US Coins

1982 legislation was logical compromise for first Olympic coins

Skirmishes in the U.S. House of Representatives over the number of coins and marketing of the United States’ first modern Olympic coinage program that had begun in the summer of 1981 erupted into an intense battle during the spring of 1982.

A Government Accounting Office study, released in April 1982, cited five flaws with a Senate-approved proposal seeking 25 commemorative coins honoring the 1984 Olympic Games to be hosted by the city of Los Angeles.

Rep. Frank D. Annunzio, D-Ill., chairman of the House Banking Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs and Coinage, took to the floor of the House to bring attention to the GAO report. The most worrisome problem, Annunzio warned, was that the GAO had been unable to obtain any documents from the private marketing group, the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, or the Treasury concerning the marketing arrangements.

GAO concerns

Annunzio added: “The General Accounting Office is concerned that Congress cannot make an intelligent evaluation of S. 1230 without access to information documenting the claims of those who would market the coins under the bill.”

Further, Annunzio took issue with the process for choosing a marketer for the coins, describing it as a “sham.”

Never one to mince words, Annunzio ended his speech on the floor of the House by suggesting that S. 1230 possessed the ingredients for a “world scandal.”

Annunzio wanted a smaller number of coins. He also was adamant that the U.S. Mint should both manufacture and market the coins, with all of the profits to be turned over to the Los Angeles and U.S. Olympic committees to be used for building training facilities and support of U.S. athletes.

Different approach

S. 1230 provided a very different approach. The marketing was to have been bid out to the private sector, with the U.S. Mint relegated to the role of manufacturer.

A key to attracting private marketers was that their costs were to have been covered and profits assured before money would have begun flowing to the Olympic committees.

Based on estimates of the 25-coin program yielding $1.5 billion in gross sales offered in testimony during congressional hearings, one analysis (never disputed) offered some interesting numbers. It projected that the private conglomerate formed by Occidental Petroleum Corp. and Lazard Freres & Co. (which had been selected by Olympic officials as the marketing firm) would have received $312 million, $94 million of which would have been profit; that the U.S. Mint would have been reimbursed $39 million for manufacturing; that the LAOC would have received $97 million and the USOC $7 million.

With one eye toward the calendar and another on the high-profile opposition that was beginning to build (collectors joined the fight, backing Annunzio) Olympic officials and their lobbyists scrambled for a compromise.

They thought they had trumped Annunzio by pulling rank. They enlisted Rep. Fernand J. St. Germain, D-R.I., to introduce a bill reducing the number of coins to 17. St. Germain was chairman of the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee. He introduced his bill April 1, 1982, and used the hearing Annunzio was presiding over on April 6 to posture his proposal as the logical “compromise.”

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