GOP looks to shut down commemorative coin 'earmark'

Republicans in the Senate and House have proposed legislation that would prevent Congress from authorizing new commemorative coins that raise millions of dollars for the groups they are commemorating, a practice that a GOP senator was noted in recent press reports for using excessively.

The Commemorative Coins Reform Act was introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), partly in reaction to news that Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) successfully pushed through a few commemorative-coin bills that benefited a lobbying firm connected to his former girlfriend.

Under the current practice, commemorative coins can be authorized by Congress in legislation that usually allows a surcharge to be assessed on each coin. Money raised through that surcharge benefits the group that is being commemorated by the coin.

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In June, The Wall Street Journal reported that Kirk had authored several of these bills, many of which were for clients of Arcadian Partners, a lobbying group. The Journal story reported that Arcadian was paid $54,000 by the March of Dimes to lobby for a commemorative coin, and also that Kirk's former girlfriend had been employed at Arcadian.

Press reports also noted that Kirk successfully passed other coin bills that raised several million dollars for the groups being honored.

DeMint and Amash referred to that story, and said it shows that the current way of approving commemorative coins can make it too much like a congressional earmark that members can put forward to benefit certain groups.

"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," DeMint said.

"Congress found yet another way to circumvent the earmark ban with commemorative coins," 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."

The bill from DeMint and Amash would use the surcharge to pay for the coin program, and use any extra money raised to pay down the deficit. DeMint said commemorative coins should not be a "money-maker" for private entities.

The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Sens. 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). The House bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.).

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