Meet Matt Shapiro, Penny Aficionado

All it took was a video camera, 10,000 pennies and a little creativity. The result was a viral video that earned 28-year-old Matt Shapiro of Utah the first-ever “Grassroots Logic Award” from the Republican National Committee.

Shapiro’s videos, which use pennies to put into context President Obama’s spending, earned him a trip to Washington, D.C., today. His most popular video, which is nearing 1 million views on YouTube, was released April 24 and mocked Obama’s measly $100 million budget cuts in comparison to the $3.5 trillion budget. A link from National Review’s Jonah Goldberg helped propel the self-described “math geek” to stardom — at least in the eyes of conservatives and libertarians frustrated by Obama’s appetite for government spending.

Last month Republican National Chairman Michael Steele released a video praising Shapiro’s work. He invited him to Washington so he could honor him.

Steele made good on his promise at a ceremony this morning at RNC headquarters on Capitol Hill. Shapiro traveled to Washington to collect the award and brief Senate Republicans about his work. (Not bad for someone who was completely unknown to the political world a few months ago.) There’s more coverage in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Today’s event might very well be a turning point for the notoriously stodgy RNC. I’ve been a tough critic of Steele, but I give him credit for opening his arms and embracing Shapiro.

“When I first saw his 10,000 Pennies video, I thought to myself, ‘Damn, that’s good. That’s really good,'” Steele said today. “I thought it was important to bring him and his wife to Washington so they could teach some of our friends on the Hill exactly what it’s like in the real world and exactly how the real world is understanding and appreciating what all of the spending means, what the deficits mean, and what a penny as a representation of that really adds up to.”

By embracing Shapiro, the RNC is clearly hoping to inspire others to engage in the same kind of entrepreneurial grassroots activism that will revitalize the GOP. Steele deserves credit for recognizing the potential and rewarding good work.

Now comes the hard part: Who’s next?

Check out all of Matt Shapiro’s videos on his 10,000 Pennies channel on YouTube. A video of today’s ceremony is below.