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Ernst Says ‘It’s Time to Bag the Swag’

The Iowa Senator introduces legislation to end taxpayer-funded trinkets and mascots used for propaganda

WASHINGTON – With $1.4 billion in taxpayer money spent annually by government agencies on public relations (PR) and advertising campaigns, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) is introducing legislation to prohibit tax dollars from being spent on “mascots” and swag to promote government agencies and programs and to require the disclosure of all propaganda paid for by the public.

“As an Iowa State Cyclone fan, I’ll be the first to say that mascots can be fun. But there is no justification for spending a quarter of a million dollars in taxpayer money on mascots and millions more on swag,” said Senator Joni Ernst. “These costs come at the expense of real national priorities. The $1.4 billion spent on government PR and advertising every year, for example, is twice the amount dedicated to breast cancer research. It’s time to bag the swag.”


The federal government spends more than $1.4 billion every year on public relations and advertising campaigns. Specifically, federal agencies have paid more than $250,000 to construct custom-made costumes for “mascots.” Click HERE to see a list of taxpayer-funded government mascots.

Government agencies are also spending millions of taxpayer dollars on tote bags and swag, including:

  • $605,000 for coloring books,
  • $60,000 on key chains,
  • $33,000 for snuggies,
  • $17,000 for koozies, and
  • $16,000 for fidget spinners.

The propaganda is not limited to freebies and cartoon characters. The State Department, for example, spent $630,000 to buy fake Facebook fans and paid to send social media influencers on a two-week junket from abroad to the location of popular U.S. television shows to promote American values.

Ernst’s Stop Wasteful Advertising by the Government Act, or SWAG Act, would:

  • Prohibit the federal government from spending money to create a “mascot” to promote an agency, program, or agenda, unless such a character is explicitly authorized by statute—like “Smokey Bear” or “Woodsy Owl.”
  • Permanently prohibit public relations and advertising for purely propaganda purposes, allowing exceptions for military recruitment and other specific functions that are authorized by statute.
  • Require agencies to publicly disclose spending on public relations and advertising.
  • Prohibit the purchase and distribution of “swag”—merchandise such as buttons, coloring books, fidget spinners, keychains, koozies, or stickers, for example—by federal agencies, unless explicitly authorized by statute, like medals awarded for sacrifice or meritorious service.