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Going, Going, Gone! 

Lawmakers are taking on eBay this session, but the corporate giant has taken care to organize its troops for battle.

During legislative sessions, you can see business and industry folks aplenty at the state Capitol, as well as lobbyists for everyone from health-care providers to video poker operators. But very rarely do you ever see eBay's people, as they might be called, looking out for the interests of the popular auction website.

Yet, lately, they've been all over the place. That's because this is the session of eBay, and the Wall Street darling is locking horns with opponents on a number of issues.

The company opposes one bill that would require certain eBay users -- trading assistants, who sell items for third parties -- to be licensed by the Louisiana Auctioneers Licensing Board. Another measure, which they support, would allow concert and sporting tickets to be sold over the Internet at any price.

To secure legislative support, corporate flacks from eBay hosted a "Main Street Meeting" in Baton Rouge for roughly 50 high-volume sellers from Louisiana.

While access to the meeting was denied to this publication, an agenda noted a working lunch with eBay's lobbyist. Meanwhile, colorful billboards in the meeting hall called attention to various "barriers to e-commerce" -- namely several bills moving through the legislative process this year, along with others that have been debated in recent years.

Prior to the meeting, several participants sat around tables placed in a U-formation facing a large presentation screen. Some people whispered softly to their neighbor, while others were in the throws of a feverish debate over whether the Legislature "had the guts" to get in the middle of their business.

One man kept to himself, throwing in the air and catching, over and over, a small stuffed toy that was placed on the table in front of every participant. It was a plush capitol building with a huge smiley face, sprouting arms and legs that were covered with what appeared to be sleeves and legs from a miniature blue power suit. The feet were adorned with tiny brown dress shoes.

Most in attendance were invited via an email notice. eBay has been sending out digital updates all year. One warned that "nearly every eBay seller in Louisiana is at risk" because of the auctioneer bill, but promoters of the legislation say it focuses on trading assistants.

It's no surprise that Bonita Dupuis of New Iberia thought the law would be applied across the board. Dupuis buys designer clothes on clearance and then re-sells them through eBay and her Internet business

"From what I understand, it will impact everyone," she says. "I don't think anyone on eBay should have to deal with this. Other people in the state doing the same thing aren't required to do this. Why should we be any different?"

Of course, if the bill passes, there's no telling how it will be interpreted by Louisiana's courts and bureaucrats. "Maybe the bill is just too vague on who it impacts," Dupuis adds.

Corporate officials from eBay encouraged sellers to lobby lawmakers at the Capitol after the meeting, Dupuis says, and even drove them to downtown Baton Rouge. But many, like her, passed on that opportunity.

John Embrey of New Orleans, a direct seller who uses eBay to support his custom, handmade knife hobby, says he learned several weeks ago that the bill would only apply to trading assistants, although previous communications from eBay had indicated the legislation would have broader application.

"I don't know what to believe anymore," Embrey says.

Michelle Peacock, director of government relations and global operations at eBay, insists that the company's stance has been accurate throughout the debate. She says the Louisiana Auctioneers Licensing Board -- which is pushing the bill that eBay opposes -- has been understating the measure's impact.

Sherrie Wilks runs the Louisiana Auctioneers Licensing Board and testified for the bill at a legislative committee hearing earlier this month. She touts statistics to support the proposed licensing requirement, saying that nearly 63 percent of the FBI's Internet-related complaints last year were connected to e-commerce fraud.

If the measure is adopted, it would cost those impacted roughly $350 per year to become a state-licensed auction business, and another $100 or more to purchase several thousand dollars worth of bond coverage.

The eBay meeting last week also addressed an issue that may intensify in coming years. The Streamlined Sales Tax Project, created by a number of state governments, including Louisiana, is an effort to collect sales taxes on items sold over the Internet, among other things.

"I think this is even more important," Embry says. "I am more worried about the government coming in and charging everyone sales taxes on the items I'm selling. But there doesn't seem to be a big enough push going on to oppose this. I guess it's a fight for another day."

Jeremy Alford can be reached at


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