Stefan Gleason is director of the Sound Money Defense League (https://www.soundmoneydefense.org/) as well as Money Metals Exchange, a national precious metals investment company and news service with over 600,000 readers and 400,000 paid customers. Gleason currently leads marketing, publishing, and real estate companies as well. Previously, Gleason served as Vice President of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Springfield, Virginia. A seasoned business leader, investor, political strategist, and grassroots activist, Gleason is also a graduate of the University of Florida with a B.A. degree in Political Science.
Gleason has frequently appeared on national television shows and networks such as Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor and Special Report with Brit Hume, CNBC’s Closing Bell, the Christian Broadcasting Network, CNN, and C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. He has frequently been interviewed on national radio shows such as the Lars Larson Show, Michael Reagan Show, G. Gordon Liddy Show, and Ken Hamblin Show. Gleason’s articles and expert comments have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Detroit News, Washington Times, and National Review, among thousands of other national, state, and local newspapers, wire services, and Internet sites.
For 42 years, I have been fighting the sales tax on silver and gold—a sales tax on money! On April 28, 2022, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill to remove the sales tax, something we’ve been trying to do since 2011. Stefan Gleason and the Sound Money Defense League were largely responsible for the victory this year, but that’s not all. Gleason understands that to restore gold and silver money to circulation, we have to remove all legal barriers to their circulation. He kindly made time for this interview on April 29, 2022.
Moneychanger: The Sound Money Defense League contributed greatly to this magnificent victory in Tennessee removing the sales tax on gold and silver. Tell me about the League.
Gleason: The Sound Money Defense League is a project of my company, Money Metals Exchange. I spent 15 years in Washington, DC working at the National Right to Work Foundation. That’s how I first became aware of you, through Dr. Edwin Vieira, one of our consultants and attorneys. He’s been a leader on the sound money litigation over the decades, and you were actually my first dealer. So, it’s an honor to be talking to your readers and you.
For the first few years of our business, we focused on building our company. The policy side called to me, though, because of the oppressive taxation on precious metals. When I looked into it, I saw this oppression as an opportunity to make progress restoring sound money, which is our constitutional right.
When we started the project in 2015, about 35 states had exempted precious metals from sales tax in part or fully. Of the states with income tax, none of them exempted gold and silver from capital gains tax. We saw the sales tax exemption as being the most obvious and perhaps least-difficult policy to expand across the other states—and we saw removing the income tax as the logical second front in this battle.
The industry trade group wasn’t putting enough effort into the sales tax fight, so we pursued our own approach. That included engaging, not just precious metals investors and dealers, but also the grassroots—people with an affinity for liberty and free enterprise reachable through our various e-mail lists. We brought the grassroots component to the battle.
Using the strength of these people, we’ve contributed significantly to new sales tax exemptions in Louisiana, Alabama, West Virginia, Wyoming, Arkansas, and Ohio. This year it was Tennessee, assuming the governor signs the bill (or simply declines to veto it) by the end of May. [Note: Tennessee’s governor signed the bill on May 27.] That makes Tennessee the 42nd state that exempts precious metals from sales tax at least partially, if not fully.
Also, just a couple weeks ago, we were able to help Virginia renew and expand their sales tax exemption, which was set to expire this year if not renewed. In that process, we also got the $1,000 transaction threshold removed. Now, small transactions no longer have sales tax either. What’s more, we recently won a similar victory in Alabama to extend the sunset clause and slightly expand the exemption.
Moneychanger: One problem with the grassroots is that the money issue lies beyond what most people know, and the truth is opposite what they’ve been taught. To get grassroots people involved in anything about the money issue is quite an accomplishment, and y’all did it. Would you repeat what that Tennessee state senator said when the bill came to the floor? [Laughs]
Gleason: When the bill to end the sales tax in Tennessee came to a vote on the Senate floor, Senator Janice Bowling commented, “I’d like to thank the senator [referring to Senator Niceley] for carrying this bill and also the half of the state of Tennessee that contacted us.”
I love that because most of the grassroots efforts that we sparked in Tennessee were directed at senate committee members, and she wasn’t even one of those people. That was a knock-on effect of people talking to others or contacting other people we weren’t even asking them to contact because they were so enthusiastic about removing the sales tax from gold and silver. That was very gratifying because it proved the power of the grassroots. If you can engage people, make it easy for them to act, contact them with very specific information about how they can take action to help, then report back to them on the impact of their help, then you can ask them to take another small step.
In our email alerts, we even had a link that would populate a prefilled e-mail in your e-mail browser that would send a message to everybody on the committee, or you could modify the message, or you could just call them directly or e-mail them directly. A lot of people did that. We also sent out letters to our customers in Tennessee.
We’re eager to engage people with this grassroots program because obviously it works. That’s what happened in Tennessee. Over many years, there have been many efforts, but the missing link was the grassroots. Fortunately, this year that carried the day.
In Alabama, we had similar evidence. During a hearing three weeks ago, one state representative jokingly referred to our bill as “the most popular bill of the session” and everybody laughed because they had all been hearing from constituents about the bill, too. Yet it wasn’t even a major piece of legislation—just a cleanup and extension of the existing sales tax exemption there.
Grassroots involvement changes things.
Moneychanger: Let me add to that picture. We have been trying to get the sales tax removed in Tennessee since 2011 with Senator Niceley’s help, and it went nowhere. A couple of years after we started, for some reason, the banking lobby got behind it, too, but we couldn’t get it passed with even them behind it. So, your work to motivate people to get behind the bill is really astounding. I don’t know if you realize how much impact you had.
Gleason: Well, I was taken aback when that senator said half the state contacted her. She was being a little tongue-in-cheek, but it was obviously a lot stronger response than we knew because we weren’t even asking people to contact that senator and yet she was fully aware of how much support the bill had. Did you see some of those efforts to contact the grassroots?
Moneychanger: For some reason, I was out of that loop. One of my customers from another state sent something from Campaign for Liberty very late in the game, but I apparently am not on any of their lists. One of the most frustrating experiences in the past was how hard it was to motivate dealers.
Gleason: I have a theory. Number one, a small businessperson is already dealing with lots of things, and they don’t necessarily think that people in the legislature care. Also, the industry group hasn’t really fostered action from dealers. Their approach has been to encourage dealers to hire a lobbyist. I’ve noticed that often these lobbyists, who are in many cases insiders who work on lots of different issues in the state capital, often have too many issues they’re working on.
Number two, the lobbyists have relationships they want to preserve, so they’re not 100-percent-focused on the interest of any one client. Sometimes they might not be willing to press the issue because they are working on something else with the same legislator.
Third, sometimes lobbyists try to control all of legislative contact, and messaging, even discouraging dealers to lobby directly themselves, except for the handpicked person who they bring in to testify. We have even encountered situations where an industry lobbyist told us at the Sound Money Defense League that we shouldn’t do anything to motivate people to contact legislators.
Lobbyists have a very different approach than we do—the insider approach. When you hire a lobbyist, you’re paying someone to pull strings with their contacts—hopefully. And dealers think they have done their part if they just pay the lobbyist’s bill.
Moneychanger: One year we hired a lobbyist, and it was money thrown away as far as I could see. All that points out a principle to me: your liberty can’t be defended by somebody else. You have to be what the law calls a “belligerent claimant in person.” The person whose liberty is at risk is the person who has to save it, not lobbyists and hired guns. It just doesn’t work that way.
Gleason: I agree 100%. If nobody’s banging down the legislature’s door, and the only voice speaking for the issue is a lobbyist, it must not be that important.
Moneychanger: [Laughs] Exactly, but when your legislators get phone calls and e-mails and even personal visits and crowds at committee meetings, buddy, they sit up and take notice.
Gleason: This is where my background at another grassroots organization, National Right to Work, came into play. That taught me the power of mobilizing the grassroots. When you have an issue and you communicate with the people who care about it and you can give them something small to do—make a phone call or send an e-mail—and strategically time it to make a difference, and then report back to them and engage them again, that’s very powerful.
There’s a great quote from Senator Everett Dirksen from back in the 1960s: “When I feel the heat, I see the light.” That’s the nature of politics, because if these people care about getting re-elected, they pay very close attention. Sometimes they try to pretend they don’t to get you to go away, but they actually do.
This sales tax exemption was not controversial. There really was no opposition to the bill, except it might cost the state a little money. Of course, it will also make the state some money by bringing in new business. It will allow small businesses to flourish, and it will bring in conventions that wouldn’t come to Tennessee without it.
There are obviously sound arguments that the state will gain more revenue from the economic boost than it loses in sales tax proceeds. But there really was no opposition, at least no vocal opposition. It was more of a matter of telling the politicians the public wanted it until they finally grasped it and made the change.
Moneychanger: One big reason it worked was the people working with you, Representative Hulsey and Senator Niceley. They are both splendid leaders, and they’ll fight a circle saw. They’re tough.
Let me mention something else about the sales tax. You know, the supreme court’s Wayfair decision in 2018 wrecked the tax structure in the United States for small business. Before that, a business didn’t have to collect sales tax from an out-of-state customer. All these states started lusting after taxing Internet sales, and so in effect they got the law changed through the Supreme Court.
What’s wrong with that? The gold and silver business has a lot of small dealers around the country, and Wayfair was fixing to put them out of business. There’s no way any business could collect the sales tax for those multitudinous jurisdictions without an entire accounting department. That’s one reason it was so important to get these exemptions passed. And there are still eight states that fully tax gold and silver purchases?
Gleason: Eight states, plus DC and Puerto Rico.
Moneychanger: Let me raise this up to a little higher level. My whole adult life has been concerned with how to get metallic money circulating again. The banks, the Fed, and the government have pushed gold and silver out of circulation using their bank credit money. That is the fiat money we are forced to use, created by the banks out of thin air. The dollar bills, checks, bank deposits, credit cards, and all the digital means of transmitting money are all bank credit money. They have pushed gold and silver so far out of circulation and out of the public’s ken that now even state and federal governments operate on the legal assumption that gold and silver are not money; only bank credit is money.
You see that in the sales tax. Although the Constitution, state and federal statutes, and state and federal precedents declare that only gold and silver are money, states want to levy sales tax on it. That is a tax on money, as if you gave a bank teller a $10 bill asking for change and she gave you back a five, four ones, and a dime. You wouldn’t stand for that for a second.
They’re charging tax on money even though that is impossible under the law, but they operate in violation of the law. We have to get gold and silver back into circulation. It has passed out of people’s minds. Their numeraire—the money they think in terms of—is this bank credit “dollar.”
All these barriers—taxes, public ignorance, illegal discrimination—are barriers to circulating silver and gold money. Karl Menger, the Austrian economist, defined “money” as the most marketable commodity in the economy, the one thing with no spread between buy and sell. If gold and silver have to pay 10% tax, they’ll never compete with zero-spread bank credit money.
We have to remove those barriers to circulation. Most fascinating right now is that gold and silver are being privately remonetized, and government action is driving that.
In the last six months, governments have demonstrated that digital assets aren’t safe. When Trudeau seized all the digital assets of Canadians protesting against his Covid lockdowns, and when Biden with U.S. government sanctions seized Russian central bank reserves, they shouted to the world that digital assets are not safe. Why? Digital assets depend on the tolerance of government, and if you get on the government’s wrong side, they will seize everything, leaving you penniless.
The advantages of gold and silver are obvious. First, they’re the only financial assets that have no counterparty risk. Unlike a dollar bill or bank deposit or stock or bond, there’s no counterparty on the other side of metals that must make good to give the asset value because gold and silver are valuable simply because people always want them.
Second, gold and silver are analog, not digital assets. They don’t exist in the belly of a computer somewhere subject to the vagaries of governments, corporations, and the power supply. If you have them in your hand, you have indestructible value, the ultimate cash.
What other barriers to circulation do you see?
Gleason: Clearly, the sales tax is a huge one. The Sound Money Defense League has identified other areas of public policy at the state level and federal level. We have discovered that we are able to make more headway at the state level because state legislators are not as accustomed to seeing organized grassroots.
The sales tax on metals is nearing complete abolition. Once the Tennessee law goes into effect, 42 states will wholly or partially exempt precious metals from sales tax. Wiping out the sales tax is our top priority.
The second area of policy is the income tax, which is, of course, the tax on the consumer’s other side of the transaction, sale. The federal government and state government demand you pay capital gains tax on nominal gains.
Think about this: they won’t let you deduct your capital loss from inflation. With inflation at an admitted 8.5%, your fiat dollar-denominated wealth is losing 8.5% a year. If your gold and silver gained 8.5% a year, you have only an illusory nominal gain. Why should you have to pay capital gains denominated in this devaluing currency? It’s not a real gain, it’s only nominal.
So, we have a bill in several states (passed in one), and a federal bill that would remove income tax on precious metals sales. Of course, that means you couldn’t deduct capital losses on those sales, either.
Congressman Mooney (R-WV) has introduced a federal bill, the Monetary Metals Tax Neutrality Act. At the state level, we helped pass an Arizona bill that removed income tax from gold and silver coins.
As it stands today, the income tax on the monetary metals raises accounting problems. When you sell, you are supposed to be able to track your cost basis in the item. If you follow IRS demands, you have to track a basis whether you sell your gold or silver for fiat money or exchange it for goods. Under the Internal Revenue Code, they would expect you to have a record of your tax basis on that gold that you used as money and then report it as a gain or a loss on your tax return. That is an accounting nightmare for people wishing to use gold and silver as money.
The Federal Reserve note doesn’t have a basis; everything’s denominated in that devaluing note and that inherently makes it a more convenient currency because you don’t have to track your basis and your gains and losses. They don’t exist as far as the IRS is concerned.
The Sound Money Defense League is pursuing another initiative through state legislation to reaffirm that gold and silver are money as prescribed by Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution. That article actually prohibits states from making anything but gold and silver coin “a tender in payment of debts.” Wyoming, Utah, and Oklahoma have already passed laws affirming that that gold and silver are money.
Unfortunately, people find this hard to understand. “What are we doing? Are we going to force people to use gold and silver? What if they want to use other things?” Obviously, that’s why the banks don’t like it, so we’ve taken a step back and asked, “What are the practical things?” The Number One barrier that prevents gold and silver being used as a medium of exchange is the tax on buying and selling.
So, we have developed our Sound Money Index to rank states by their monetary policies. [See “State Sound Money Index.” ] We have 12 criteria, about half concerning taxes.
State Sound Money Index
The Sound Money Defense League’s Sound Money Index ranks states for their monetary policies in 12 areas:
- Sales Tax on Gold and Silver
- Sales Tax on Platinum and Palladium
- Sales Tax Rate
- State Income Tax
- State Income Tax Rate
- Gold and Silver Affirmed as Money
- Gold and Silver Clause Contracts Enforceable
- State Gold and Silver Bullion Depository
- State Reserve Funds held in gold or silver
- State Public Pension Funds hold gold or silver
- State Gold Bonds issued or invested in
- Precious Metals Dealer and Investor Harassment
In 2021, Wyoming and Texas ranked #1 and #2, while New Jersey and Vermont ranked #49 and #50. Find your state’s ranking at https://www.moneymetals.com/guides/sound-money-index.
Every year, we evaluate every state’s laws on Sound Money-related areas. Half of the scoring is based on the sales and income tax. The other half has to do with other policies:
- Does the state hold gold as a reserve asset?
- Does the state hold gold as an asset in its pension fund?
- Does the state specifically protect gold and silver clause contracts that specifically require payment in metal?
- Does the state have a state-chartered depository system like Texas has?
- Does the state issue gold bonds when raising capital or hold gold bonds as an investment? No states are doing that, but that’s something a state could do.
- Does the state have laws harassing precious metals dealers and investors? About 25 states place harsh discriminatory burdens upon precious metals dealers and their customers.
Arizona is one of the worst. An Arizona dealer, first, cannot buy from the public without collecting personal information documenting the sale: driver’s license, where they got the metals, taking pictures of the items, uploading those pictures to the county sheriff within 24 hours, not selling the metals that they bought from the public for 14 days or 20 days, etc. But Arizona even goes a step further, and this is the most outrageous of these types of laws. The state actually makes it illegal for a dealer to sell gold and silver to a person under the age of 18, as if were a drug. It is also illegal for a dealer to accept a non-electronic or check payment for gold and silver.
Violations are Class 1 misdemeanors. So, if you are 12 and Grandma gave you $30 and you go down to the local dealer and pay $30 cash for a silver American Eagle, that dealer is guilty of at least two crimes—they sold to a minor and they accepted a non-electronic payment—and the dealer can go to jail for up to six months.
We haven’t had much new legislation on that front, because we just started by documenting all of these state laws. A lot of local jurisdictions also have their own dealer harassment and privacy invasion laws, even in states where no state law exists.
Moneychanger: Do you know when that arose?
Gleason: The theory is, it’s secondhand pawnshops that buy stolen property. If somebody steals Grandma’s broach and then tries to fence it at the local pawnshop, that unique item would be easily identified. So, before it gets sent off to the refiner and melted, that dealer needs to upload pictures of it to the sheriff in case it’s reported as stolen and hold it for a while.
But that shouldn’t apply to a fungible gold or silver bar or a gold Eagle, which are not unique items and can’t be distinguished from any other similar item, so it’s ridiculous and it only burdens the business. Putting aside the privacy invasions and administrative burdens, small dealers do not have enough capital to finance holding larger amounts of gold and silver for long periods on their own premises.
Moneychanger: Those laws originated from the period that I call “The Mad Melt” leading into 1980. That’s when I really got my start in the business in a scrap-buying operation. In the five months from September 1979, gold skyrocketed to $850 an ounce and silver went to $50 an ounce. Before and during that time, scrap buyers with large amounts of cash traveled around the country and set up in motels. They’d run full-page newspaper ads offering to buy gold and silver coins and scrap. Of course, local buyers sprang up, too.
I got into the business right at the top in January 1980, and those laws were passed in the spring of 1980. In truth, there were people burglarizing houses and fencing it basically through honest businesses, but not enough to burden every dealer with regulations.
About the same time, states saw gold and silver shooting up and began to lust for sales tax revenue. I know in Tennessee, the state never tried to collect sales tax until the spring of 1980. No law was passed, the revenue department just began interpreting gold and silver sales as taxable. A little later, I tangled with Arkansas over that.
Your Sound Money Index ranks all the states?
Gleason: The worst states on the Sound Money Index are Wisconsin, Kentucky, Maine, New Jersey, and Vermont. There has been a sales tax repeal bill pending—there’s one pending right now as we speak still in New Jersey; it’s still alive for this session. I’m not terribly optimistic there. We had a bill in Kentucky that just died three weeks ago, and we’ve had bills in Wisconsin and Maine, but we didn’t have them this year. Vermont—just forget about Vermont. We’ll get to that last. But with Tennessee now being sales-tax-free, Kentucky and Mississippi are surrounded by states without the tax. That helps strengthen the case even more as we go back to those to states next year.
Moneychanger: Right. Your website has a wealth of information, and I encourage my readers to go take a look, and also I hope to make a contribution as well.
What about gold and silver contracts? You look for states to uphold those contracts by “specific performance.” A “gold clause contract” specifically requires payment in gold.
Gleason: We support adding requirements to state law that courts must enforce gold and silver clause contracts by specific performance so that a court cannot substitute some other payment medium. That defeats the whole purpose of a gold or silver clause contract, which is to ensure the contract is not paid in a depreciating inflationary fiat money, especially when making a long-term commitment.
The present environment of rising or out-of-control inflation makes gold and silver clause contracts very attractive. No states have yet passed a law enforcing specific performance on gold contracts, but we put it on the map as an important goal. In the same way, we put gold bonds on the map because that is also part of remonetizing gold. In fact, a gold bond is a gold clause contract.
These policies have people coming out of the woodwork—people like Senator Niceley and Representative Hulsey in Tennessee—and they’re all the best people. They’re the liberty people; they get it, and they want to do something. When we find an ally, we just go down the menu of policies and we look at what their state hasn’t done yet on this list, and then we talk about how we can help them promote that policy.
At some point over the next few years, we will start having gold clause contract bills and gold bond bills, although, as to bonds, state treasurers can just do that on their own without a bill.
Moneychanger: Of course, you don’t have to wait for the state to pass a law to set up a gold or silver contract. You can do that today, yourself. It is perfectly legal.
Gleason: A very good point.
Moneychanger: I’m very grateful for your time, and I am stunned by all the work that you’re doing. Keep at it, and if I can help you, I’d be glad to know about it.
Gleason: You’re an incredibly gracious man, and I’ve known you and followed you for 20 years. And I would say to some extent my activism in this area was inspired by you. I know the battles you personally have fought at great personal cost on the Sound Money issue. You have been a trailblazer, and I’m just pleased to be picking up and doing some of the things you’ve been doing yourself over many decades.
Given the current environment where the money issue continues to worsen rapidly, we have a rare opportunity for real reforms. Sometimes it does have to get worse before it gets better.
Moneychanger: The best thing is, we can change the monetary system ourselves from the bottom up. We can enforce it ourselves.
I can’t tell you how much joy you occasioned around here with the success of that bill. I have seven kids, and they’ve all been through it with me. We did quite a bit of rejoicing around here. Congratulations to you. And thank you.
Gleason: My pleasure.