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GSA Scandal: Darrell Issa Slams Commemorative Coin, Neglecting His Own

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WASHINGTON -- House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa may be worked up over commemorative coins minted for the General Services Administration's embarrassing Las Vegas splurge, but the George W. Bush administration appears to have made a similar coin. And Issa rather likes such baubles himself.

Issa (R-Calif.), joined by members of Congress from both parties, has sharply criticized the GSA's $823,000 conference in 2010 that included a mind-reader, bike-building and specially made coins. Issa singled out the 300 keepsake coins, which cost taxpayers about $6,325.

“After President Obama lectured the private sector about not wasting funds on Las Vegas conventions, it’s hypocritical that such a large agency with critical management responsibilities across government would hold this luxurious conference at the height of the recession and even spend thousands on custom-made coins touting the stimulus," Issa said in a statement last week.

Issa has argued that such excesses have worsened since Obama took office. But The Huffington Post has obtained a similar bit of memorabilia that the GSA minted in 2008 during the Bush administration, ironically in honor of the transition to a new White House occupant.

A spokesman for Issa, Fred Hill, was unimpressed by the coin produced during the Bush years.

“It’s pathetic and ironic that someone is offering a GSA Obama/Biden transition commemorative as an example of waste under the Bush administration," Hill said. "They’re even throwing Obama’s own transition team under the bus in an effort to blame Bush.”

Two sources confirmed to HuffPost that the coin came from the GSA, not the transition team.

Issa has repeatedly backed legislation to mint coins similar to the ones for which he is criticizing the GSA. A review of congressional records found about two dozen cases in which Issa backed legislation to mint coins commemorating all manner of things, including the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Ronald Reagan, Mother's Day and the Model T.

Issa is hardly alone. Minting coins is popular with many members of Congress to raise money for favored causes. For instance, about half the cash raised by Issa's Mother's Day coin would go to the Susan Komen for The Cure Foundation, if the bill passes.

The practice has a spotty history that has sometimes cost taxpayers. The Government Accountability Office found in 1996 that commemorative coins often lost money, sometimes millions. The system was reformed after that report, but individual coins can still sell poorly in the market place, sometimes leaving as many as two-thirds of the coins unsold.

Hill said he saw no similarities in the GSA handouts and the mint program.

“It’s a stretch to compare legislation delineating ‘sale prices’ and ‘surcharges’ for legal tender to taxpayer-funded convention souvenirs for federal employees,” Hill said.

Additional reporting by Sam Stein.

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