Side Note
Norman Rockwell’s 1968 portrait of Richard Nixon.

Norman Rockwell’s 1968 portrait of Richard Nixon.

An extremely pointless law is about to ban public officials from spending taxpayer money on paintings of themselves

It’s called — wait for it — the “EGO Act.”

Bill Cassidy, a Republican Senator from Louisiana, loves to try to get bills with silly names passed into law. Since his election to the U.S. Senate in 2015, he’s proposed bills called the “MEGABYTE Act,” the “RED SNAPPER Act,”, the “WINGMAN Act”, and, I shit you not, the “World’s Greatest Healthcare Plan Act of 2016.”

This week, Senator Cassidy’s dream of getting a bill with a dumb name made into a law with a dumb name moved one step closer to reality when the Senate approved the House of Representatives’s tweaks to the Cassidy-introduced Eliminating Government-funded Oil-painting Act, otherwise known as the “EGO Act.” The bill’s text stipulates:

No funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the Federal Government may be used to pay for the painting of a portrait of an officer or employee of the Federal Government, including the President, the Vice President, a Member of Congress, the head of an executive agency, or the head of an office of the legislative branch.

In a press release, Cassidy framed his bill as an appeal to government penny-pinching, saying, “The national debt is over $20 trillion. There’s no excuse for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on paintings of government officials.”

But if the idea behind this bill is to curtail public officials misusing our tax money, it’s kind of pointless. The Congressional Budget Office’s assessment of the bill notes that it would only save taxpayers “less than $500,000 annually, because the CBO expects that fewer than 20 portraits would be purchased with federal funds in most years.” Meanwhile, members of Trump’s cabinet has come under fire for blowing public funds on all kinds of stuff, spending tens of thousands of dollars on stuff like trips on private jets, $30,000 tables, and $43,000 soundproof phone booths.

Now that the bill has undergone reconciliation, the next step is sending it to President Trump to sign into law. I reached out to Senator Cassidy’s office asking if, given Trump’s well-documented love of putting his name and face on everything he possibly can, they felt there was a chance that Trump might veto the bill. In an email, an aide to Senator Cassidy declined to directly answer my question on the record, but clarified that government-funded oil paintings weren’t actually being eliminated altogether, and that “the bill allows for portraits paid for with private donations.”

Seeing as Trump’s own inaugural committee is a case study in how public officials can use private donations in shady ways, I then asked if the EGO Act might inadvertently be used to facilitate graft. An aide to Cassidy again declined on the record, and when I repeated the question, his staff stopped responding to my emails altogether.

Then again, I can think of another, more personal reason that Trump might end up thinking that this bill is the bee’s knees. After all, if federal money can’t pay for paintings of government officials, then there’s no chance that some rogue White House employee could ever buy that one painting of Trump where he’s all naked and gross-looking and then sneak it into the Oval Office when he’s off watching Fox News.