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Ben Cohen, of Ben & Jerry's, launches dollar-stamping campaign

September 24, 2012|By Matea Gold
  • StampStampede estimates that every stamped dollar bill will be seen by 875 people, assuming it is halfway through its 4.8-year-long life span.
StampStampede estimates that every stamped dollar bill will be seen by… (StampStampede / Los Angeles…)

WASHINGTON -- Ben Cohen, the co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s and a liberal activist, has hit on a concrete way to drive home the message about the role that money plays in politics.

“We are going to adorn currency,” he declared in a phone interview. “We are going to beautify our dollars. It’s a little monetary jujitsu – we’re using money to get money out of politics.”

Cohen is heading up a campaign by the Movement Resource Group, a nonprofit that funds the Occupy movement, which is urging people to stamp dollar bills with campaign finance reform messages like “Money is not free speech” and “Corporations are not people.”

The idea: to harness the natural churn of dollars to promote a constitutional amendment that would overturn Supreme Court rulings that protect political expenditures under the 1st Amendment and allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts on independent political activity.

INTERACTIVE: Spending during the 2012 election

“Money has been shown to be a pretty powerful thing,” Cohen said. “It’s definitely been corrupting our democracy and we’ve discovered another really powerful thing about money, which is its ability to spread a message.”

The campaign, StampStampede.org, estimates that every stamped dollar bill will be seen by 875 people, assuming it is halfway through its 4.8-year-long life span. Stamp 10 a day for a year, and you will reach 3  million people.

And yes, it’s legal, Cohen said. He posted an opinion from his attorney, Stephen Justino, explaining that as long as the money is not defaced to the point that it is no longer recognizable and has to be taken out of circulation, stamping dollar bills is protected as free speech.

It is illegal to advertise on paper money, but Justino wrote that it was “unlikely” that statute would be applied to the campaign, since the stamps do not contain commercial content.

“I have already stamped gobs of dollar bills,” Cohen said. “I’m stamping everywhere I go.”

StampStampede and one of its partners, Move to Amend, plan to take the campaign on the road with a fanciful stamping machine called the Amend-o-Matic StampMobile, which will carry bills on a monorail and up a spiral elevator before they are imprinted and spat back out.

After a test swing through San Francisco, the StampMobile tour is scheduled to kick off officially Oct. 11 at a Ben & Jerry’s shop in Los Angeles, where Cohen will be on hand to stamp dollar bills. People who use their stamped bills to buy ice cream that day will get a free cone.

INTERACTIVE: Campaign contributions, by state

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Matea.gold@latimes.com

Twitter: @mateagold

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