Washington » Matthias Shapiro has a thing for pennies.
He likes them. He uses them. He keeps a bucket of $100 worth at home.
Now his appreciation for the penny -- not just as a monetary unit, but as an example of spending gone awry -- has earned him viral status on the Web, and on Tuesday, an award from Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.
Shapiro, a 28-year-old Utah transplant, earned the RNC's first ever "grassroots logic award" for taking something as simple as stacks of pennies and using them to communicate to nearly a million people an economics lesson.
Shapiro's Web video, one of a series looking at government spending, focuses on 10,000 pennies, representing the nation's 2009 budget. Shapiro takes one of the pennies and slices a quarter off of it to illustrate the $100 million that President Barack Obama recently said he wanted to cut.
"The 10,000 pennies video really, I think in a very important way, summarizes a couple things: one the effective use of the new media and it also explains in very real terms, every day stuff," Steele said at a news conference at the RNC's headquarters in Washington.
Steele said the video was brilliant and dubbed Shapiro a "genius" for using YouTube to effectively raise concerns about excess government spending.
"From my perspective of being chairman of the party everyone is saying is broke or broken, this is one way of saying, 'You know, you're full of you know what,'" Steele said.
Shapiro, a software designer who leans Libertarian, said he simply wanted to use his talent for visualizing data to explain how government spending needs to be toned down.
He's also created a Web video using pennies to explain how many jobs the nation has lost compared to the number the president said would be saved by the stimulus bill. Another of his videos features a road map and cars to show the speed at which the Obama administration is spending taxpayer dough.
Shapiro said he's sheepishly explained his request to bank tellers for $100 in pennies by saying it's part of a school project. He's also been a tad worried about destroying money to make the initial video. Then there's the fact that he's spent "way, way, way too much time" stacking pennies.
But, Shapiro said he's having fun. Plus, he got a free, RNC-paid trip to Washington out of it.
"One of the things that some of the people have said is 'Thanks for breaking this down, making this simple,'" Shapiro said. But, "It's less of an issue of making it simple and more about making it real."