says, Toogoodoo doesn’t produce near 500 units annually. “We can’t grow trees in desirable quantities,” especially in the climate of the state’s coastal region, she says, and not in the varieties that are currently the most popular, either. “No spruces.”
Her only concern about the checkoff program is it might not do the industry much good at the moment, in her opinion. The decline in sales Toogoodoo had last year, for example, aren’t the fault of fake tree competition, Walters says; “it’s strictly economy.”
Booth, however, says his sales improved last year, and he expects more growth for 2011.
And the checkoff could have greatly aided Booth’s expectations, too, since previous projects of similarity were quite productive for the industry.
NCTA tried a similar but smaller program in 2004, and without aid from the USDA. It pooled up $1 million in voluntary donations from particular farms, and used the money for a small promotion that helped boost sales 40 percent for the next five years.
Wanting to extend that success (and to make sure that just a few companies weren’t left to pay for the benefits received by so many others), NCTA first proposed seeking this improved “commodity checkoff” program in 2008, and with overwhelming support from its members.
The very low 15-cent per unit cost makes it very attractive to tree growers, too, who remember how far the last low-cost promotional program took their industry.
But now, thanks to right-wing shysters and hooligans like the Heritage Foundation and Drudge, this new low-cost checkoff was brought to a halt. And so is the anticipated improvement in sales for this U.S. industry this holiday season.
Doing this anytime of year is a wrong on their part, but to do so right before Christmas? And directly against an industry that reflects - even represents - the Christmas holiday?
Seems like Heritage and Drudge need to recall an old Christmas adage about the recommended behavior for this season: “be good, for goodness sakes.”