Over the past few months, PPAI staff and members of the promotional products industry have been in Washington, D.C. to speak with legislators’ staffs on proposed legislation that could curb government agencies’ use of promotional products. PPAI President and CEO Paul Bellantone, CAE; Stephanie Critchfield, vice president and national sales manager at distributor The Vernon Company, based in Newton, Iowa, and Cliff Andrews, PPAI’s D.C.-based lobbyist, visited offices on Capitol Hill in November while Anne Stone, PPAI’s director of advocacy and member engagement, was in D.C. in December.

On October 29, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa introduced a bill, “S.2722, A bill to prohibit agencies from using federal funds for publicity or propaganda purposes, and for other purposes”—also referred to as the “Stop Wasteful Advertising by the Government Act,” or the SWAG Act—that names a series of prohibitions against federal spending on advertising including “a product or merchandise distributed at no cost with the sole purpose of advertising or promoting an agency, organization, program or agenda.” The bill’s text goes on to name several products that are popular in the promotional products industry, such as apparel, thermoses and tote bags, along with numerous other items. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Steve Daines of Montana have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

In conversations with the Senators’ staffs, Bellantone says he found them to be open to PPAI’s position that, while the Association is in favor of balanced budgets and the responsible use of taxpayer dollars, promotional products companies and practitioners are an important part of their communities and economy, and promotional products are proven to be one of the most effective forms of media available to advertisers. The messages they carry help governments at every level to keep citizens informed, safe and well prepared.

“We learned that the purpose of this legislation was to stop government agencies from promoting themselves, not to prevent them from educating consumers on agency programs,” says Bellantone. “Senator Ernst’s office is reaching out to the agencies now to try to find the language that would allow them to accomplish their specific objective versus a blanket statement that harms our media. We’ve asked for a place at the table in creating that language and for continued progress on this bill.”

Bellantone adds, “This bill is still in the very early stages, but we’ve started the process by making them aware of the unintended consequences of using a chainsaw instead of a scalpel in crafting legislation. There is still a lot of work to do. It was critically important to have Stephanie Critchfield, a fourth-generation member of The Vernon Company and one of Senator Ernst’s constituents, at the meeting. Our success will be a combination of our trade association’s efforts, direct contact from constituents and powerful influence from our industry at large. I urge all PPAI members to remain active and vigilant on this issue.”

Stone’s time in D.C. built on the conversations started by Bellantone, Critchfield and Andrews. She met with staff members from the senators’ offices as well as from the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management, part of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, where the bill has been assigned. The discussions she held focused on potential refinements for the bill as it is reviewed by the subcommittee and the larger Senate committee.

PPAI has an active lobbying presence in Washington, D.C. to monitor these types of legislative initiatives. The S. 2722 bill will be added to PPAI’s Legislative Agenda as part of the Association’s annual Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.) event where PPAI leaders and industry professionals meet directly with their members of Congress. L.E.A.D. 2020 will take place in Washington, D.C. on May 6-7.


James Khattak is news editor of PPB.