Editorials, Opinion

Abusing tax dollars for campaign mailings

One of the last things John Pyles asked of The Dominion Post was to look into the flyers Rep. David McKinley sends four times a year  that say in the top left corner, “Paid for by official funds authorized by the House of Representatives.”

McKinley would likely argue that the flyers are to keep constituents informed about what he’s doing in Congress. To the rest of us, the colorful cardstock sheet looks like campaigning on the taxpayers’ dime. At least, that’s what Pyles said when he’d call to ask if we’d seen them. (We hadn’t, so he mailed us one of his copies.)

We’d be inclined to agree with him.

Unfortunately, such a thing is perfectly legal. Even if it shouldn’t be.

Mailings like the ones McKinley sends out fall under what is called “franked mail,” or mail sent under a congressman’s signature (usually found in the upper right-hand corner, along with the letters M.C.) that doesn’t require pre-postage. In one of the few ways Congress actually does support the Postal Service, Congress pays for franked mail as part of its yearly appropriations bill.

According to the Congressional Research Service, there are specific regulations for using franked mail, though they differ for senators and representatives. There are slightly more restrictions on mass mailings (documents sent out to 500 or more people) like the flyer McKinley sent. During fiscal year 2018, Congress spent $19.8 million on franked mail; House mail cost $18.5 million of that.

The Congressional Research Service says franked mail “may be used only for matters of public concern or public service.” It may not “be used to solicit votes or contributions, to send mail regarding political campaigns or political parties, or to mail autobiographical or holiday greeting materials.”

Obviously, Congress isn’t enforcing that rule.

The one we have refutes claims made in political attack ads. In fact, the flyer says, “The recent passed infrastructure bill is NOT the Democrats’ reckless social spending bill …. Congressman McKinley opposes and voted against the reckless social spending bill.” (The bold, caps and underline are his, not ours.) 

If that doesn’t tip it into the “mail regarding political campaigns” category, we’re not sure what will.

Besides the fact this is a horrible waste of taxpayer money, the free mail members of Congress get to send out give them a marked and unfair advantage during election years. There is a cut off for sending mass mail, but it still allows nine to 10 months’ worth of free promotion between elections, which puts the incumbents at a distinct advantage over opponents who aren’t in Congress.

To be fair, McKinley is not the only politician guilty of this. It’s long been an issue; we found an article from 1962 complaining about the abuse of franked mail, mass mailings and the unfair advantage to incumbents. But it’s an issue Congress won’t solve, because it’s loathe to cut back its own perks. So the only solution is to contact politicians and let them know you don’t appreciate how they are spending your money.