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November 3, 2006

Taxpayers fund election season mail

Posted by David Postman at 6:42 AM

Voters in the 8th Congressional District are getting thousands of pieces of official mail in the weeks leading up to the election from Dave Reichert's Congressional office. The mail is "franked," meaning Reichert pays no postage for sending the official mail to constituents.

How can he do that when there is a ban on franked mass mailings within 90 days of an election? It's not mass mail. Each of 130 different letters that have gone out since June go to no more than 499 people. And House rules in the franking manual define "mass mailing" as 500 or more pieces of mail.

In the parlance of Capitol Hill, these are pieces of "499 mail." House members can send out as much official mail as they like with no pre-election cut off as long as each letter goes to no more than 499 people.

The letters must "pertain to official business" and cannot be campaign-related, said Salley Collins, the press secretary for the Committee on House Administration, which oversees Congressional mail.

Reichert's chief of staff, Mike Shields, said there have been 130 different letters since June when the pre-primary mass mailing ban went into effect. Because the primary and general are so close together in Washington, the pre-primary black- out period carries through to the general election.

Shields said that not all the mailings went to 499 people. Some times the mail goes to a random selection of 499 constituents other times it goes to a smaller number of people identified as having an interest in a specific issue. That was the case with a letter about Darfur that Reichert sent recently.

"We can't send out mass mailings anymore but we are going to continue to communicate with our constituents on issues," Shields said.

All members of Congress can send the mail. And I bet most do. Reichert though is in the most competitive Congressional race in Washington and already has been noted for being a big mailer. HillMonitor, a non-partisan group that maintains a database of Congressional votes and spending, ranks him as the House's 7th biggest spender on mail.

KING 5's Robert Mak reported on Reichert's franking in July.

A closer look at the mailings:

The franked envelope

Oct. 31 law enforcement letter

Oct. 23 public health letter

Oct. 30 breast cancer letter

I've gotten copies in the past few days of letters Reichert sent "to let you know of my efforts to support local law enforcement," "to inform you about important work I have done regarding public health response" and "to alert you to some very troubling statistics." That last one was about breast cancer and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It was dated Oct. 30, a day before the month was over.

The letter about law enforcement, dated Tuesday, talks about the importance of community policing programs and mentions that Reichert was "a former law enforcement officer for 33 years."

Reichert, who in his re-election battle with Democrat Darcy Burner has tried to distance himself from President Bush and GOP leaders, uses the letter to claim independent credentials. He mentions an amendment he offered to increase the community policing budget, and writes:

The amendment was opposed by the leaders in my part and I was urged not to go to the floor and fight my own party but I felt strongly that I h dot stand up for my beliefs regardless of the consequences. Unfortunately, my amendment failed by a vote of 130-297. Please know I will continue to support local law enforcement and full funding of the COPS program.

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