Ron Paul is probably not going to be president any time soon, yet he is already on the dollar.

His enthusiasts have been stamping Federal Reserve notes with "Ron Paul For President" since at least 2008.

"Write Ron Paul on your worthless bills," reads an August 2011 post on "Daily Paul," a website that isn't affiliated with his campaign.

Paul complains about the Fed debasing the currency, but some of his biggest fans are defacing the currency.

"This is something everyone can do to help get Ron Paul's name out there," the Daily Paul post continues. "You can even write "end the Fed" or anything else that will get people's attention. Bills get circulated all the time. You cannot rely on the media."

Paul's campaign headquarters didn't return my phone call to discuss this apparently green, grassroots movement. But it's illegal to deface dollars, isn't it?

There's a law that says it's illegal, but it's fairly vague. It includes the clause, "with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued." But how do you prove intent? And who decides what's unfit? Mitt Romney?

When I contacted the U.S. Treasury to ask such questions, I was referred to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which in turn referred me to the Secret Service, which forwarded my call around the office five times.

I finally ended up chatting with a Secret Service lady who refused to give me her full name. She said that if I wanted an answer to such questions, I'd have to mail in a Freedom of Information request, which would go into a pile and be answered on a first-come-first-served basis.

I decided it might be faster to emboss my blog address, tellittoal.com, on every dollar bill I spend over the next 10 years to see if the Secret Service even cares.

Clearly, the Feds have better things to do. That's why we see machines that smash pennies into medallion souvenirs. That's why a search for the words "defaced currency" on the Internet turns up myriad images of marvelously vandalized bills. And that's why we can often find advertising on our notes, like "Where's George?"

Hank Eskin, founder of wheresgeorge.com, is among the few people I could find who has ever gotten a hassle for this.

In 1998, the Massachusetts database consultant started a website that lets users track dollars. If you want to know where a bill goes after you spend it, you enter its serial number on Eskin's popular website.

You can find out all kinds of interesting things, Eskin says, like, one day your dollar is in a church offering plate, the next it's in a garter belt at a strip club, or vice versa.

I recently found a "Where's George?" dollar in my wallet. But this is not uncommon since his site is now tracking $1 billion worth of bills, from Benjamin's on down.

In 2000, the Secret Service knocked on Eskin's door and asked him to stop selling the rubber stamps that people use to stamp "Where's George?" on bills.

This, they told him, was advertising, and it's illegal to advertise on bills. Consequently, he no longer sells the stamps or encourages the practice. But some dollar-tracking hobbyists keep stamping bills, anyway.

It's probably the same thing with Paul: He's not the one doing it.

Eskin says he filters out political and religious references from the comments people post on his site, because it's about tracking currency, not belief systems.

"I've been getting comments about Ron Paul bills for years now," Eskin said. "I'm sure they're still doing it."

Is there any wonder why some Paul fans lack basic respect for the dollar?

"There will be a rejection of the dollar," Paul warned in a speech last year. "The rejection of the dollar is a big, big event."

Yeah, especially when his name is on it.

 

(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. The column is published each Tuesday and Thursday at 9 a.m. ET. Contact Al at al.lewis@dowjones.com or tellittoal.com)