Today, U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), along with Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), introduced the Commemorative Coins Reform Act, legislation that would prevent the use of Congressional commemorative coins as a circumvention of the earmark ban while preserving their role in honoring worthy causes.
The bill would stop coin surcharge fees from being directed to private entities. Instead, surcharges collected would be used to first pay for the coin program and remaining funds would be used for deficit reduction. Congressman Justin Amash (R-Mich.) is offering companion legislation in the House.
Since 1982, Congress has authorized the minting of commemorative coins, using surcharges on them to send more than $418 million to private organizations, many of which already receive federal funding or have considerable means of raising money for themselves.
"Congress has done great work on eliminating earmarks, but commemorative coins have become a way for politicians to continue steering federal benefits to favored projects," said Sen. DeMint. "Congress can still issue commemorative coins, but the funds should go to deficit reduction instead of becoming a money-maker for private entities. If organizations wish to raise money for worthy causes, there are many ways available without the use of taxpayer resources."
"Congress found yet another way to circumvent the earmark ban with commemorative coins," Rep. Amash said. "Organizations shouldn't receive special treatment because of their D.C. connections. It's far beyond the proper role of the federal government to act as the sales agent for private groups."
Like earmarks, securing passage of commemorative coins legislation often involves significant lobbying support. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that a lobbying firm was paid at least $54,000 to promote coins legislation that ultimately brought its beneficiary $2.5 million.