In the first three months of 2011, these 12 Republicans and one Democrat were among the members of Congress who spent the most taxpayer money on fliers, brochures, radio ads, e-mails and automated phone calls to constituents.
Each spent more than $50,000 on these communications, more than six times the average in Congress. In most cases, the mailings carried smiling pictures of the congressmen and messages about their work on the Hill.
Among the 13, many this week defended their expenditures. Even as they called for the federal government to make painful cutbacks, several said it would be too much to reduce their messages to folks at home.
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), for instance, voted against a proposal to raise the federal debt ceiling without spending reductions attached. Since then, Buchanan has said that “the time is now for Washington to make the tough choices.”
In the first quarter of 2011, House records show, Buchanan spent $142,198 on mailings and other means of mass communication.
That was more than any other representative, and about 19 times the average expenditure of $7,500. Among his colleagues, 209 representatives got by without spending any money in that quarter, according to House records.
Buchanan’s staff said the money was spent on, among other things, a full-color mailing that went out across his district. One side was emblazoned with Buchanan’s picture, against a backdrop of the Capitol dome and the Constitution. The other showed Buchanan shaking hands with veterans.
It also included a survey on political issues and a simulated handwritten note from Buchanan: “Please share your thoughts with me, because I work for you! Vern.”
Does Buchanan believe that this kind of mailing is worth taxpayer money?
“We reach out . . . to our constituents and ask them if they think that we’re reaching out too much,” said Max Goodman, a spokesman for Buchanan. “And the vast majority say [it’s] just the right amount. If that’s the case, then we’re going to keep doing it.”
The details of this spending are in the House’s quarterly financial statement, which provided the first portrait of how the new GOP majority spends money on itself.
The House’s total expenditures — on everything from office furniture to auto mileage and staff salaries — came in at $336 million for the quarter. That was less than was typically spent in a quarter during 2009 and 2010, when Democrats controlled the House.
But only slightly: The difference was 0.63 percent.
The spending on mass mailings and other forms of mass communication is a fraction of that total. But it has been singled out by good-government groups, which believe that legislators use the mailings, in particular, to promote themselves at taxpayer expense.