Issues In Our Lives

The Franking Privilege
A Letter Published in Two Local Newspapers

Deborah wrote a letter about the use and/or misuse of franking privileges during political campaigns by political incumbents. Two local newspapers published the letter. Printed below is a copy of the letter along with the web site locations it can be found on the newspapers.

Franking dust-up speaks to power of incumbency

Terry Lierman was right to question whether U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella, R-8th District, used the franking privilege to advance her political position at taxpayer expense ("Return Morella mailer to sender," letters, Aug. 17). Franked newsletters may properly be used to keep constituents informed with reference to the member's job performance, but it is improper to use such a mailing as a campaign piece in an upcoming election. Mr. Lierman claims that Rep. Morella misrepresented the truth in an item in the newsletter, and that she crossed the line between informing (legal) and campaigning (illegal).

There is a larger issue here than whether Rep. Morella went over the line in one particular instance. The franking privilege makes it possible for members of Congress to communicate with constituents using the U.S. mail, at taxpayer expense. Franked newsletters serve the valuable purpose of keeping us informed about the activities of our representatives. Such newsletters are to be used by the representative to provide information, but not to campaign for re-election.

The problem is that, in practice, it is difficult to separate the two functions. It is only natural that a member of Congress will use the franked newsletter to promote a positive image. Inevitably, such newsletters will have an effect on an upcoming election, giving the incumbent the edge.

This will be so no matter how scrupulously the member tries to maintain the distinction and avoid turning the newsletter into a campaign piece.

I suggest we recognize this inevitable effect on elections of franked constituent newsletters, but not lose sight of the legitimate purpose the newsletters serve. To some extent, this effect already has been recognized; by law, members are not permitted to send such franked newsletters on the eve of an election. But further reform is needed.

Congress should enact legislation providing that for each franked newsletter a member is allowed to send between the primary and the general election, the candidate nominated by the party (or parties) not in power be allowed to send a similar mailer at taxpayer expense. This is really an incremental approach to the public financing of congressional campaigns - a cause I fully support.

Chevy Chase

(Editor's note: Ms. Vollmer sought the Democratic nomination for Maryland's 8th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.)

The letter was published in print and online August 23, 2000 in the Montgomery Journal

It was also published online August 23, 2000 in The Gazette
The print edition of The Gazette published the letter in their August 25th issue.

Click here to go to: Schmootsie Says. . .(Comments on Campaign Finance Reform)

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