Flag Reseller Irks AOC

Posted January 26, 2004 at 6:09pm

Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman warned lawmakers last week that a number of Web-based companies are using “unsuspecting Members’ offices” to obtain flags flown over the Capitol only to resell them to the general public at greatly inflated prices.

In at least one case that has been investigated by the House Inspector General, a private business called Capitol Flags is charging consumers anywhere from four to six times the amount that Congressional offices charge for a flag flown over the Capitol.

“The process that businesses use to obtain flags is the same used by any constituent requesting a flag,” Hantman stated in a letter alerting Members to the problem.

“In the case of ‘Capitolflags.com,’ Robert Hayhurst, the owner of the business, was the name that most often appeared as the requester,” Hantman continued. “The only potential indication of this purchase scheme, to the Members’ offices, would have been the volume of flags that he was requesting.”

It appears that Hayhurst is reselling the flags he buys from Members at an astronomical markup.

By visiting Hayhurst’s Capitolflags.com Web site, anyone with a major credit card can order any number of flags, including the “Freedom Flyer” — a 3-by-5-foot nylon flag flown over the U.S. Capitol — for $79.99. The flag comes complete with a certificate of authenticity signed by Hantman himself, and buyers can even request that Old Glory be flown on a certain date to commemorate a particular occasion. What Hayhurst’s customers may not realize, however, is that they can order the same flag directly from Congress at a fraction of the cost.

If it were ordered from Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), for instance, or any other House Member, this nylon version of Stars and Stripes would cost only $13.05, with an additional $3 to $4 for shipping and handling — meaning Hayhurst is selling his flags at approximately a 500 percent markup.

Similarly, a 3-by-5-foot cotton flag from Capitolflags.com is $89.99 versus $13.30 from a House Member; a 5-by-8-foot nylon flag is $99.88 instead of the $22.05 charged by lawmakers; and a 5-by-8-foot cotton flag tops the price list at $109.88. The same flag would cost a consumer only $24.05 if ordered directly from the House of Representatives.

While Hayhurst may be exploiting one of the oldest constituent service programs on Capitol Hill, his scheme appears not to have broken any laws.

The flag program was launched unofficially in 1937 as a way to acknowledge the civic contributions of lawmakers’ constituents and grew to be so popular that it was officially established in the1950s. While individuals are supposed to place flag orders only with their own Representative or Senator, there appears to be no limit as to how many flags an individual may order.

Nonetheless, Congressional officials aren’t happy.

Brian Walsh, spokesman for House Administration Chairman Ney, said the committee was just recently made aware of this issue but plans to take action.

“Chairman Ney by no means condones this activity, and I fully expect that the committee in conjunction with the Architect’s office and others will be looking into it,” Walsh said.

Despite attempts, Hayhurst could not be reached for comment. Registration records for his Web site listed only a P.O. box in Olympia, Wash., and a San Diego, Calif., phone number associated with the Web domain registration was answered by a woman’s voicemail message.

Nonetheless, Hayhurst’s CapitolFlags.com Web site indicates that his business is making a splash not just on American soil, but overseas as well.

“We’re a private company whose goal is to make it easy for everyone around the world to own a piece of personalized U.S. history — their very own Capitol Flag that has flown over the U.S. Capitol — for presentation and commemoration of a person, group or event that is special in someone’s life,” Hayhurst’s Web site boasts.

The Web site goes on to state that Capitolflags.com has “satisfied customers” from across the United States and “all around the world, from Australia to Finland.”

Hantman, meanwhile, is exploring options to get the word out to the public that they can buy their flags directly from Congress for a better price.

“We are researching the possibility of creating an Internet Web site that would be made available when a search engine is used to find information on U.S. flags or Capitol flags,” Hantman wrote. “If we used this tool, we could inform the pubic of the option to place a flag request directly through Members’ offices and avoid the higher cost of using a vendor.”

Workers with the Architect’s office fly approximately 130,000 flags over the Capitol each year — although those numbers increased substantially following Sept. 11. 2001.

Hantman also urged Congressional staffers to “be alert to requests from the same named person or to requests that may come from a firm and not an individual constituent.”