Senator Wants to End Federal Agencies’ ‘Propaganda’

One Senator says it’s time for federal agencies to stop using taxpayer funds on their PR campaigns.

Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) says it’s time for federal agencies to stop peddling propaganda paid for by the American taxpayers. She has introduced a bill that would prohibit tax dollars from being spent on federal agencies’ mascots and swag.

“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 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.”

In addition to spending over $250,000 to construct custom made costumes for mascots, Ernst cited data that showed that federal agencies have spent money on these items which she says amount simply to agency propaganda:

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

Ernst also released a document that highlights some of the mascots for which federal agencies have used tax dollars to create in order to promote their missions to the public.

Her bill, the Stop Wasteful Advertising by the Government Act (SWAG Act, S. 2722) would do the following:

  • 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,” i.e. merchandise such as buttons, coloring books, fidget spinners, keychains, koozies, or stickers by federal agencies, unless explicitly authorized by statute, like medals awarded for sacrifice or meritorious service.

Do you think that federal agencies’ public relations and advertising campaigns to the public amount to propaganda as Ernst says? Is it time for agencies to stop engaging in these campaigns? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Federal Agency Mascots

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.