What started as legal proceedings in Baltimore Circuit Court to fight import restrictions on common ancient coins, has ballooned into sweeping concerns about extralegal activity, lack of transparency and threats to Constitutional rights at the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center and its Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC).
In the publicly released transcript of a Washington, D.C. seminar held by the Cultural Policy Research Institute, former CPAC members and others criticized both the administration of the committee and the fact that State Department ignored committee recommendations in making its decisions.
Former CPAC member Kate Fitz Gibbon said: “I’m here today because during my tenure, and as far as I have been able to gather in subsequent years, the committee, supported and encouraged by its staff, has routinely violated the rules established by Congress. And often, this has been done in the face of complaints from sitting committee members.” Other former CPAC members painted a similar picture: in reference to his recent resignation from CPAC, Robert Korver said: “I chose to no longer be part of putting a veneer of legitimacy on illegal acts.” Former CPAC Chairman, Jay Kislak, said: “The vote came in against including coins in the MOU. Somewhere staff and the State Department decided to ignore the committee and included it in their report.” And Arthur Houghton asked “…is [something] going on that is shifting the ground from underneath the law to some other course that it never intended?”
Others expressed similar views at the seminar. Prof. James Fitzpatrick (Georgetown University) said: “I don’t believe that the [CPAC] staff has had a sense of balance that recognizes that fundamental point that the international trade in antiquities is an important part of the world’s cultural concern.”
Citing the collectors’ lawsuit in a University of Miami School of Law paper. Profs. Stephen Urice and Andrew Adler write: “…the executive branch of the United States has consistently – and astonishingly – exceeded constraining legal authority with respect to the movement of cultural property into the United States.”
Christine Beckett, in “Advisory committee recommendations can be withheld” (The reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press) voiced similar concerns over a decision in one of the coin collectors’ cases. Collectors are in their fourth year of ongoing litigation over State Department actions.