Wylie also asked if the Coin Group would be interested in the overseas marketing contract if Annunzio’s bill was approved and the domestic marketing was handled by the US Mint. Hammer was quick to respond that they viewed the separation of the marketing responsibilities as “impractical” as such a scenario would lack the coordination that was essential to a successful worldwide program. He added that the Coin Group would not even be interested in bidding on the contract.
If there had been any lingering question about whether the Coin Group’s primary motivation for being involved in the coin program was to support US Olympic athletes in any way that it could or to generate profits for its own bottom line, the comments of Hammer and Mullarkey made it very clear which came first.
Next up was Henry B. González (D-TX) who inquired about the coinage program for the 1976 Montreal Olympics, asking J. Donald Gartland, “Was the Canadian issue a successful venture? There was some testimony to the contrary.”
In response, Gartland noted that while global sales of the coins did not fully meet original objectives, the program did generate $125 million in profit. The figure was a “hot button” item for Annunzio, and he immediately interrupted and cautioned, “Get your facts straight on that, Mr. Gartland. It was $24 million that was turned over to the athletes.”
This was not a surprise, as Annunzio did not consider the Montreal program a success and had challenged all statements to the contrary throughout the hearings.
Gartland acknowledged that his reported profit figure did include $100 million in seignorage from the Canadian Government, but stated his belief that the plan for the Montreal program had all along assumed this Government contribution and so the seignorage should not be removed from the equation.
Annunzio followed by asking, “Are you in a position to tell us how much money the private marketers made on the Canadian deal?”
Gartland declined, stating “I am not in a position to tell you what they made in the whole, and I think it would be inappropriate for me to express an opinion on what American Express, who was my employer at that time, realized from their efforts.”
Annunzio expressed his frustration about the lack of information presented publicly by Gartland and Hammer, but suggested that they meet with Representative Minish or others and provide more detail in private.
González continued, but rather than ask additional questions, he stated his belief that the Cranston-Patterson-St. Germain bill was “unprecedented legislation” that would “put us back into the kind of business that led to the [commemorative coin] reform in the 1950s.” He continued, “The reason I was asking these questions is that it will help shape my judgment as to the weight to be given for the pleas of those who want us to return to the old system.” González would later attempt to amend the St. Germain bill by placing limits on the amount of profit a private marketing group could make on the program, but his efforts would prove unsuccessful.
In closing the session, Annunzio made it clear that his position regarding any Olympic coinage had not changed since the beginning,
“As far as I am concerned my priorities for an Olympic coin bill are simple. All of the money raised by the coin sales should go to the Olympic Games and to the athletes. No money should be siphoned off by a middleman. In addition, the integrity of the US Mint and this country’s coinage system must be maintained. Finally, no one should be given an exclusive right to sell the Olympic coins. These coins belong to all Americans, and all Americans should have an opportunity to participate in the program.”
A defiant Annunzio also addressed those who had criticized his efforts over the past year,
“I apologize to no one for the course I have taken on this legislation. The Olympic coin bill has come a long way from the first version of the Senate bill. I was criticized for not rushing that bill to judgment. I am certain that had I done just that, we might well have an Olympic coin program today that would be so bad, that no Member of this body would want to be identified with it.”
Annunzio was concerned that whichever coinage bill was reported out of the full Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs might be accompanied by a request to suspend the rules and call for a vote on the bill without debate. To proactively address this possibility, he called for a full debate on whichever coinage bill emerges from the full committee “so that the full membership of the House is advised as to what we have been hearing in these hearings, so that they can have all of the facts before them before they vote.”
As he adjourned the session, Annunzio fired one last salvo at his detractors, “We can go a long way toward renewing public confidence in the Congress with this legislation. But only if we vote to protect the interests of the government and its people rather than protecting the lobbyists and their high paying special interest clients.”
A markup session for the bill was scheduled in the full Committee for the following day. It would prove to be a strong test of his resolve.
To be continued…
© Copyright D. Provost 2014. All rights reserved. Used with permission.