WASHINGTON – U.S. House members spent $20.3 million in tax money last year to send constituents what’s often the government equivalent of junk mail – meeting announcements, tips on car care and job interviews, surveys on public policy and just plain bragging.
They sent nearly 116 million pieces of mail in all, many of them glossy productions filled with flattering photos and lists of the latest roads and bridges the lawmaker has brought home to the district, a review of public records shows.
A dozen House members spent more than $133,000 each to send 9.8 million pieces of mass mailings. Total cost? $1.8 million.
Of the 64 House members with at least $100,000 in taxpayer-funded mailing expenses – and overwhelmingly for mass mailings – 42 were Republicans and 22 were Democrats, the review found.
Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., ranked 16th among House members, spending $143,843.03. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., ranked 56th at $105,082.98.
In sharp contrast, 59 lawmakers in the 435-member House – 35 Republicans and 24 Democrats – spent nothing on mass mailings. They tended to be the more experienced House members, often with 14 or more years of service.
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., were among that group.
Mass mailings cannot be blatantly political, but they still can have political benefits, said Pete Sepp, a spokesman for the National Taxpayers’ Union, which has condemned mass mailings.
“A taxpayer-financed mailing doesn’t have to say ‘re-elect me’ to have an impact on voters,” Sepp said. “A glossy newsletter splashed with the incumbent’s achievements in Congress can build useful credentials a lawmaker can take with him to the ballot box. The franking privilege is one of the main cogs in Congress’ PR machine.”
Franking, practiced since the early days of the republic, lets members of Congress send mail with just a signature where the postage would normally be affixed. The mailings are regulated by a congressional commission to guard against overt political appeals and cannot go out within 90 days of an election.