05/08/2012 04:57 pm ET Updated Jul 08, 2012

Truth Takes a Back Seat in Lacey Act Hearing

Today, I had the opportunity to testify before the Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs on two bills that would repeal significant portions of the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act is common sense legislation that protects American workers and industries from illegally harvested or exported materials.

I was severely disappointed, however, that one of the witnesses invited by the majority, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, chose to attack the Lacey Act using misleading statistics and half-truths if not all-out lies. At the center of Senator Paul's testimony was an oft-repeated, yet apocryphal, story about two American fishermen who were unjustly prosecuted under the Lacey Act for transporting their catch in cardboard containers instead of plastic. Senator Paul was outraged that these two fishermen would be subject to monetary penalty, and even jail time, because of this simple mistake.

I would be outraged, too... if the story were even remotely true.

The two fishermen were doing far more than carrying lobsters in the wrong containers -- they were found guilty by a jury of conspiracy, smuggling, and money laundering. Their convictions were upheld by a U.S. federal district court and also by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. This was a textbook case of criminals trying to circumvent the law for 400,000 pounds of lobster worth $4.6 million.

Therefore it is especially offensive to see a U.S. Senator parroting this "fisherman's tale" -- who can ever believe those -- without even getting into the facts. Even worse, Senator Paul then used this doctored story for his personal political goal of gutting the protections that exist for the benefit of American jobs and the environment.

Senator Paul's testimony was a perfect example of what's wrong with the political system today. He is more than willing to mislead and confuse public opinion to justify his world view. This is not something unique to Republicans, but happens whenever public figures put their own political goals ahead of the truth and the greater good. Instead of this constant game of spin and counter-spin where the facts take a back seat, we need to work together to find compromise solutions that deal with the underlying problems we face, whether those are jobs, civil liberties, national security, infrastructure investment, or protecting the environment.

That's what I have been working on in regards to the Lacey Act. We have a broad coalition who supports American workers and strong environmental protections with groups such as the League of Conservation Voters, the Hardwood Federation, the American Forest and Paper Association, the Sierra Club, and the United Steelworkers. This varied group is able to work together on this issue because they are willing to put their short-term goals on the back burner and focus on long-term issues in a way that promotes justice, fairness, and an inclusive table with room for all, while dealing head-on with facts.

That is the type of political coalition and system I am proud to be part of.