Iowa Senator's 'SWAG Act' Against Federal Promo Spending Is One Step Closer to Becoming Law
We’ve been following Sen. Jodi Ernst (R-IA) and her Stop Wasteful Advertising by the Government Act, known as the SWAG Act, for a few months now. It was first introduced in the Senate in October, with the intent of prohibiting federal government agencies from using taxpayer dollars for promotional products and advertising.
Sen. Ernst frequently cites the use of “mascots” as part of the problem. (Think Smokey Bear, etc.) When introducing the bill to the Senate on March 11, she cited a goverment-funded study that involved turtles on treadmills.
“Do we really need a physical mascot out there, you know, going to parades or what?” Sen. Ernst said in an interview, per KELO. “I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
She claimed that the federal government has spent more than a quarter of a million dollars on “mascots nobody can name or even identify.”
As we reported before, the figure the federal government spends on PR and advertising annually is about $1.4 billion. Within the context of the federal budget, that’s peanuts. When we looked at Ernst’s own valuations, we found that the government spent about $600,000 on coloring books, $60,000 on keychains, $17,000 for can coolers, and $16,000 for fidget spinners.
Fast-forward to today. Multiple news outlets have reported that Sen. Ernst’s bill, which has been co-sponsored by Sens. Rand Paul, Steve Daines and Rick Scott, has passed through a Senate committee. According to the official Congressional website’s status of the bill, it was “ordered to be reported with an amendment in the nature of a substitute favorably.”
That means it will likely be revised in some area or areas before moving on to a full Senate vote. If it passes that, it will have to pass through the House of Representatives and then on to President Trump, who would decide if it is signed into law.
“The federal government has what I call mission creep, and we start to spend dollars on things that aren’t really our mission as a federal government,” Ernst said in her interview with Full Measure, per a press release. “We have gone through this year after year after year. An agency will develop a mascot. Nobody pays attention. The next agency will do that. They’ll start spending dollars in areas they shouldn’t be spending dollars. It’s OK for one agency, so the next gets away with it. We’ve got to stop that. We’ve got to stop the wasteful spending.”
The problem with the fixation on mascots is the subjective language assuming “nobody pays attention.” It’s not a quantifiable statistic. Figures spent on those mascots and the return on investment are. But saying that promotional advertising in the form of giveaways or use of mascots that “aren’t memorable” is not, especially when there's so much research out there that shows how effective and memorable promotional products are in relation to other forms of advertising.
What makes it especially tricky is that Ernst’s own legislation draws lines at some mascots, like the aforementioned Smokey Bear.
The legislation goes on to “permanently prohibit public relations and advertising, and promotional products sales for purely propaganda purposes, allowing exceptions for military recruitment and other specific functions that are authorized by the statute.”
Government agencies would also have to publicly report spending on advertising.
From here, with the bill gaining steam, it’s worth more attention than ever as it progresses through the Legislative Branch. Based on the information Congress has released, the bill will undergo some changes (whether they are minor or major are unknown), but Ernst and her co-sponsors will keep trying to push this one.