The U.S. commemorative coin program has again drawn the attention of legislators looking at ways to reform it, with the introduction of the “Commemorative Coins Reform Act of 2012” in the House and Senate.
The bills target surcharges, which are authorized by law for each commemorative program and are included in the price of coins sold by the Mint. Surcharges are paid to the recipient organizations — authorized in legislation — for projects that benefit the community.
The last substantial law with a broad impact on the commemorative coin program was 1996’s “Commemorative Coin Reform Act,” which was a response to a proliferation of commemorative coin programs and sometimes unpopular themes that resulted in the occasional unprofitable program.
The 1996 changes limit commemorative programs to two per year and require that Mint program costs be paid before surcharges can be sent to the benefiting organizations.
Today, legislators aren’t saying that too many coins are being issued. Rather, they’re saying that the private organizations that stand to benefit from the passage of a commemorative bill are driving the introduction of legislation. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., stated in a Sept. 21 news release: “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.”
Indeed, surcharges do seem to be the primary driver of many, if not most pieces of commemorative coin legislation.
Perhaps the passage of this new legislation could usher in a new era of commemorative coins celebrating and honoring a greater range of individuals, events and causes. A more interesting and varied selection of commemorative themes would appeal to a broader demographic and could better introduce a new generation of collectors to our hobby.
Of course, the Mint would benefit as these new collectors would be its future customers.