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HomeUS CoinsCommemorative Stories: The 1983-84 LA Olympics Coins - Part VI

Commemorative Stories: The 1983-84 LA Olympics Coins – Part VI

By David Provost for CoinWeek …..
david provostAuthor’s Note: My intention for this series of “stories” is to present lesser-known information about the US commemorative coins series derived from my original research in the records of Congress and/or the reports and correspondence of the individual coin sponsors. The information presented will not simply be a reworking of the information presented in the standard reference works on the series. I sincerely hope you enjoy the backstories presented in this series and I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Part I of this article on Los Angeles Olympics Coins can be found here. Part II can be found here, Part III here, Part IV here, and Part V here.

* * *

Following the conclusion of its hearings, the House Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs and Coinage reported out the Los Angeles Olympics coin bill proposed by its chairman, Representative Frank Annunzio (D-IL11), by a vote of 6-0, on May 13, 1982. The bill (HR.6158) called for a three-coin program consisting of two silver dollars and a $10 gold coin. After nearly a year of discussion and delay, a coin program designed to support the Los Angeles Olympics appeared to finally be moving forward.

On the same day, the bill was brought before the full House Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs for a markup session. The Committee was chaired by Representative Fernand Joseph St. Germain (D-RI), Annunzio’s primary opponent regarding Olympic coinage legislation during the previous year. He was also the author of a competing coinage bill (HR.6058) that had the backing of the Los Angeles Olympics Organizing Committee (LAOOC), the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), and the White House. St. Germain opened the session by recognizing Annunzio for an opening statement.

olympic3coinsHe began his remarks by proclaiming:

>“The goal of an Olympic coin program should be to come up with a bill that will: first, protect the integrity of the United States Mint; second, provide that the bulk of the profits from the sale of the coins goes to the athletes; and three, not grant favorable treatment or privileged treatment to one or two companies to market the coins. There is only one bill that meets these goals, HR6158.”

It was a succinct summary of the arguments he had been repeatedly making for more than 10 months against proposed bills in the House and Senate that would turn over the marketing of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic coins to private marketers and thereby allow them to profit via the sale of US legal tender coinage.

He also reviewed his “Living Room Lobby” initiative in which he asked the American public to send him a letter with their pledge to buy a specific number of Los Angeles Olympic coins if his bill were passed. Annunzio brought to the session over 10,000 pledges he had received in response to his request as a compelling demonstration of the widespread support his bill had among coin collectors and the general public. He also emphasized the vital importance of having the support of the coin collecting community for any bill that gets approved and how his bill was the overwhelming choice of collectors as demonstrated by the results of a survey conducted by Coin World, the hobby publication with the largest circulation at the time, and the unanimous support received from collectors who had testified at the Subcommittee’s hearings.

As he had done throughout the Subcommittee’s hearings, Annunzio attacked the competing Olympic coinage bill’s plan to have a private marketing group sell and distribute the coins. He centered the Occidental Petroleum-Lazard Freres “Coin Group” in his sight and took aim at each, attempting to disparage them by noting how Lazard Freres was “a foreign company” and Occidental Petroleum “had not paid a penny in federal income tax for three years, even though it had millions of dollars of earnings.”

Annunzio also reviewed the Government Accounting Office’s (GAO) position that the St. Germain proposal would result in a US Government revenue loss of $210 million. He implored his colleagues on the Committee:

“You better listen and listen hard as you cast your votes. In making your decision whether to support my bill or the private marketing bill, I ask you to consider whether or not, at a time when we are trying to cut Government spending and unemployment has reached nearly ten percent, can you vote for a bill that will give away $210 million of the Government’s money.”

Attempting to drive home the point with his colleagues, he continued “This may in effect be the largest welfare fund in history, only this time the welfare recipient happens to be one of the richest corporations in America.”

With his time expired, Chairman St. Germain cut Annunzio off and recognized Ron Paul (R-TX22), a supporter of Annunzio and his Olympic coinage bill. Paul quickly moved to dispel the belief that the St. Germain proposal represented a “private approach” to raising funds for the Olympic committees. He viewed it as a combination approach that could not exist without the Government’s involvement.

For Paul, a true private approach would only have been realized if the Olympic committees had contracted with a private mint to produce a series of “coins” that they could have begun selling a year or more earlier. (Note: Paul mistakenly used the term “coin” to refer to what would have been commemorative medals.) He was opposed to any “pseudo-private” model in which a private organization stood to control and make significant profits off the sale of US coinage.

He also believed that Annunzio’s approach would yield the most revenue for the Olympic committees and US athletes. He concluded his remarks by noting, “I think it is much safer to go with the Annunzio bill. Vote a bill that will provide more funds for the Olympics, be much more secure in avoiding corruption, and … be much easier to handle.”

St. Germain next recognized Representative Chalmers Wylie (R-OH15). Wylie stood in support of the Committee Chairman and noted his pleasure over finally having Olympic coinage legislation being subject to a markup session, commenting:

“The idea of Olympic coinage has been the subject of unusually extensive debates … and we have been deluged with a high volume of information and not a little bombast on the subject.”

He complimented St. Germain and Annunzio for “caring deeply” about the proposed Olympic coinage and believed such strong interest was the key driver behind the careful consideration that the House had shown to the bills each offered. He made his support for the private marketing approach clear, however, noting “I have no doubt that the program envisioned by the [St. Germain] substitute bill would provide an important boost to the Olympic effort and will provide an important boost to the United States as the host nation in Los Angeles.”

Representative Stewart McKinney (R-CT4)

Representative Stewart McKinney (R-CT4) then rose to offer his support for the St. Germain substitute bill and outlined what he believed were key points for the Committee to consider. He stressed the critical importance of the upfront payment included within St. Germain’s bill, believing that without it Los Angeles and the LAOOC would not be ready to host the Olympics. He also believed “the Mint’s reputation, track record and ability to sell anything is pathetic,” and that the Chairman’s substitute offered a better selection of coins and, referring to its proposed copper-nickel dollar coin, a less-expensive entry point for those interested in making an Olympic coin purchase.

Representative Jerry Patterson (D-CA38), a Committee member representing the southern California area, was the next to be recognized. He noted the “immeasurable improvements” made to the original Olympic Coinage Act that he introduced in June 1981, and endorsed the current version offered by Chairman St. Germain. He urged his colleagues to vote it out of committee without amendment as he viewed it as “the only possibility that I see for having an Olympic coin bill in time.”

The final Committee member to make an opening statement was Bill Lowery (R-CA41). He expressed his support for St. Germain and noted the bipartisan support his bill had within the House and Senate. He also reminded his colleagues of the bill’s support within the Administration, the Treasury Department, and both Olympic committees.

In all, four Committee members made statements in support of Chairman St. Germain, while only one rose to support Annunzio. The 4:1 ratio of opposition to his bill foretold of what would unfold before the markup session concluded.

With the “preliminaries” completed, St. Germain’s substitute for Annunzio’s HR.6158 was introduced for consideration. It completely replaced the legislation reported out of the Annunzio-chaired Subcommittee with a modified version of St. Germains’s 17-coin HR.6058.

The replacement was considered section by section, with each open for discussion and potential amendment. Annunzio, not ready to go down without a fight, stood ready to offer 14 amendments to the replacement bill.

Among the items Annunzio sought to include in the St. Germain substitute were: guarantees to protect the government and Olympic committees against wrongdoing by the selected marketers; to protect the integrity of traditional US coinage denominations; to ensure that a higher percentage of net proceeds go to Olympic athletes; and to secure additional financial support for local amateur athletes. Annunzio also wanted to eliminate the provision by which the silver and gold coins would contain more precious metal than what was traditionally included in US coinage.

In all cases but one, his proposed amendments were defeated by a strong majority vote of the Committee. His lone successful amendment was that which ensured that the US Mint mailing list would not be provided to whichever private marketing group was selected.

The Committee approved the amended version of HR.6158, and then voted to replace the language of S.1230 with the amended language of HR.6158 and report it out of Committee. The final vote was 32 to 7.

Knocked down at the Committee level, Annunzio vowed to continue the fight on the House floor.

He was quick to make good on his promise, introducing an amendment to S.1230 within a week of the markup session. The amendment followed the specifications of his most recent bill (HR.6158), calling for the minting of two silver dollars and one $10 gold coin, using the traditional US size and weight for such coins, and put the US Treasury Department/US Mint in charge of the sale and distribution of the coins.

The version of S.1230 reported out of the Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs was called up for discussion in the House on May 20, 1982, with two hours being set aside for debate.

The never bashful Annunzio opened by declaring:

“The Members of the House will have an opportunity under this rule to determine whether they want an Olympic coin program that benefits the Olympic athletes and the Olympic Games in Los Angeles or whether they want a bill that benefits a group made up of a foreign-based company and company that has not paid a dime of US income tax in the past three years.”

He stressed how his bill ensured that all of the profits will be given to the LAOOC and USOC without a “middleman to siphon [them] off.” Annunzio concluded his opening remarks by stating:

“So there is only one decision to be made today, one decision. We either keep the Mint under the jurisdiction of the Congress as provided in the Constitution, or we turn the Mint over to private marketers who stand to make $200 million, $300 million, or $400 million to line their own pockets.”

Representative Fernand Joseph St. Germain (D-RI)

In his opening comments, St. Germain stressed the guaranteed $30 million in revenue for the Olympic committees specified by his bill, as well as the support it had from the LAOOC, USOC, and dozens of amateur athletic organizations. He also went on the offensive, declaring:

“[T]he Annunzio proposal not only threatens the financial stability of the 1984 Games but forces a marketing disaster on the Treasury Department … it calls for a three-headed marketing monster with each segment in a position to undercut the other.”

A parade of Representatives followed Annunzio and St. Germain, each seeking the opportunity to sway their colleagues to their position. In contrast to the Committee markup session, Annunzio enjoyed a string of vocal supporters of his bill.

Ron Paul spoke out against the “special privilege system” that S.1230 would create for the Coin Group and feared that the “efficient” way in which Occidental Petroleum avoided paying taxes while making significant profits and protecting its wealth did not guarantee that such efficiency would translate “into anything beneficial to the American taxpayer, to the Mint, or to the Olympic Committee.”

Representative Bobbi Fiedler (R-CA21), taking a pragmatic approach, indicated that her support would go to the bill that ensured the greatest level of financial support for the Olympics so as to prevent the people of Los Angeles (her district) of “having to pick up some of the loose ends of the Olympic expenditures.” Her own analysis of the finances associated with each bill indicated that “it will require a much smaller number of sales under the Annunzio bill than it would under the other bill to have a higher profit margin going to the Olympic Committee.” Fiedler would ultimately vote in support of Annunzio’s proposal.

Representative Ed Weber (R-OH9) opposed the Committee bill and the “renting out of the US Mint” to private marketers. He also believed that Annunzio’s bill would be better received by coin collectors, a group he perceived as critical to the program’s success, and would ultimately provide more funds to US Olympic athletes.

Representative Tom Petri (R-WI6) likened Armand Hammer, CEO of Occidental Petroleum, to the evil Goldfinger from the James Bond stories. Petri peppered his statements with many colorful references. He argued that Hammer and the Coin Group were “poised to strike at Fort Knox” and steal gold from the US if the Committee bill were approved. He believed that by allowing the marketers to purchase the proposed silver and gold coins at face value (plus production costs) without having to also pay for their intrinsic value it was essentially the same as giving them $260 million of the precious metals free of charge. Petri concluded his comments by stating his preference for Annunzio’s bill and paraphrasing William Jennings Bryan (the former Nebraska Representative and vocal opponent of the gold standard) – “A hammer of gold will not crucify us.”

As would be expected, St. Germain took to the House floor to cast a negative light on Annunzio’s bill and to highlight the benefits of his own. He countered the negative statements made regarding the huge profits to be made by the private marketers by stressing that they were taking all of the risks in the program. In addition to the guaranteed $30 million they would provide to the Olympic committees, it was the marketers who had to advertise, promote and distribute the coins with no guarantee of reaching any specific sales target. He believed that taking such a financial risk entitled the marketers to a worthwhile profit.

He also took Annunzio and his supporters to task for what he viewed as an excessive campaign of misinformation that he believed had “hurt the Olympics and … hurt our athletes.” Possibly sensing that the tide was turning against his coinage proposal, St. Germain stood before his colleagues and offered an apology:

“…to the amateur athletes of this Nation, to the volunteers who work with our Olympic committees, to the hundreds of local youth and athletic organizations who have seen their efforts besmirched by some very vitriolic language against this legislation. They deserve better from the House.”

St, Germain followed these comments with a plea to allow the Olympic committees to continue the tradition of commemorative coinage for the Olympic Games with a program that they endorsed versus one forced upon them. He noted that such programs are an important source of funding not only for the host country but also the other countries in which the coins are marketed. He argued that unless the US conducted a successful worldwide marketing effort on behalf of the coins, one that would provide needed revenue to the Olympic committees of other countries, it would likely result in the US not being able to share in the revenue of future Olympic coinage programs.

It was his belief that only an experienced international marketer would be capable of a successful worldwide program and that turning such an effort over to the US Mint was a grave mistake.

With the time for debate expired, the substitute S.1230 coinage bill as recommended by the House Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs was called for consideration. A number of amendments to clarify the bill’s language were introduced and agreed to.

With no other “perfecting amendments” to S.1230 being offered, Annunzio was given the opportunity to offer his amendment in the nature of a substitute for the Committee bill. Its introduction was followed by final statements of support and opposition and then brought to a vote by the full House.

The vote was taken via electronic tabulation and yielded 302 Yea versus 84 Nay with 46 Representatives either not voting or answering “Present”. And so, after 10 months of steadfast effort and political maneuvering, including six often intense hearing sessions, Annunzio had prevailed and defeated the private marketing proposals for the 1984 Olympic coinage program.

It was viewed as a surprising turn of events by many observers at the time as it was generally believed that the support shown for St. Germain’s bill by President Ronald Reagan, the LAOOC, and the USOC would win the day. It was a testament to the dogged determination and persuasiveness of Annunzio.

But Annunzio was not assured of final victory just yet. The amended S.1230 still needed to be considered by the Senate, the source of the original 33-coin, private-marketing Olympic coinage bill that triggered Annunzio’s crusade.

To be concluded…


© Copyright D. Provost 2021. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

David Provost
David Provost
David Provost is a numismatic writer and commemorative coin specialist. Among other roles, Provost has served as President of the North Carolina Numismatic Association (NCNA) and Editor of the club's quarterly NCNA Journal.

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