Ernst’s bill to limit federal funding on publicity passes Senate committee

Joni Ernst

Legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) to prohibit agencies from using federal funds for publicity or advertising purposes on March 11 was approved by the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“I thank my colleagues for their support of this commonsense bill that will create more transparency and curb Washington’s frivolous PR spending habits,” said Sen. Ernst. “We all agree, it’s time to bag government swag!”

Sen. Ernst in October 2019 introduced the Stop Wasteful Advertising by the Government (SWAG) Act, S. 2722, which has three Republican cosponsors, including U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT). The bill now heads to the full chamber for action.

“There’s zero reason for the federal government to blow a quarter of a million dollars of your hard-earned money on mascots and millions more on needless trinkets and gimmicks,” Sen. Ernst said last week.

According to her office, the federal government spends more than $1.4 billion a year on public relations and advertising campaigns, with federal agencies paying more than $250,000 to construct custom-made costumes for “mascots.”

Additionally, according to the senator’s office, federal agencies have spent money to purchase fake Facebook fans and to send social media influencers on overseas trips to allegedly promote American values.

If enacted, S. 2722 would prohibit the federal government from paying to create a mascot to promote an agency, program or agenda, unless such a character is explicitly authorized by statute — like Smokey the Bear or Woodsy Owl — as well as the purchase and distribution of “swag,” which includes merchandise such as buttons, coloring books, fidget spinners, keychains, or stickers, among others, unless agencies can show that the purchases will generate a positive return on investment or are explicitly authorized by statute.