President Donald Trump signed a bill into law Wednesday that makes it illegal to pay for portraits of government officials with taxpayer money.
Trump, his cabinet, any current or future member of Congress, and any future president or vice president or government official will have to seek private donations to pay for a portrait, or fund it themselves.
The Eliminating Government-funded Oil-painting Act, abbreviated as the EGO Act, stipulates that no government money “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.” The enacted bill amends the legal code governing congressional appropriations and is not tied to specific spending bills.
Congress has included restrictions on using taxpayer money to commission portraits for politicians in appropriations bills since 2014, but the new law makes the ban permanent. Former President Barack Obama’s portrait unveiled in February, commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, was paid for in part through private donations.
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Commissioning an oil portrait used to be a tradition for cabinet appointees and members of Congress, but a few conservative Senators began to draw attention to the spending during Obama’s first term.
Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, who first introduced the EGO Act in 2013, and others became upset about several government portraits. One of the irksome paintings was commissioned by John Bryson, who served as commerce secretary under Obama for eight months before resigning after he was implicated in two suspected hit-and-run accidents. The painting cost taxpayers $22,500, according to the New York Times.
The newly enacted law won’t do much to save the government money, as only about 20 portraits are commissioned each year. The Congressional Budget Office’s 2017 report on the bill estimated the law will save around $500,000 annually.
Cassidy, who voted against the $1.3 trillion spending bill enacted Friday, believes the ban on using government funds for personal portraits of officials is a matter of fiscal responsibility.
“When America is trillions of dollars in debt, we should take every reasonable measure to reduce the burden passed on to our children and grandchildren,” Cassidy said when he first introduced the EGO Act in 2017. “Tax dollars should go to building roads and improving schools–not oil paintings that very few people ever see or care about.”
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