All incumbent members of Congress have a “franking” privilege, which allows them to prepare, publish and send mass mailings to their constituents at taxpayer expense, as long as they follow the rules.
Under franking law, such taxpayer-funded mass mailings are OK as long as: the mailing does not occur within 90 days of an election in which the member is on the ballot; the mailing is only sent to constituents in the congressional district the member currently represents; and the mailing contains the phrase, “This mailing was prepared, published, and mailed at taxpayer expense.”
In October, Idaho U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher sent an “official congressional survey” mass mailing via franking mail and the company used to do the mailing broke one of those rules.
Fulcher currently represents Idaho’s first congressional district (ID-01). But some residences outside that district received mailers from him this month — a violation his office attributes to an honest mistake by a third-party vendor.
The mailer asks questions pertaining to abortion, immigration, health care and “the House majority’s push to bring socialist programs and policies to the United States,” and it asks what his constituents believe are the “most pressing federal issues.” It also includes information on the congressman’s constituent and office services.
“As a freshman member of Congress, it is important that Rep. Fulcher communicate with his ID-01 constituents, to let them know of our office locations, contact information, the services our office provides, and to ask for their feedback on current issues,” Alexah Rogge, Fulcher’s communications director, told the Statesman this week.
Mailers are an effective way of doing this, Rogge explained, but congressional offices cannot handle the logistics of printing and sending mass mailing, so it is typical to use a third-party vendor.
Fulcher’s office sent 120,000 mailers, of which 19,000 went to addresses in the second congressional district, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson’s district. That violates a franking rule.
Fulcher’s district comprises northern and western Idaho. Simpson’s district comprises central and eastern Idaho. The district boundary bisects Ada County with the area east of Cloverdale Road and north of Interstate 84 in Simpson’s district.
“The vendor that was used made a mistake when sorting the addresses and a portion of people in the second district received the mailing,” Rogge said.
Taxpayers are paying for mailers sent to addresses in Fulcher’s district, but they are not for the ones sent to addresses in Simpson’s district.
“The vendor has taken complete responsibility for this mistake and the vendor has reimbursed the taxpayer dollars that were associated with this error,” Rogge said.
Congressional frank dates back to the English House of Commons in the 17th century, according to the U.S. House Franking Commission. The American Continental Congress on Nov. 8, 1775, authorized franking privileges to its members as a means of informing their constituents. The first U.S. Congress enacted a franking law in 1789.