WASHINGTON - Republican freshmen who came to Congress last yearpromising to transform Washington's free-spending culture are nodifferent from most other lawmakers in at least one respect: Theymailed out millions of taxpayer-funded fliers and brochures duringtheir first year in office. The 87 GOP members of the freshman class -- including ArizonansPaul Gosar, David Schweikert and Ben Quayle -- sent more than 25.6million pieces of unsolicited mail last year at a cost of nearly$9.8 million, according to a review of records compiled by thechief administrative officer of the House. Examples of mass mailings |
More Freshmen represented eight of the top 10 biggest spendersnationwide. In Arizona's eight-member delegation, the three first-term membersranked first, second and fourth last year for money spent on slickmailers. The figures cover only the nine months from April 1 to Dec.
31.Before that, mass mailings were not broken out from othertaxpayer-financed mass communications allowed under congressionalrules. The costs include the expense of producing the mailers andthe price of postage. In 2011, there were no restrictions on when the mailers could besent. Since this is an election year, House rules prevent membersfrom sending them close to voting time.
House members cannot sendmass mailers within 90 days of a primary or general election. InArizona, members of the congressional delegation won't be able tosend mass mailings after late May. The primary is Aug. 28, and thegeneral election is Nov.
6. Critics, including Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., say the brochuresamount to little more than taxpayer-funded campaign mailers inwhich incumbents of both parties tout their accomplishments. Butsupporters say the mailers are an important way for lawmakers tokeep in touch with constituents and let citizens know what theirrepresentatives are doing. According to House rules on franking -- the privilege that allowsmembers of Congress to use their signature to send official mail --the material is not supposed to be "partisan or political in factor tone." But the mailings approved for members of the Arizonadelegation included slogans that could easily be found on campaignmaterials.
One of Schweikert's mailers proclaims that he is "Working for You,"while Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., writes that he "will continue tofight against Republican efforts to end Medicare as we know it." Gosar proclaims that he is "Working to Protect Social Security andMedicare for your generation and theirs" and that he is "Voting Yesto Remove Job Killing Regulations." A newsletter from Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Ariz., says he is "working hardin Washington" and opposes efforts by the Republican Houseleadership to "abolish Medicare as we know it." Meanwhile, amass-mailed letter from Quayle says the Republican budget "savesMedicare." Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., writes in a newsletter that he hasjoined House Republicans in approving 28 job initiatives that havebeen tabled by the "Democratic controlled Senate." Steve Ellis, vice president of the non-partisan Taxpayers forCommon Sense, opposes the mailers as self-promotion by lawmakers attaxpayers' expense.
"This mail is really about protecting incumbency rather thaninforming constituents about what's going on in Washington," hesaid. "These mailers have always been about members of Congressbragging about themselves and getting re-elected." The mailings must be approved by the House Commission onCongressional Mailing Standards, which is made up of threeRepublican House members and three Democratic members. Flake said the commission is known for its leniency. "When youcan't tell the difference between this mail and a campaignbrochure, then I think they're far too permissive," he said. Delegation spending Six members of the eight-member Arizona congressional delegationsent out mass mailings -- defined as 500 or more identical piecesof unsolicited mail -- in 2011.
In total, they spent over $396,000on more than 2.2 million pieces of mail. Those mailings, by fourRepublicans and two Democrats, were sent out from April to Decemberof last year. Gosar, who represents the 1st Congressional District, spent by farthe most among the Arizonans, according to congressional reports.He spent more than $170,000 to send nearly 366,000 newsletters andfliers. He ranked No. 36 among the 347 House members who sentmailers.
Gosar said the mailings are one way for him to inform constituentsin his sprawling district, which covers nearly 59,000 square miles,stretching from Arizona's northern border south almost to Tucson.The district, which is Arizona's largest geographically, is largerthan 24 states. "Accessibility is one of my highest priorities which is why I heldover 24 in-person town halls and 6 tele-town halls in 13 months,"Gosar said in a written statement. "In all, I have reached tens ofthousands of constituents. But I can't personally visit each personin my district. I respectfully disagree with critics of usingfranked mail who may not understand the unique challenges ruraldistricts face." Schweikert, who represents the 5th District, which covers Tempe andScottsdale, spent the second-most, sending out more than 155,000mailers at a cost of more than $72,000.
He was followed closely by Pastor, of Phoenix's 4th District. The11-term Democrat spent more than $70,000. Quayle, whose 3rd District includes parts of Phoenix, ParadiseValley and Cave Creek, ranked fourth among members of the Arizonadelegation, spending more than $35,000. He was followed closely by Franks, whose 2nd District covers theWest Valley and stretches to the California line.
The five-termmember spent more than $31,000. Grijalva, who represents the 7th District, which covers Yuma, partof Tucson and some areas near the Mexican border, spent nearly$17,000. Flake and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., did not sendmass mailings. Giffords was recovering from a gunshot woundsuffered in the Jan.
8, 2011, shooting rampage near Tucson and waswas unable to work. She sent out mailers in previous years. Flake said that because he did not send out mailers, he was able toreturn $250,000 to the U.S. Treasury from his office fund lastyear. He said the only unsolicited mass mailings he sends areletters to parents of high-school students who may qualify toattend U.S.
military academies. "I oppose the glossy brochures because they are frankly campaigningon the taxpayers' dime, in my view," Flake said. "Incumbents haveenough advantages with our ability to get free news coverage." Embracing mass mailers Newer House members typically use franked mail more than longtimelawmakers, who tend to be better-known, according to a study lastyear by the independent Congressional Management Foundation. Flake said that freshmen lawmakers are being indoctrinated byveteran members of Congress, who encourage them to do the massmailings.
"They come back here to Washington, and they're schooled by othersand told, 'This is what you've got to do,' " Flake said. "Often,some of the same firms who did their campaign mailers will come tothem to do their franked mail." But Arizona's freshmen say they don't believe that mass mailingsundermine their campaign vows to be frugal with taxpayers' money. "Communicating with constituents contributes to a healthydemocracy, and people deserve to hear from their electedofficials," Quayle said. "The government wastes money on manythings. This isn't one of them." Schweikert said even though he sent mailers he was able to return$190,000 in office funds to the U.S.
Treasury last year throughcareful budgeting. "Since David has been elected, he has made constituent service atop priority, and our mail program is a key part of that," saidSchweikert's spokeswoman, Rachel Semmel. Ellis said it's disappointing -- but not surprising -- thatfreshmen members of Congress have embraced mass mailers so quickly."It should give some constituents pause about changing the way ofWashington, about whether these freshmen are doing that," Ellissaid. To see examples of mass mailings, go to politics.azcentral.com .
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