A BOOST FROM THE PUBLIC SECTOR
The Great Olympic Commemorative Coin Battle is nearing a resolution. When last we looked in on this conflict (SCORECARD, March 29), the Senate had passed a bill supported by the White House, the organizers of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the U.S. Olympic Committee, under which the Treasury Department would issue a set of 25 commemorative coins for the '84 Games that would be marketed by private firms and, it was hoped, produce $200 million for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and the USOC. But efforts to get a similar measure through the House of Representatives were being blocked by Illinois Congressman Frank Annunzio, chairman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs and Coinage, who was under intense pressure from Olympic athletes and officials because of his refusal to so much as hold hearings.
Annunzio has since relented and held those hearings, during which he made clear his own preference for a set of no more than three coins to be sold by the federal government rather than by private firms. But Annunzio has apparently lost his battle. Last week the House Banking Committee spurned an Annunzio-authored bill and approved one that bears a closer resemblance to the one passed in the Senate. Sponsored by the committee chairman, Fernand J. St Germain of Rhode Island, the bill provides for private marketing of 17 coins. That measure will probably be approved by the House this week, after which it will have to be reconciled with the Senate bill. The plan is for President Reagan to sign the final measure by Memorial Day, with coins going on sale by Christmas.
What emerged from the legislative battle over the coin issue was a clear desire by the Reagan Administration and both houses of Congress to celebrate the holding of the '84 Games in this country and to help the U.S. Olympic effort by issuing legal tender in the form of commemorative coins. And give Annunzio his due: His stubbornness about the kind of bill he wanted was largely responsible for essential safeguards being imposed on the envisioned coin program, including provisions for auditing by the General Accounting Office of sales figures and review by the Treasury Department of advertising content. Fine-tuning of the bill also resulted in the stipulation that coin purchases wouldn't be tax deductible; if purchases were deducted, the federal treasury could have lost more than $100 million in taxes.
Annunzio wasn't the only one who opposed a private marketing scheme. So did many coin dealers, who didn't relish having to traffic in large, expensive, slickly promoted sets of what some of them call "junk coins." But Olympic officials and spokesmen for the two companies that are expected to wind up marketing the coins, Lazard Freres and Occidental Petroleum, insisted that the coins will be Olympic souvenirs that the public will cherish. They also argued that Olympic coins would yield greater revenue if marketed privately than they would if sold by the Government.
USOC and LAOOC officials have reason to be gratified by their apparent victory. Yet they also have cause to be embarrassed by certain scare tactics they employed in achieving it. Particularly objectionable were intimations by LAOOC President Peter V. Ueberroth that failure to adopt a coin program would deal a "death blow" to the L.A. Games. Actually, coin revenues aren't even part of the LAOOC budget, and Ueberroth admits when pressed that they would be a windfall that would enable the Games "to go first-class."
Ueberroth and other LAOOC officials are also guilty of posturing in repeatedly saying that the '84 Games will be financed entirely by "the private sector," a phrase they utter with the utmost reverence. That claim is belied by the LAOOC's refusal to pay any more than $3 million of the $20 million that the city of Los Angeles expects to incur for security and other Olympic-related expenses and its related reluctance to hire private security guards as it had earlier indicated it would. The claim is further undercut by the LAOOC's ardent and unquestioning support for an Olympic coin bill that, as originally drawn, might have cost the federal treasury $100 million in tax deductions for coin purchases to benefit the L.A. Games. In fact, if the LAOOC really had wanted to express faith in the private sector, it would have undertaken to strike commemorative medallions that didn't have the status of legal tender, thereby leaving Washington out of the picture. The expected passage of the Olympic-coin bill should be appreciated for exactly what it is: a major boost for both the LAOOC, and the U.S. Olympic Committee from the public sector.
GOOD CATCH, CATCHER
To hype attendance at home games, UCLA staged all sorts of promotions during the just-completed college baseball season, including Cap Day, Helmet Night and Batting Glove Day. Then there was the Arizona State game (the Bruins lost 4-2) on what was billed as Las Vegas Day, an occasion highlighted by a door prize of a three-day, expenses-paid excursion to that city. Lest the giveaway be construed as a lottery, which would have been illegal, tickets for the drawing were handed out at the gate not only to the 617 paying customers but also to the handful of people, most of them associated with UCLA's athletic program, who got in on passes.
Well, what do you know? When the winning ticket number was announced over the P.A. system, the "fan" holding it turned out to be Steve Bono, a third-string UCLA catcher who hadn't suited up for the game and was watching from the stands. When they realized that the lucky ticket holder was a Bruin player, officials were chagrined and the P.A. announcer prudently refrained from revealing Bono's identity to the crowd. At the same time, it was probably a good thing' that Bono happened to be in the stands when the Vegas trip, something he could actually use, was being given away. After all, he already had a cap, helmet and batting glove.