- - Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is run by humorless folks who are pleased to ban little toys on the remote chance that a child somewhere might skin a knee or bruise an elbow. They’re out to bubble-wrap society. They’re as secretive as they are vindictive.

The watchdog group Cause of Action earlier this month filed a lawsuit demanding that the Consumer Product Safety Commission hand over documents justifying its recall of Buckyballs, once a popular desk toy for executives. Buckyballs are made from powerful rare-earth magnets that can be rearranged into interesting geometric shapes. It made for a great stress reliever, enjoyed by 2.5 million customers — until the federal government stepped in two years ago.

Craig Zucker is the small-business entrepreneur who came up with Buckyballs, turning the idea into a $40 million product that flew off the shelves. The fun and games ended when the bureaucrats decided that the product, which was clearly labeled “Keep Away From All Children,” posed a danger when parents didn’t keep them away from all children. The agency says 22 kids were taken to the hospital after swallowing the magnets, which are as dangerous as thumbnails, paper clips and an assortment of other small objects that children shouldn’t put in their mouths, but do anyway.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission ordered a recall and badgered stores and distributors to take Buckyballs off the shelves. Mr. Zucker didn’t take the assault on his budding enterprise lightly. He spoke out loudly against the commission’s thuggery, calling it “un-American.” He met with members of Congress and took the fight to the courts. The financial strain soon became too great, and Mr. Zucker closed shop. That wasn’t good enough for the government. Revenge was next.

The commission amended its legal complaint and held Mr. Zucker personally liable for recalling Buckyballs, which would require him to personally pay nearly 5,000 retailers for the costs associated with sending back their inventory, estimated as worth $57 million.

If the government’s case against Buckyballs was strong enough to justify such drastic punishment, the Consumer Product Safety Commission would have been pleased to release the documents to bolster its case. But it wouldn’t. “This administration,” says Dan Epstein, director of Cause of Action, “was just pegged with the title the ‘most secretive’ administration in history, and the [Consumer Product Safety Commission‘s] refusal to produce documents is another example of that spirit of secrecy.”

The commission’s actions are unprecedented. No former CEO has ever been forced to personally conduct a recall. The administration’s move is a blatant attempt to punish the company for making and selling a product that is not illegal and functions exactly as advertised.

Government spoilsports assert that if a product can be abused by 0.0009 percent of buyers, it’s “defective” and must be banned. If that means shutting down a business, “Too bad.” When “safety” bureaucrats use the power of the government to silence critics and exact revenge, they’re far more dangerous to society than a desk toy meant for adults.