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DeMint Launches New "Pickpocket" Blog

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Today, U.S. Senator DeMint (R-South Carolina), announced the new Pickpocket blog that will monitor how big-government regulations, bureaucracy, and out-of-control spending rob the taxpayer. Senator DeMint's senior communications advisor, Amanda Carpenter, will write regularly for Pickpocket (www.demint.senate.gov/pickpocket).

"We're over $15 trillion in debt for a simple reason: Washington politicians won't stop spending other people's money," said Senator DeMint. "The new Pickpocket blog is important because Americans often don't notice the absurd ways their tax dollars are wasted by Washington politicians. We have a massive regulatory system that costs our economy $1.75 trillion a year, is hurting jobs and reducing take home pay. Amanda has been monitoring these bloated bureaucracies for years and I'm excited she'll be keeping Americans informed of where their money is going."

Amanda Carpenter has worked in Senator DeMint's office since 2010, and previously worked as a reporter for Washington Times, Human Events and Townhall.com.

The first post at Pickpocket can be viewed below:

May 17, 2012

Government-created corporation to promote US tourism holds conference in UK

Board members of a government-sponsored travel promotion agency, created to boost tourism in the United States, held a public meeting and high-end VIP launch party last year that was far from any location in the United States.

They went to the United Kingdom.

On November 7 2011 the Corporation for Travel Promotion, which was created by Congress in 2009, held a public meeting in London to discuss marketing strategies and efforts to lobby Congress. The group is eligible for up to $410 million in funding, derived from a new tax placed on foreign tourists. That's $410 million less tourists to the U.S. will have to spend on American goods and services that are instead being funneled to this new bureaucracy.

The Travel Promotion Act also established an "Office of Travel Promotion" in the Commerce Department to serve as a liaison to the Corporation for Travel Promotion.

This choice of location for the London meeting is at odds with a statement made in a February 2011 interview by the board's Chairman Stephen Cloobeck. At that time he said, "We have also decided that our board meetings will alternate between conference calls to an actual on-site visit somewhere in the United States."

According to minutes from the London meeting, Chairman Cloobeck, who is also chairman and CEO of Diamond Resorts International, announced that the Corporation for Travel Promotion "will be henceforth known as Brand USA." Jim Evans, Executive Director of the Corporation and former President and CEO of Best Western International, "provided an update on Brand USA's presentation of its new marketing brand to certain members of Congress and government officials, and he noted that the presentation was well received."

Despite the fact that board members traveled all the way to London for the meeting, it was a brief event. The meeting began at 1:30pm UK time and ended at 3:30pm UK Time.

That may have been because its members had little to discuss. The Audit Committee, Finance Committee, Business Development Committee, Corporate Governance Committee, Marketing Committee, and Legal Committee are all listed on the minutes having "no business to report."

There was, however, a party to attend.

A splashy VIP launch party for Brand USA was held the next day at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich where champagne and fancy hors d'oeurvres were served. Video is available here.

Although Brand USA and its representatives repeatedly claim no tax dollars are used to fund it, it is very reliant on taxes for its funding, taxes raised on the very people it hopes to persuade to come to the United States.

In order to pay for Brand USA's funding, Congress levied a $10 tax on foreign tourists that is collected by the Department of Homeland Security's Electronic System for Travel Authorization. DHS charges an additional $4 per tourist for processing, bringing the total tax on foreign tourists to $14.

$10 million incurred from those taxes were approved by the Commerce Department and distributed to Brand USA by the Treasury Department to cover "first-year- start up costs" in 2011.

In fact, the law requires Brand USA's budget to be provided through both private and public funds. In order to obtain the maximum amount of public money, it must be "matched" with private funds. According to the Government Accountability Office, fifty percent of BrandUSA's funds must come from private sector contributions and 80 percent of those donations may be non-cash "in-kind contributions." The other 50 percent of its funding comes from the taxes on foreign tourists. In fiscal year 2012, Brand USA may receive ESTA taxes at a ratio of 2-to-1. After that, federal funds will match private funding at a 1-to-1 ratio.

In November 2011, the Treasury Department reported having collected $115 million in new taxes on foreign visitors.

During the debate over whether to create a government-funded travel promotion agency, opponents raised concerns that it was needless because it would unnecessarily replicate existing efforts in the private sector to promote tourism in the United States.

The United States, after all, is relatively well-known throughout the world. Without a corporate branding campaign.

Senator Jim DeMint wrote in a Washington Post op-ed at the time:

"The advertising fund would be controlled by leaders of America's tourism industry -- giant corporations such as Disney, Loews and Marriott. Keep in mind, those companies are not in distress -- they're thriving. Disney, for instance, posted profits of $4.4 billion last year, and bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion just last week.

The American travel industry already spends billions every year on advertising with tens of millions focused on international marketing. The purpose of the Travel Promotion Act is to subsidize that advertising.

No thanks."

That appears to be exactly what happened.

The U.S. Commerce Department appointed the 11 board members in September 2010. Not only are Chairman Cloobeck and Executive Director Evans highly experienced corporate marketers, so is fellow Board member Randy A. Garfield--president of the Walt Disney Travel Company.

Also noteworthy is the fact that BrandUSA's board members include at least one person with control over another government-funded advertising budget. Amtrak's chief marketing officer, David Lim, is also on the board.

According to Amtrak's 2011 annual report, it received $1.5 billion in federal appropriations last year and spent $113.2 million on advertising and sales.

In 2010, Amtrak spent $59.3 million on advertising alone.

Amtrak also received $1.3 billion in funding from President Obama's stimulus bill in 2009.


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