Congressional hopeful Matt Doheny says if he's elected, he'll pay his own way to get his message out to his constituents, shunning the standard operating procedure of free mass mailers.
Instead of going out and paying 44 cents, members of Congress can just sign their names on the top right hand side of envelopes to get their missives sent via USPS. It's called "franking." Most members of Congress, including Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, do this; representatives on the state level also use the taxpayer dime to send out their political missives. (I should add, too, that Republicans do it just as readily as Democrats.)
Mr. Doheny called it a waste of money and took Mr. Owens, his Nov. 6 opponent, to task for it.
“The ‘franked' mail privilege is an incumbency protection program at our expense,” Mr. Doheny said in a news release.
Not so, said Mr. Owens' office; it's just a measure of responsive governance.
"Congressman Owens often hears from constituents thanking him for all types of his correspondence, including these types of newsletters. Constituents regularly ask us for an update on issues in Washington or how they can contact our office for assistance. Sending these newsletters, email newsletters, along with holding town halls and telephone town halls are some of the ways we communicate that information to them," spokesman Sean Magers said in an email.
Indeed, this is an issue that hits Mr. Owens on ground that he's pretty solid on. Every year, the office refunds money to the federal treasury. Mr. Owens has also voted to cut his own salary.
According to Mr. Doheny's campaign, in the nearly two and a half years since Mr. Owens has been in office, he has spent about $553,000 to send 1.8 million mailers. The campaign provided a few of those mailers, one of which is posted below.
How "informational" are these mailers?
"Bill is listening to the concerns of New Yorkers and responding with solutions," one such free mailer in question states.
But the mailer also goes on to list places where the unemployed can find jobs, and where small businesses can complain about excessive regulations. You won't find anything that says "Vote Owens." And a Republican staffer has to approve of any franked mail.
So how would Mr. Doheny be responsive to citizens without franking mail? He'd hold town halls in towns around the district, said spokesman Jude Seymour.
That's a lot of towns. Of course, gas isn't free. So how would Mr. Doheny get there? He'd pay his own way, Mr. Seymour said, with personal or campaign funds.
"If members of Congress want to promote themselves or promote their agenda, they should do it not on a taxpayer expense," Mr. Seymour said.
Owens Red Tape