But Sepp and other activists say that if legislators spent less on mailings and other communications, they could return more cash to the Treasury.
House records show that in the first quarter of 2011, 20 legislators spent more than $50,000 on these communications. Of them, two have left the House. Four, all Democrats, voted this spring to raise the debt limit without demanding spending cuts.
The 13 others on the list all voted not to raise the debt ceiling without conditions attached. The one Democrat on the list was Rep. Timothy H. Bishop (N.Y.), who spent $55,640. A spokesman for Bishop said that he spent a substantially lower amount, less than $5,000, in the second quarter of 2011. Full statistics on that quarter are not expected to be released by the House until next month.
In addition, Rep. Dennis Cardoza (Calif.), who also voted against raising the debt ceiling without conditions, was listed by the House as having spent $57,494. However, on Friday a spokeswoman said that number was in error, and the real figure was much lower: about $3,000.
At the time, many in the group of 13 said it was time for a reappraisal of how Washington spends money.
“Very difficult choices have to be made about what government can and cannot pay for,” said Rep. Tom Reed (R), a freshman from New York.
In the first quarter of 2011, he spent $69,439 on mass communication, more than 430 other legislators.
“Tom’s top priority for our office is to be accessible to our constituents,” said Tim Kolpien, a spokesman for Reed, in a statement. He said that the money paid for a mailer to introduce the new congressman to his constituents and for cards alerting constituents to town hall meetings. Those cards included a smiling picture of Reed.
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R), in Congress since 1989, has said that “the American people are demanding . . . real spending reforms, and an end to business as usual.” In the first quarter of 2011, he spent $67,420 on mailings and other communications.
A spokesman for Stearns said mailings were necessary to alert constituents about town hall meetings. But they didn’t do just that: One mailer listed the meetings but spent far more space describing Stearns’s activities in Congress.
There was also a picture.
Some of the 13 said that — even as they spent thousands on communications — they had sought to be as frugal as possible. Freshman Rep. Andrew Harris (R-Md.) said his largely rural district on the Eastern Shore included many residents without e-mail. To introduce himself and let residents know about his offices, he sent one mailing to 188,000 households.
“Two-color mailing, not full color,” Harris said in a telephone interview. “It is not a full-color, campaign-style brochure. I don’t think that’s an appropriate use of dollars.”
And Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.), another freshman, spent $64,292 in the first quarter of 2011, which ranked him seventh among 435 members. But Nugent’s staff said his intention was to save money in the long run.
“For years, elected officials have relied on mailers like this to communicate with local residents,” Nugent wrote on the card. “Frankly, it’s inefficient and it costs you money.” He asked for e-mail addresses instead and got 7,000 back.
But even as he disparaged this congressional tradition, Nugent included a picture. And it was in color.