Latest Congressional Scam to Circumvent Earmark Ban: Commemorative Coins

By Gary P Jackson

Actually the practice isn’t all that new, but this Congress has doubled the output since taking office.

Here’s the deal. Instead of earmarking funds to help their buddies out, members of Congress are passing legislation creating commemorative coins, and the proceeds from the sales of these coins go directly to the subject of the politician’s desire.

Now this is “after cost” cash, or what you might call “profit” but still, it makes one question the ethics of using the federal government to fund pet projects.

This also shows that politicians are devious. The reason the American people demanded that earmarking be stopped was two-fold. One, was to slow down runaway government spending, the other was transparency. Now one can argue that this process is more transparent than blind earmarking in big “must pass” legislation [Ron Paul has mastered this] but who would think to look at, what is seemingly an innocent project, as a way to buy votes?

Thankfully Lachlan Markay at the Heritage Foundation did:

Congress may have halted all official earmarks, but lawmakers have found other ways to steer pork to pet projects in their districts. One of the more creative methods is the authorization of commemorative coins.

The use of commemorative coins to steer money to pet projects is nothing new, as Heritage Action’s Ashe Schow noted this morning. From 1982 to 2009, the U.S. Mint has produced 92 such coins – a rate of 3.4 coins per year. But the 112th Congress alone has introduced 14 commemorative coin bills, a significant uptick.

Here’s how it works: In June of last year, Rep. Peter Roksam (R-IL) introduced legislation authorizing a commemorative coin honoring the Lions Club, a service organization based in Oak Brook, IL – part of Roksam’s district.

The legislation dictates that proceeds from the coin sales be used to pay for the cost of producing the coins, but adds: “all surcharges received by the Secretary from the sale of coins issued under this Act shall be promptly paid by the Secretary to the Lions Clubs International Foundation for the purposes.

In other words, assuming the costs of production are covered, the legislation will steer federal funds to an organization in Roksam’s home district. No earmarks required.

Congress has considered numerous commemorative coin bills since the earmark ban went into effect. Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) established a coin for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, which sits in his district. Rep. James Renacci (R-OH) introduced similar legislation for the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH, a town he represents.

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) introduced the Mark Twain Commemorative Coin Act, which would steer a quarter of the surcharges to the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in his district. Another quarter would go to the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, CT, represented by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

From Mothers Day to the National Future Farmers of America, a host of causes have earned commemorative coin legislation during the 112th Congress, while anti-earmark deficit hawks have cried foul on the effort.

For all intents and purposes, this is an earmark,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) in reference to the Baseball Hall of Fame bill. “And it’s far beyond the proper scope of the federal government to act as a sales agent for a private group.” Amash elaborated his objections in an appearance at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday.

For more, including video, click here.

A commenter at Heritage’s website noted that a person isn’t obligated to purchase these coins, that it’s done of “freewill.” They also say no government funds are used. That’s not completely true though, is it. The government pays for everything, up front. If no one buys these coins, or not enough are sold to pay the costs of production, guess who is stuck? That’s right, the taxpayer. The legislation stipulates that “surcharges” collected on these sales are paid directly to the institution being “honored.” I don’t see where there is anything assuring us that the cost to produce and advertise these coins must be recovered first. In other words, it seems the sale of these coins could actually lose money, and yet, the group would still get their money.

Even if these things “make money” the taxpayer sees no return on their investment. The only ones who benefit from this scheme are the sneaky politicians and the private entity who gets the cash.

The real story here though, is just how far some politicians will go to keep doing what they always do. Government is out of control, and the need for serious reform is huge. Anymore it’s like there are no rules at all, and these politicians see themselves above those few rules that do exist.

We must demand that Congress get back to the basics, and stop this nonsense.

Voters need to get more active on a local and state basis. This is where the real action is. We must continually search for true reformers willing to run for office. Any office.

Though we have a chance in November to send some great people to Washington to help effect change, this must remain an ongoing, never ending process. We must never stop searching for the best people and never stop supporting those who are willing to make a difference. We also must never stop shining the spotlight on corrupt politicians who are endangering the very survival of our nation.

The 2012 election is one of the most important in generations, but it is only the start.

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