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Retailers go local with Internet tax campaign

Small business owners throughout the country are skipping summer vacations to press House members home on August recess to join the Senate and approve legislation to let states collect tax on Internet sales, just like states do in so-called brick-and-mortar stores.

While the media's focus has been on advocacy groups planning to slam lawmakers over Obamacare, immigration and gun control, the big story of the summer might be about the local retailers, with ties to their House member, getting in the door first to make the case for a level playing field on taxes.

Led by a group called the Marketplace Fairness Coalition, thousands of retailers as small as Treats Unlimited in St. Louis and as big as Amazon are making the case that tax-free purchases on the Internet hurt local stores and rob states of needed funding.

Their target is a phenomena practically every shopper has experienced: Sizing up something new to buy like a stereo or running shoes in a store, then buying the product online to avoid taxes. It's called "showrooming," and the Coalition wants it stopped.

The Senate recently passed the law giving states the option of collecting the sales tax on Internet sales, but the anti-tax House is skeptical of the bill.

To help make their case, the Coalition has released a series of videos featuring small business owners and is taking to Facebook and Twitter to demand action when the House returns in September.

"America's small businesses employ over half of the private sector workforce today and the taxes they send back into local coffers help pave our roads, rebuild our schools, and support our firefighters and police officers. They employ our neighbors, invest in local communities, and form the economic backbone of towns and cities from coast-to-coast," said the Coalition in a statement.

"Unfortunately, this antiquated tax loophole that was enacted years before the explosion of online commerce is undermining their hard work. It is forcing them to compete on an unfair playing field and in doing so, it is putting local jobs, and future economic growth, at risk."

Also, there is speculation that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' purchase of the Washington Post might help get the media on board the effort. Amazon has been lobbying for the tax legislation in part because his outlets around the nation have to charge local sales taxes just like brick-and-mortar stories and he's upset with tax-free Internet competition.

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.