The right campaign merchandise can be worth more than just memories
During his successful pursuit of the presidency, Donald Trump’s campaign spent at least $3.2 million on hats. Meanwhile, the storefront on Hillary Clinton’s website still retails merchandise like a $45 tee from Diane von Furstenberg and a $5 “woman card.”
So what happens to the campaign merchandise after a victor has been declared?
Some of it can be turned into cold, hard cash. A hand-painted James Polk for President banner from 1844 went for $185,000 at an auction last year, while an engraving of Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, sold for $20,000. Many collectors covet other inexpensive trinkets because they recall “stories and memories that you wouldn’t have otherwise remembered,” says Ron Puechner, president of American Political Items Collectors, a nonprofit for memorabilia aficionados.
Still, most campaign office managers aren’t conservationists. “For a lot of them, the thought is that the campaign is over and they’ve got to vacate the office by a certain time,” says Puechner, who estimates that he has over 40,000 pieces in his personal collection. As many collectors tend to be politically active, they sometimes liaise with local campaign branches beforehand and pick up unwanted materials for wholesale on eBay, he says.
While federal election law requires the tracking of electoral contributions and expenses, there’s no need for campaign workers to document what they do with things like leftover bumper stickers as long as the campaign doesn’t receive financial or in-kind benefits, says Jason Abel, of counsel at D.C. law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP.
Trump and Clinton officials didn’t respond to requests for comment on their plans for unsold merchandise. Johnson-Weld campaign spokesman Joe Hunter said that he expected brisk sales of ‘I voted for Gary Johnson’ shirts even after the election’s conclusion. Candidates are typically allowed to continue selling merchandise after the suspension or end of their campaigns to help retire debt, says Abel, a former top lawyer for Democratic U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, but he doubts that many have incentive to do so, given the low sums involved.
Additionally, as the primary customers of Bernie Sanders’s apparel tend to be fans of the candidate who already have existing stashes, demand after the buzz of an election is over tends to fade. For instance, Romney-Ryan 2012 T-shirts found themselves clothing underprivileged children in Kenya, according to The Daily Caller. The conservative website reported that the tees were donated by a Romney county chairman in Tennessee to the Orbit Village Project after the former Massachusetts governor’s defeat to Barack Obama.
Not all campaign memorabilia are alike. Clothing doesn’t tend to do well on the secondary market, where scarcity helps determine what makes some objects more collectible than others. “National buttons sold through campaign websites are made in the thousands and tend to not be as valuable,” says Puechner. Small quantity baubles like buttons issued only to national convention delegates or pins distributed to early supporters who turn up on cold New Hampshire evenings to listen to a candidate’s stump speech tend to be prized.
There is, however, a cottage industry of retro political apparel made by savvy entrepreneurs that caters to those unhappy with the status quo. During the Obama years, numerous conservative websites have flogged Reagan-Bush T-shirts that commemorated the Republican ticket’s landslide win in 1984. Given the divisiveness that marked 2016, Obama-Biden memorabilia might not fade from the scene just yet.
Katerina Ang is a New York-based reporter who writes about global business, culture and politics. Her work has appeared in the The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Financial Times and Esquire.
This story was originally published on MarketWatch.
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