As Congress deals with rising complaints over junk mail clogging mailboxes, it might want to start by reducing its own contributions to the scourge. Last year, U.S. House members spent $20.3 million to spend unsolicited mail to constituents on subjects ranging from car care to advice on job interviews. It is one of the reasons why incumbents are so difficult to unseat — members have created a constructive public subsidy for campaigns, but only for incumbents.
The massive amount of junk mail sent by Congress amounts to 116 million pieces of mail in all.
Some offered advice on topics one would more commonly expect to see in a consumer-advice column.
“Keep your car properly maintained” to improve mileage, suggested Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., in a newsletter on how to deal with rising energy prices.
Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., offered tips on home improvements.
And Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., who lost her primary race last year, sent out a taxpayer-funded newsletter a few months before the election that included this simple observation:
“Convicted felons can vote,” she said, if “your” prison sentence has been served, parole or probation completed and fines paid. While campaigning, McKinney, who is black, noted that blacks make up a disproportionately large share of the prison population, which she said dilutes their voting strength.
A dozen House members spent more than $133,000 each to send 9.8 million pieces of mass mailings. Total cost? $1.8 million.
Sometimes the lawmakers’ taxpayer funded mailings topped what they paid for direct mail through their campaign funds.
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 AP review found.
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.
The study confirms that these mailings are working as a form of campaign financing that is exclusively available to incumbents.
The biggest senders in the AP analysis included freshmen in tight re-election fights and veterans who coasted to victory.
Rep. Henry Brown, R-S.C., had the most pieces of mass mailings: 1,257,972. His mass mailings’ cost of $171,286 was among the highest in the House, as was the overall cost of his franked mail, at $177,706.
Murphy, who advised constituents to maintain cars, was one of the House leaders in sending out bulk mail, with 1,003,836 pieces. The price tag: $165,650.
Among legislative leaders, the biggest spender was Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., who last fall became chairman of the House GOP Conference. He spent $133,053 to mail 844,336 pieces.
Other leaders in the last Congress and the current one were not big users.
The cost of postage is not the only expense for taxpayers. Printing and reproduction can add tens of thousands of dollars to a mailing’s cost. The printing cost for one mailing from McCotter was $30,259.
While Congress clearly should be communicating with voters, a great amount of these mailings is clearly thinly veiled campaigning and self-promotion. The only people who reign in this abuse, however, are the abusers themselves: Congress.
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