Commemorative coins are sneaky pork

You know those cool commemorative coins that the US Mint keeps issuing? Turns out that they're a handy way for Congress to get around the ban on porky earmarks for their home district. As reported last April in The Foundry:

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.

There's a long list of other commemorative coins, mostly issued at Republican instigation (the coins all seem to emanate from the House), but sometimes with a Democratic push in the Senate.

Congress Uses Commemorative Coins to Circumvent Earmark Ban


  1. As for as “Pork” goes…that’s rather simplistic to argue that any sales of these coins are sneaky or significant in the real world.

    It’s like a user deleting 1K text files on a terabyte drive in the hopes it would make their computer faster and free up space. 

  2. Doesn’t quite feel like the same thing as pork to me. This is a situation where an organization is benefiting from the sale of coins that are of interest primarily to people who also have an interest in the organization. Coins commemorating The Lions Club are likely to be a hit with Lion’s Club members, for example. The deal covers the government’s investment and gives the additional proceeds to the organization that generated the interest. Seems fair enough to me. Assuming enough are sold to cover the costs, then it’s only money that wouldn’t have otherwise been in the government’s hands that goes back to the district. It’s not money being paid in taxes or fees. If the coins weren’t created, the money wouldn’t be collected or distributed.

    1.  The same could be said for special license plates for cars. “Support the Arts”..Support AIDS research, Breast Cancer..etc..etc.
      All have a portion of the state issued plate for cars to the specific cause. Those are probably more popular than special coins.
      And like you I think it seems fair enough for me. Heck, I have a river society license plate on my car and a portion of my tag fee goes to group that supports the river clean up and helps protect endangered species that grow and live on that river.
      Plus the tag is very cool looking.

    2. I’ve read the article, and I agree with you, Rossi, and with sam1148. This doesn’t feel like pork.

      (However, let’s say, for a sec, that this is ‘pork barrelling’, if it is, it is such a small amount of money…it should be pretty low on the pork-barrel fix-list. 

      Also, to paraphrase Mary Poppins, a spoon full of pork makes the medicine go down…by which I think a smidge of pork-barrelling is a necessary lubricant to our system, such as it is. But too much of anything can be toxic.Then there’s the hyperbole…)

    3. There is an element of direct financial transfer here: 

      The feds manufacture the coins at their expense and then attempt to sell them. If the costs are covered, any further income goes to the private entity.

      Essentially, that’s an unsecured loan, at 0% interest, of the production costs, with no fixed repayment date(in addition to any more nebulous; but probably not free, value derived from official association with the mint, use of their manufacturing expertise, etc.)

      Just try asking your bank to loan you some money to produce widgets, with the promise to repay them with widget sales, and see what sorts of interest rates you are offered, if you can get any takers at all…

      It hardly moves the needle in the history of sweetheart giveaways; but it is one, albeit creatively structured to avoid having a dollar value directly attached to it. 

  3. One could argue that the organisations (Lion’s Club etc) are unfairly profiting off of a use of US gov’t sponsorship.  In other words, by being sponsored by the Federal gov’t, and being an “official US Mint” coin, those organisations are gaining an unfair advantage.  Essentially, they are getting free use of US logos, advertising  sponsorship, credibility  etc, that other organizations are not privy to.  This federal gov’t support can have real monetary value (though I have not seen it calculated) that the gov’t is not getting reimbursed for.  A “fairer” system would have the organisations  like Lion’s Club, pay for the privilege of using what essentially amounts to US Gov’t IP rights.

    1. There are no US Government IP rights.

      There is no unreimbursed monetary value. All costs of the particular commemorative coin issue are deducted from the sales before any funds are dispersed to the organization benefiting from the coin issue. Furthermore the difference between the face value and the actual cost of producing the actual coin are credited to the U.S. Treasury (not packaging, shipping or marketing which are out of the previously mention reimbursement of costs). This is called seignorage. So the government sometimes actually makes money, too. The Treasury has made a buttload of money of the State and National Park Quarter series, which are “circulating” commemoratives. But when someone saves a coin and removes it from circulation, it essential provides a profit of the full face value to the government. and billions of those two quarter series have been made and saved by collectors. In the case of gold or silver coins with a nominal value less than the intrinsic value of the precious metals, the Mint gets paid the spot cost of the materials plus all the production costs.

      The U.S Mint has issued commemorative coins that benefit third party organizations since 1892. If Republicans like sponsoring bills to authorize the issuance of these coins, I would imagine it is because it actually cost the the government nothing to do this, rather than being paid for out of taxes. So to them it’s kinda painless. However, as someone who collects coins and who likes good design, most modern US commemorative (post 1982) are fugly, and I rarely buy them.

  4. The USPS did this for years until people finally realized that there was no value in collecting stamps.

    1. Now the USPS is coming to terms with the fact that there is no value in people actually purchasing stamps…

  5. Sometimes I wish articles were prefaced a bit (in the subject) with the country that is supposed to care.  Cory is very international.

    One has to wonder if it’s Canada, the US or the UK we should get into a lather about today. Mind you I’m constantly in a lather about other countries so no point in talking about their ridiculous behaviors.

    Overall though, Cory is very lather-friendly, so I feel very clean after any visit to BB.

    Enough of this soap-box talk.

    1. You mean,

      You know those cool commemorative coins that the US Mint keeps issuing?

      While this doesn’t specifically suggest which nationalities should care, it (and the next sentence mentioning Congress) does suggest pretty strongly that we might be talking about the US.

      1. I mean…

        Commemorative coins are sneaky pork

        I’ll come clean with you – I have a tendency to just skim the article titles.  When I’m told I need to get excited about something, generally I don’t.  In the end though it all comes out in the wash so it’s OK.

    2. Uh, the first sentence says it is the US mint.  If that wasn’t a tip off, the second sentence talks about congress, which while there is more than one congress in the world, it makes for a pretty short list.  After hitting a few lines about Republicans and Democrats from American states, it probably should have sunk in that this was about the US.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is too easily assumed that people will know that an article is about the US, but this one isn’t one.

  6. My standard gift for someone that’s having baby is a Mint Set of that years coinage from US mint.
     And a “baby box”. Along with newspapers, magazines of all types in hard copy of the birth month and day (for newspaper).  All in a nice baby box to save things.

  7. You mean that when I bought up the entire production run of the Westboro Baptist Church Commemerative Coins to prevent them spreading their message of hate in to the Numismospher, I was actually giving money to the Topeka Tossers? Noooooooooo!

  8. And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.
    And I saw, and behold boingboing linking to the Heritage Foundation: and he that wrote the blog had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.

    1. Surely you’re not suggesting that there could be anything incorrect in an article from a right-wing, racist, sexist, homophobic propaganda site.

      1. As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

        According to Wikipedia, the ban on earmarks passed by the House Appropriations Committee in 2010 is on earmarks for for-profit corporations, so this would seem to be a bad example, since the Lions are a non-profit.

        Then again, Wikipedia and the New York Times seem to disagree as to whether the ban applies to just for-profit corporations, or to everyone.

        (I wasn’t aware that there was a ban on earmarks in place.)

        Edited for clarity.

        1. There is sort of a ban on earmarks and apparently all it has accomplished is to get Congress to do work arounds that make earmarks look just peachy fine.

  9. The  interesting thing is that “pork” generally adds nothing to the Federal budget.  The amount budgeted for highways, for example, does not change, but a Representative might steer some of that money to a stretch of road that needs attention.

    When Congress swore off earmarks, all they were doing is giving up the power to direct those monies and giving the power to the Transportation Department – which is the Executive branch – which is run by a scary Kenyan Muslim.

    I guess a silver coin with John Birch on it might make up for it, but I can’t imagine it raises a ton of money.

    1. I’ll see your highway example and raise you ATK building the Shuttle SRBs in Utah at Orrin Hatch’s behest, necessitating design compromises and extra expense that allowed them to be shipped cross-country by rail.
      Design compromises that contributed materially to the loss of an orbiter.

    1.  Sure commemorative coins are worthless (more or less), but as someone who took great joy in collecting coins as a kid (back when looking through your change could actually turn up valuable stuff), I just can’t bring myself to wish to ban any form of coin whatsoever.

  10. It would be nice if the Government stopped giving hand-outs to every business, agency, foundation, etc using sneaky methods.
    If this is such a great idea, why not pass these things in the open and let them live or die?
    We avoided the fiscal cliff, but buried in the fineprint is a huge boon to hollywood and television shows.  Allowing them to get federal money for each episode…  Aren’t these the same people running around claiming they are worth billions to the economy, and yet we have to funnel them millions over and over to keep them working?
    Something is wrong here, if they are a major driving economic factor we shouldn’t have to  give them hand outs to stay in business.  The millions we are paying to them could be used elsewhere for things much more important, say making sure that everyone in the country has a roof and food everyday.

  11. Just for reference the Lions Club is the largest service organization in the world(by number of members). It has members in virtually every county in every state as well as every country in the world. You may not agree with its message(it is apolitical, nonreligious, helps the blind, the hungry, and illiterate children), but it is not some local pork.

  12. This pork goes nicely with sporks… I mean, sports…


    DM: What are some of these other owners that are in your greatest hits of rogues?

    DAVE ZIRIN: … The owner of the Orlando Magic is a gentleman by the name of Dick DeVos. He’s worth $4 billion … The DeVos family, not unlike old feudal Europe, married into another billionaire family, the Prince family.

    And Dick DeVos’s son married a gentleman by the name of Edgar Prince’s daughter Betsy. Betsy’s brother -— we see where this is going — Erik Prince, the owner and founder of Blackwater.

    Dick DeVos is also one of the ultimate funders and underwriters of that right-wing edge of the evangelical movement and of the Republican Party. And he’s also getting a $480 million publicly funded stadium right now.

    And through his donations to the Republican Party, of course, Erik Prince has gotten hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for Blackwater.

    So you see how this works. I mean, I don’t think a majority of sports fans, when they go see an Orlando Magic game and cheer for players like Dwight Howard or Jameer Nelson, are saying, “I’m also buying a ticket to support Blackwater’s efforts in Iraq!” No, that — and effectively, though, that’s what they have us doing. It’s coercive, and I’m against it. 

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