The franking privilege has long been powerful tool for congressional incumbents in their efforts to fight off challengers, and it seems no one uses the advantage any better than freshman Rep. Dina Titus from NV-3.
A Battle ‘10 reader has forwarded photos of a slew of mail pieces his household has received from Titus. The mailers were apparently sent under the umbrella of Titus’ congressional franking privilege because each piece states, “This mailing was prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense.”
Our reader asks, ”Are these over-sized, multi-page, full-color, heavy stock ‘educational’ mailers that very closely resemble high-end campaign pieces really the best use of taxpayer dollars? And isn’t this an abuse of the franking privilege?”
There’s no limit on how much House members can spend on communication, though it must come out of the annual allowance they receive to run their offices. In 2009, the average allowance was about $1.5 million per member.
House members also cannot send mass communications within 90 days of a primary or general election. The restriction is 60 days for senators.
Voters are certainly free to feel outraged, however, when an incumbent politician sends out reams of fancy mailers in the middle of a campaign in which she is polling neck-and-neck with her less well-funded challenger:
The mailer below features all Titus has done to help create jobs in Nevada, which might be considered “voter education” but also just happens to focus on the number one issue on the minds of Nevada residents this year:
Another mailer is an “informational piece” discussing all Titus has done to help homeowners facing foreclosure, another issue near and dear to the hearts of Nevada voters:
A third mailer discusses the benefits of the health care reform bill:
House members last year spent more than $45 million on taxpayer-funded mass mailings, robocalls and electronic messaging to communicate with constituents. This was more than double the $20 million lawmakers reported spending in 2007.
Eight of the top 10 spenders in 2009 were freshmen, led by Titus, who spent more than $400,000.
“Whether or not these pieces follow the letter of the law, they just do not seem to me to pass the political smell test,” wrote the NV-3 voter in an email to Battle ‘10.