Coin Toss!

The National September 11 Memorial and Museum is taking a numismatic turn.

After a four-year effort to raise money from big donors locally and nationally, the memorial’s foundation is now trying to win support for the minting of a commemorative coin that could bring a few million dollars in new funding.

The coin requires Congressional authorization, traditionally a competitive process as various nonprofit organizations—along with their sponsoring lawmakers—jostle for a limited number of slots. To this end, the foundation enlisted former Republican senator–turned–lobbyist Alphonse D’Amato at the start of 2009 to help guide the process and win it support in the New York delegation and in Congress.

The U.S. Mint–produced coins can be a boon for museums and other nonprofits, which are given a portion of the money that comes in for their respective causes. Although the foundation has raised the $350 million needed for construction of the memorial and museum, hitting up almost every major landlord in the city for seven-digit donations, the funding of programs and operations still lies ahead.

The foundation, which is chaired by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, wants the coin for the 10th anniversary of the attacks, in 2011.

“We ideally want, in every single way possible, every American to participate, and having a coin issued by the mint is something that’s a great partnership with the government,” said Joseph Daniels, president of the memorial foundation. “People are understanding that the memorial is being built—you can physically see it taking shape. The conversation has shifted to how can we, as a donor or partner, participate in the 10th anniversary.”

The money that could be raised from a commemorative coin is hardly the only additional funding sought by the memorial foundation. The foundation is working to create an endowment starting at $25 million. Further, it estimates the memorial and museum’s costs will be between $40 million and $50 million annually, a tall order for an entity that currently has no yearly funding commitments to speak of. The foundation is seeking federal stimulus funding, according to a spokesperson. Other recent commemorative coins have raised more than $8 million for nonprofits.

A maximum of two sets of coins are minted a year, a limit that sets the stage for a scramble between various museums, foundations and bicentennial celebrations that appeal for the necessary Congressional legislation.

Already, one of the two slots has been claimed for 2011, a coin commemorating the creation of the U.S. Army, with the proceeds slated to go toward a new Army museum. And in February, separate bills were introduced that would create a coin for the 150th anniversary of the Medal of Honor’s inception, and a coin commemorating the centennial of the Girl Scouts, both to be minted in 2011.

Of course, getting a bill introduced is only one step, as the list of failed coins of recent years is a lengthy one. Some examples: the Ronald Reagan Commemorative Coin Act of 2004; the NASA 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act; and the Star-Spangled Banner Bicentennial Commemorative Coin Act.

The success of the memorial foundation’s efforts will depend on whether—or how strongly—Senator Charles Schumer and others in the delegation will press. Powerful lawmakers in Congress seem to have an edge in pushing these coins, and Mr. Schumer has taken the lead in Congress on many issues at the World Trade Center rebuilding.

A spokesman for Mr. Schumer declined to comment.

Mr. Daniels, of the memorial foundation, said talks have been limited, but indicated the concept has been well received.

“We’re still in discussions with our various Congressional leaders,” he said, “but I think it’s safe to say that there’s enthusiasm from the New York delegation.”

Shepherding that process will be Mr. D’Amato’s lobbying firm, Park Strategies, which was retained in January, according to lobbying records. Mr. Daniels said he turned to the former Long Island lawmaker due to his experience with similar matters: When he was in the Senate, he helped lead a successful push for a coin honoring Jackie Robinson.

ebrown@observer.com Coin Toss!