You Paid For It: Franked Mail

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by David Alan

WVEC.com

Posted on February 8, 2012 at 7:40 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 17 at 2:20 PM

VIRGINIA BEACH -- Today, you can find your congressman on YouTube as well as on C-SPAN. You can like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. 

Yet, for all of the ways we connect today, most of them free, Congress still spent an estimated $43 million of your money on mass mailers in 2010.  

"I think that money could have gone to other places," said one young theater student.

In 2011, before heading to Washington, Scott Rigell promised told us everything had to be on the table to cut spending.

“But I'm a reform-minded member elect. I'll be a reform leader in Congress," Rigell said in an interview a year ago.

As for those mass mailers, Rigell made a promise.

“Two pieces per year, black and white ink," he said.

Rigell went on to say he would not use taxpayer money to send slick and glossy mailers filled with accolades.

“I don't think that's appropriate when I see so many of my neighbors out of work," Rigell noted.

Now a year later, Rigell says he’s proud of his record on franked mailers.

"If you look back at what we said and what we have done, I think there is a clear alignment between the two," Rigell said as he was leaving a recent MLK Day event in Hampton.

Rigell stated his office sent just one franked mailer in 2011 -- a black and white piece filled largely with contact information.  While we're told the mailer did not get a very good response, it still cost you close to $55,000 for printing and postage.

The mailer came with a hefty price tag and these words, "I will not be sending out multiple direct mail pieces at taxpayers' expense."

Yet, in the offices of the House Franking Commission, we found sample copies of a number of other mass mail pieces that Rep. Rigell sent to thousands of constituents that cost you thousands of dollars.

When we asked if that meant he sent more than the two pieces he promised, he said “No, certainly not."

The congressman's office insists the mass mailers he filed with the Franking Commission simply are letters to constituents and there's nothing political about them.

Quentin Kidd, a Christopher Newport University political science professor, sees the letters in a different light.

"When you send a mass mailer to constituents there's always a political element to it," Kidd said.

Kidd points out the congressman's letters become political when they talk about his policy objectives and remind constituents what he's voting for and against.

Rigell also sent mass mail pieces to constituents on the Eastern Shore, and the only county the congressman lost to then-Rep. Glenn Nye in the 2010 election.

"Is he doing his job communicating to constituents on the Eastern Shore, absolutely? Can you do your job while also helping you politically, absolutely?"

Rigell has cut his office budget. He gives a small portion of his congressional salary back and he's on pace to spend far less on mass mailers than Nye did.

But the latest financial records still show Rigell, who promised leadership by example, has spent more on franked mail pieces than most members of the 112th Congress.

“I was told in orientation to spend $300,000-$400,000 in franked mail to raise our name ID. We have not done that," Rigell stated.

So far, Congressman Rigell has spent more on franked mail and printing than any other member of the local congressional delegation, even more than Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank, and presidential candidate Congressman Ron Paul. 

 

 

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