Clayton Todd may be one American who doesn't mind if the government sues his company.
"We want to be indicted," said Todd, one of five owners of the House & Senate Delivery Service -- a 3 1/2-year-old company that delivers mail to U.S. senators and congressmen for 5 cents a letter.
"We think that we wouldn't be found guilty if we went to trial . . . even though we are truthfully violating federal laws."
The company is violating the Private Express Statute, which prohibits any company except the U.S. Postal Service from delivering first-class letters. (Higher-priced messenger mail is not legally considered first class.)
But Todd is convinced his delivery service would win in court if the government tried to stop his couriers from making their appointed rounds on Capitol Hill.
"People are so disgusted with the Post Office," he said. "There is so much sloppiness and inefficiency that I don't think a jury would find us guilty" -- particularly when his company is offering a more efficient service for a considerably lower price, Todd said.
That may explain why the Postal Service has not followed through with its year-old threat to prosecute the company, Todd speculated. Last January, postal inspector R. H. Marlett wrote company officials, warning them that they were violating the law.
Marlett said there was an exception to the rules granting the U.S. Postal Service a monopoly over first-class mail: Extremely urgent letters can be delivered by other carriers. But in that case, a letter must cost at least $3.
The House & Senate Delivery Service charges 5 cents an ounce for each item, so "your rates as such do not qualify for the urgent letter exception," Marlett told the company.
After receiving the letter, Todd says,"we encouraged them to go out and get a federal indictment and go to trial. That was a year ago, but as far was we know nothing has happened."
Postal officials declined to comment on why the matter has not been been pursued.
Meanwhile, the delivery service has grown more popular among Washington lobbyists eager to get their messages to congressional offices quickly and cheaply.
"It's a very efficient service -- more than the House and Senate post offices, even with their five daily deliveries," said John Wiedmeier, general manager of the Heritage Foundation, one of the service's biggest customers. "If we notify the company that we want something delivered one afternoon and get the material to them the next morning, the mail will be delivered by the end of the day."
In the process, Wiedmeier said, "we've saved 50 percent on the cost of our postage" for congressional mail. Before using the service, "we were taking a lot of things ourselves and hand-delivering them. But it's much cheaper to deal with them," he added.
The House & Senate Delivery Service will deliver anything, from single one-page unaddressed flyers to 20-pound books. For a one-page unaddressed flyer, the charge is 5 cents per flyer, with a minimum requirement that it be delivered to every congressional office. That brings the cost to $26.75 -- a bargain, Todd said, compared to the Postal Service, which charges $107 for similar service (and will charge $117.70 when rates go up next month to 22 cents a letter).
For addressed mail, the company charges 12 cents an ounce, with a minimum requirement of 200 ounces (which can be contained in a single package or divided among 200 different letters).
Responding to the new "ZapMail" service recently launched by Federal Express, the company has inaugurated a new service to allow West Coast firms to deliver mail quickly to Congress. The service will reprint a letter for 6 cents a copy, stuff it in an envelope for 2 more cents, and deliver it for another 5 cents.
Todd and the other owners started the House & Senate Delivery Service 3 1/2 years ago after looking at the pile of daily mail each member of Congress congressman received, Todd said.
"The quantity of mail members get is staggering," Todd said. "If we can get half of 1 percent of that, we'd be wealthy."
Todd won't disclose how much volume or revenue the company is getting for fear that others may follow its lead. But, he acknowledged, "we're very happy with what we're getting."