House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has introduced a bill that serves as a workaround to the House earmark ban. Commemorative coin bills function like earmarks because they funnel money back to organizations in a congressman's district.
The earmark ban doesn't cover such proposals because it doesn't take taxpayer money. Instead, the Treasury mints coins, collectors buy them with a surcharge tacked on, and funds generated by that surcharge go to the landmark, museum or organization depicted on the coin. Unlike earmarks, however, the government recoups the cost of producing the coin.
In Pelosi's case, the beneficiaries are San Francisco museums. Her bill, the Panama Canal and Pan-Pacific Exhibition Centennial Celebration Act, commemorates the 100-year anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, which took place in San Francisco.
Pelosi's district is in San Francisco, so the surcharge revenue is a way for Pelosi to bring home the bacon for her district. The surcharges will be "promptly paid" to "the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society for the design and construction of appropriate exhibitions in the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, including the necessary adaptive reuse of the Old Mint, commemorating the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, as well as the development of appropriate exhibitions at the Palace of Fine Arts on the grounds of the former Panama-Pacific International Exposition."
Pelosi gets a campaign talking point about supporting the Panama Canal, and coin collectors get to foot the bill.