Editorials

Local congressman near top of list for those using ‘free’ mass mailings

U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, used $133,776 worth of postage to send mass mailings to constituents during 2016 and the first nine months of 2017. He ranked 15th in the U.S. House for use of his mail “franking” privileges.
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, used $133,776 worth of postage to send mass mailings to constituents during 2016 and the first nine months of 2017. He ranked 15th in the U.S. House for use of his mail “franking” privileges. BND file photo

U.S. Rep. Mike Bost really thinks it is important to keep you informed, so during 2016 and the first nine months of 2017 he spent $133,776 of your tax dollars communicating with you.

That ranked him 15th-highest among members of the House of Representatives for use of his “franking” privileges, Congress’ ability to send out mass mailings with their signature rather than a stamp. They don’t pay, but taxpayers do.

The average House member uses $30,769 for these mass mailings out of a grand total of $15.5 million, according to office expense reports from Jan. 1, 2016, to Sept. 30, 2017.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis spent $79,080 and ranked 67th. U.S. Rep. John Shimkus spent $6,414 and ranked 310th. All are seeking re-election.

“Rep. Bost has an obligation to keep Southern Illinois residents informed about important issues before Congress and to gather their feedback,” according to a statement from his office. “Last year we responded to over 70,000 pieces of correspondence, hosted nine telephone town halls, and used social media, email, and online surveys to connect with constituents. But in an expansive, rural district like ours, you can’t touch everyone without mail. We’re putting the priority on hearing from the people, and we consider that to be a good thing – not a bad thing. It helps Rep. Bost represent their views more effectively in Washington.”

Shimkus spokesman Steve Tomaszewski said mailing those constituent newsletters was never really part of the representative’s strategy. They favor digital communication.

Shimkus also arrived in Congress in 1997 on the heels of House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL) pleading guilty in the Congressional Post Office scandal. The money laundering and other hijinx turned into a partisan fight in which Democrats said there was “nothing to see here” and Republicans howled for reform.

At least franking is not what it once was. Congress spent $50 million on franking in 2010 compared to that $15.5 million for those recent 21 months. But other than taxpayer disdain for using $15.5 million to send out pictures of Congress members cutting ribbons and telling you what happened months ago, there is little reason not to do it. Since the founding of the nation, franking has been “free” to House or Senate members engaged in the fine art of self-promotion.

While there are restrictions against sending out the mass mailings in the months before elections and against blatantly saying “vote for me,” the mailings are relatively useless as far as informational value. They are essentially big advertising pieces saying “look at what I do for you as your congressman!”

Shimkus has been in the House for 20 years without mailing the phony-baloney constituent newsletters. If Bost and Davis want to pretend the newsletters have value, how about sending them out as e-mails or using campaign funds for these mass mailings.

It would be nice to toss those print pieces without becoming part of the cycle of throwing away tax dollars.

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