Spoiler Alert: Today we have a very interesting guest post for you about the defacement of money. This article reports on the actions of a certain political protest movement that you may never have heard of. Perhaps we should leave it that way because once you learn the reason behind their protest, you could become a convert to their cause and ultimately, in the worst-case scenario, God forbid, you could turn into a full-fledged supporter not just in ideological lockstep with them but a hands-on actor in the one seditious act that this article deplores. You could succumb to their invitation to “Buy a Stamp!” and become a stamper yourself! Indeed, we realize that we do run that risk in bringing this to your attention.
Per’juâ€¢ry (per’jer*i), n.; False swearing;
. . . swearing to what is untrue . . .”
“It’s 100% legal.”
This is the mantra of a current political activist group that aids and abets Americans in stamping protest messages onto U.S. currency–to “get the money out of politics.”
Now almost 58,000 strong, said money-stampers for 3+ years have urged U.S. citizens to adorn their spending cash with assorted catch-phrases like “STAMP MONEY OUT OF POLITICS,” “NOT TO BE USED FOR BRIBING POLITICIANS” and “CORPORATIONS ARE NOT PEOPLE.”
As weaponry in their crusade these political operatives sell rubber stamps, ink and other paraphernalia for the express purpose of defacing (or as they term it, “decorating”) United States currency.
The money-stampers are changing the face of U.S. currency bigtime, ink-stamping slogans in bold, red, block letters by the millions. Meanwhile, no federal agency challenges the legality of their assault on U.S. dollars nor their assertion that “It’s 100% legal.” They add, with a wink, that their protest is “slightly subversive.”
Their numbers swell daily as they use tweets, Facebook posts, “stamp-ins” and other grass-roots activities to bolster their ranks. Articles that praise and glorify their movement appear in mainstream media. Celebrities and members of Congress applaud them.
To further heighten the stampers’ rising popularity, every one of the federal agencies charged with safeguarding America’s money supply has remained silent, notably the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Secret Service and the Federal Reserve Bank. All seem to turn a blind eye to this “in-your-face” and over-the-top mass-mutilation of America’s currency.
We have sought repeatedly to spark a public dialogue questioning the legality of this effort:
We continue to register our concerns through social media:
Some people tell us to “fight fire with fire,” i.e. that the best way to combat money-stamping is to begin stamping money ourselves. But we hesitate to resort to the tactics we deplore.
To bolster the claims of 100% legality, the stampers cite their lawyers’ opinions about why prosecution is unlikely. A conviction would be difficult to win, they say, because the government must prove that the stamper acted â€œwith the intent to make the bill unfit for reissue.â€ The reality that stamping may, in fact, render bills unfit for circulation they dismiss as irrelevant. A person must act â€œwith the intent to make the bill unfit for reissueâ€ [italics mine]. Because their intent is to have the bills circulate as widely as possible, the stampers claim that they are acting within the law.
Some years back, wheresgeorge.com, a popular web-based money-tracking project whose participants also ink-stamp U.S. currency, was enjoined by federal authorities from selling their ink stamps. So why, we ask, this double standard? Why is this new crop of money-maimers allowed to market their rubber stamps? (As of 2/23/16 they claim to have sold 57,523 units.)
While we believe the effectiveness of their money-defacing crusade to be as weak as their assurances of its 100% legality, one thing’s certain given the dictionary definition of ‘subversive’:
“sub-ver’-sive [suh b-vur-siv] adj. Tending or intending to subvert or overthrow, destroy, or undermine an established or existing system, especially a legally constituted government or a set of beliefs.”
By this yardstick, the current money-stamping protest movement ranks as “100% subversive.”
A few years back, when we contacted the U.S. Department of Justice to ask if there were any case histories of government prosecutions for defacing money, their reply was a 2-sentence email:
“Thank you for your request. In the past ten years, U.S. Attorneysâ€™ offices have filed four cases involving five defendants in District Court and two defendants in Magistrate Court where 18 USC 333 was charged.”
Interesting but just a tease. When we requested fuller details about the outcomes of these prosecutions we got no further response. (N.B. We will welcome feedback from anyone who can amplify on these cases.)
Frustration and Disappointment
Recently on Twitter, we posted a HARO query (Help a Reporter Out) asking to hear of negative experiences readers may have had with politically defaced money. One reply was especially poignant:
“As a young mother I was shopping in a Wal-Mart with my 2-year-old child and had promised to reward her good behavior with a toy scooped from the store’s Claw Machine. I put my last dollar bill into the machine, which rejected it repeatedly. When I turned it over I discovered that it had been run through a COLOR PRINTER and the picture of a local judge had been printed on it! There was a red rubber stamp of a website on the bottom as well. The bill was totally unusable. Needless to say, parent and child were disappointed at being denied the reward at the Claw Machine by the perpetrator. — Carrie A.”
We share their frustration. How many Americans are being inconvenienced, embarrassed or worse, incurring needless expense due to politically defaced money? Probably thousands. One Facebook post told of a stamper returning from vacation on a Caribbean island, rushing to catch a ferry back to the mainland. He had stamped every one of his bills, and the ticket machine kept rejecting each, one by one. He watched as the last boat of the night sailed off without him, hoist by his own petard.
As earnestly as the cash crusaders want to take the money out of politics, we want to take the politics out of money–and keep it out.
What price to U.S. Taxpayers?
The looming April 15th tax deadline is a good time to ask some bottom-line questions about the dollar amount this money-stamping protest has cost U.S. taxpayers thus far.
Why not tally up the grand total of replacement costs for the stampers’ maimed money returned to the U.S. Treasury in the past 3+ years? The federal government can no doubt provide an accurate accounting of it, and this cost can be passed on directly and justifiably to the offending stampers in the form of fines and penalties. (A revenue source for the new Administration to explore.)
One day soon, we hope that someone will step forth to legally challenge the money-stampers’ claim that “it’s 100% legal.” Meanwhile, we will continue to question their right–or anyone’s–to openly and notoriously deface and debase our nation’s currency whatever the reason. The U.S. dollar, after all, America’s face to the world, should remain ever fresh and bright.
Richard Anthony is Webmaster at www.moneygraffiti.com and welcomes tales about defaced money.