The flier for state Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis, has a large photo of himself, under a banner headline in blue lettering that says "Jackson." The flier, which goes on to trumpet how he's fighting hard to pull Illinois out of a horrible economic recession, was mailed to about 31,000 homes.
The flier for state Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton, has a large photo of himself, under a banner headline in green lettering that says "Beiser." The flier, which touts how he, too, is working hard to pull the state out of the awful recession, was mailed to about 29,000 homes.
Jackson and Beiser didn't pay for the mailers. Neither did their re-election campaigns.
The cost of the mailings was covered by a program that allows state lawmakers to send "legislative updates" to their constituents using state money. But challengers to Jackson and Beiser in the November election say the mailings are little more than re-election campaign ads.
Jackson did not return calls seeking comment.
Beiser said it's important he communicate with constituents.
"I have been sending legislative updates to my constituents since I have been in office," Beiser said. "I want to make sure that people know when I am in Springfield, I am working on their behalf. Each year I receive feedback from my constituents about concerns and how we can work together to move the state forward. I believe that good communication and responsive constituent services are essential to being a good state representative."
Beiser's opponent, Alton Republican Kathy Smith, estimated the cost of his mailing at $9,000. Smith said the mailer money would be better spent paying down Illinois' debt and providing tax relief.
"Using an estimated $9,000 in taxpayer dollars to benefit a politician running for re-election is appalling," Smith said. "I urge our elected officials and Dan Beiser to put the taxpayer first and stop using our tax dollars to benefit his campaign."
Jackson's opponent, Ryan Stookey, a Belleville Republican, called Jackson's mailer a "blatant misuse" of tax dollars.
"The mail piece from Rep. Jackson is nothing more than a collection of press releases, repackaged to look like a legislative update. The last thing a state representative should be doing when we're closing facilities, cutting programs and eliminating prescription drug assistance for seniors is to use taxpayer dollars to print and mail a campaign flier," Stookey said.
Members of Congress also have franking privileges and routinely mail fliers to their constituents.
John S. Jackson, a professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said the issue is one that arises during every state election cycle: Incumbents take advantage of the perk, and challengers cry foul.
"The incumbents usually just take the heat on that," John Jackson said. "They know they're getting one of the many advantages incumbents have. It does get their name out there, and gets them in every mailbox. It's a real advantage, there's no question about that."
The SIUE professor said both sides of the argument have valid points. He said it's good that constituents know what their legislators are doing.
"Part of it is legitimately telling the constituency what's going on in Springfield," John Jackson said. "A larger part of it is tooting the legislator's own horn."
He said rules on what can be included in a legislative update are "not real restrictive," but lawmakers a few years ago did enact a reform that prohibits the mailings when an election is near.
David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said the legislative updates "become an issue when legislators use those as an extension of their campaign." He added: "Part of the problem here is that public officials do wear multiple hats. They're also candidates trying to appeal to voters."
Local Republicans also use mailers, but some of them use a different tactic. For example, Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, has a mailer that informs his constituents about an upcoming seminar for the elderly on how to avoid being victims of scams. Kay is the host of the seminar, along with Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office.
The mailer for the seminar has Kay's name in big, bold lettering on both sides, but Kay's spokesman, Chris Guy, said the mailer is "very different" from the type sent out by Jackson and Beiser.
"If we don't promote these events by mail piece, then constituents who miss the posting in the paper or don't subscribe won't know about the events," Guy said. "Since Rep. Kay is hosting a town hall for the people to learn how to prevent identity theft, his name needs to be listed, since it's his event. We have to promote the event and details."
Ronald Deedrick, a spokesman for Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, said the Okawville Republican sometimes sends out mailers announcing state-sponsored senior fairs or attorney general events.
"Is his name on them? Yes," Deedrick said. "But it's about the constituent service."
Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, said he doesn't send out mailers. Instead he submits information to media outlets, and communicates with constituents via email, Facebook and Twitter.
"Most people have access to the web, and it makes financial sense to take advantage of technology today," McCarter said.
The Jackson and Beiser mailers have similarities.
The Jackson mailer begins: "Dear Neighbor, Like most of the nation, Illinois is facing serious challenges as it fights to overcome the worst economic recession in decades. We must continue working together to make decisions that promote recovery, help strengthen our communities and create new jobs."
The Beiser mailer begins: "Dear Neighbor, Like most of the country, Illinois is facing serious fiscal challenges as we work to get out of the worst recession in decades. It has been one of my top priorities to make sure that Republicans and Democrats work together to craft a state budget that recognizes our fiscal limitations while protecting important programs that help our veterans, seniors and job creation efforts."
The front of Beiser's flier mentions "protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners." The front of Jackson's says he's "worked hard to reduce government spending while still protecting the vital programs that many Illinoisans rely on every day."
Jackson also mentions voting to cut legislators' salaries.
Stookey said there are other, less expensive ways that Jackson could have given the information to constituents, such as putting it on a website or using campaign money to buy a newspaper ad.
"But I guess he figured, why spend his own money when he could spend ours?" Stookey said.
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at email@example.com or 239-2511.