The self-proclaimed friends of George Washington are not going to let a first-term member of Arizona’s congressional delegation take his picture out of circulation.

Members of Americans for George have organized to counter legislation by Republican Rep. David Schweikert to scrap the dollar bill in favor of a coin. They not only have put together a website but have financed a poll that they say shows that Americans not only hate the idea but would be more likely to vote against any candidate who supports replacing the bill with a coin.

On paper, the coalition appears diverse, ranging from a Seattle hair salon and the Alabama Automobile Dealers Association to some bingo operations.

But Schweikert said the key is that word: paper. The group also includes Crane and Co., the Massachusetts family-owned firm that has been the exclusive supplier of paper for U.S. currency for more than a century.

The U.S. Treasury produced more than 1.8 billion dollar bills last year. And Schweikert figures that gives the company a strong incentive to want to keep that folding cash around.

Amy Scarlett, a publicist for Americans for George, would not disclose how much the campaign has spent and how much has come from Crane. And calls to a Crane spokesman were not returned.

But she argued that the interests of members of that group were no more suspect than members of the Dollar Coin Alliance which has formed to back Schweikert’s legislation. They include the owners of coin-operated devices, the United Steelworkers Union and the Copper Development Association made up of firms that dig that metal from the ground.

That last factor is significant, as the current crop of dollar coins being minted are 85 percent copper.

The bottom line, said Scarlett, is that the poll shows that Americans are no more in love with the idea of a dollar coin than they were the last two times Congress had some minted up.

That nationwide telephonic poll of 800 likely voters conducted earlier this month by Lincoln Park Strategies found that 77 percent of those responding said they found the bill more convenient than the coin, versus 14 percent who saw things the other way.

Fully three quarters of those questioned described the dollar coin as unnecessary, versus 12 percent who said that about the dollar bill. And 49 percent of those asked described the dollar bill as environmentally friendly, against just 28 percent of those who said the same thing about the coin.

All that is going to require Schweikert to do a bit of public relations of his own.

“My fixation is, it’s $184 million a year,’’ he said, based on a study by the General Accounting Office of the amount that would be saved by making the switch. While coins cost more to produce than bills — about 15 cents versus just 3 cents — the coins last far longer than the 42 months’ average the Treasury Department reports for the dollar bills produced.

“You can’t get around the math,’’ Schweikert said. “I have a job to go tell the story of why that savings is important.’’

The coalition, however, argues the math is not as simple as Schweikert would make it.

Since the first modern-era dollar coins were mandated, the U.S. Mint has produced $4.2 billion worth of them. That includes the Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea coins, no longer in production, and the currently minted presidential and Native American coins.

But about $1 billion worth of these are sitting in reserve, money the coalition claims “no one wants.’’

Schweikert conceded the coin has not taken off. But he argued all that can be changed if Americans are forced to use it.

His legislation would require federal reserve banks to stop issuing dollar bills four years after it becomes law — and sooner if there are 600 million of the dollar coins in circulation.

Gaining public support is only part of the problem.

Schweikert first needs to convince his colleagues. And the anticipated savings to the federal budget may not be enough to overcome the first rule of politics: get elected.

The coalition survey is designed to remind lawmakers about that.

It finds that only 11 percent of those questions are more likely to support someone who wants to replace the dollar bill with the coin. But 63 percent reported just the opposite, with the balance saying it made no difference or not answering.

Number of coins produced, 1979-2009


Coin design Number as of 11/09 Production years
Susan B. Anthony 932 million 1979-1982 and 1999-2000
Sacagawea 1.47 billion 2000-2008
Presidential series 1.72 billion 2007-ongoing
Native American series 92 million 2009-ongoing
Total 4.2 billion*  

* U.S. Mint reports that about $1 billion is held in reserve and not in circulation.

Source: General Accounting Office

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