In the words of Ronald Reagan, “Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.” More than 35 years after Reagan first spoke those words, what do they mean for each of us?
Well, thanks to the work of the researchers and staff at the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center, we know that between 2011 and 2015, the federal government published more than 700,000 pages of regulations. We know that in 2016 federal regulatory agencies employed 278,799 employees to interpret and enforce the thousands of regulations enacted to allegedly protect us. We also know that in 2016 these regulatory agencies had a budget of more than $63 billion to enforce the thousands of regulations which have resulted from various laws passed by Congress, a budget which will increase to nearly $70 billion in 2017.
Well again, why should anyone care? Well, if you are like thousands of American entrepreneurs standing on the sidelines and considering opening a business, not only should you care, you should be terrified. There are thousands of minefields which business entrepreneurs must cross each day, minefields of regulations which oftentimes are not intended to protect us, but instead, regulations which are only intended to run our lives. If you fail to understand and comply with the thousands of federal regulations which have been passed to run our lives you face the risk of huge civil fines, or worse yet, you face the risk of being criminally prosecuted.
If you think that it could never happen to you, consider the case of Sam Girod, an Amish farmer from Bath County, Kentucky. For decades, Sam, like many members of the Amish community, has been making and selling salves which contain natural ingredients. Unfortunately for Sam, his products came to the attention of an inspector from the Food and Drug Administration in 2013 because the container for his salve had a claim on the label that the salve cured cancer.
Although Sam’s story gets more complicated than can be written in a few paragraphs, because of Sam’s claim that his salve could cure cancer, the FDA labeled his salve a drug which allowed the FDA to regulate Sam’s packaging, sales, and ultimately his life.
After years of living in the shadow of an over-regulated society on his farm in Bath County, Sam’s life came crashing down for his sins of “misbranding” his Chickweed Healing Salve. In the eyes of the FDA regulatory bureaucrats, Sam’s crimes were so outrageous that he needed to be sent to federal prison because as a simple Amish farmer he had the audacity to “manufacture, propagate and process” his Chickweed Salve in an establishment that was not registered with the FDA. Worse yet, Sam had also packaged the Chickweed Salve in a container which “failed to bear labeling containing adequate directions for use.” Because of Sam’s sins, he was indicted, arrested, prosecuted, and convicted.
At the risk of offending those government bureaucrats who made the decision to destroy Sam, Sam’s family, and his community, might I suggest that there are serious misbranding violations which are more likely to cause harm than Sam’s Chickweed Healing Salve. For example, how about reassigning the FDA regulators concerned about the sale of salves or raw milk by Amish farmers and use those limited resources to investigate the pharmaceutical companies that have poisoned our entire nation with opioids which these same FDA regulators have approved, opioids which have caused the deaths of thousands of our children, neighbors, and friends.
As for Sam, it is probably too late to return him to his family and the serene and simple world he once knew before the FDA decided he needed to be labeled public enemy number one. As a simple Amish farmer, Sam found himself caught up in a world of thousands of pages of nonsensical administrative regulations, regulations which even the most sophisticated lawyers cannot understand. Because of Sam’s inability to understand those thousands of pages of administrative regulations, Sam’s world now mimics the world that Alice found herself in when she landed in Wonderland. In the words of Alice, “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?” Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll.
If you believe Ronald Reagan was right, and you believe the government’s role is to protect the people, not run their lives, then take a moment to do something and say something on Sam’s behalf. More importantly, keep Sam, his family, his friends, and his neighbors in your prayers. Remember, if it could happen to Sam, it could happen to you.
In the end, I would invite each of you to join me once again on my imaginary mountaintop, the one I visit so often when I recognize an injustice like the case of Sam Girod. As always, I would invite each of you to help me as I shout as loudly as possible that it is time to reign in the regulators; it is time to restore sanity to the upside-down world of government over-regulation; it is time to erase the thousands of pages of nonsensical and meaningless administrative regulations; and, more importantly please join me as I shout even louder that it is time to fire the bureaucrats responsible for the nonsensical world of government regulations, regulations that have destroyed Sam’s once simple world.
Mark Wohlander, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, practices law in Lexington.