In 13 of the 19 months that freshman Rep. Ronald K. Machtley (R-R.I.) has been in Congress, the first-term member sent postcards at taxpayer expense to constituents announcing his appearances at town meetings in his district.

During the same period, Machtley also mailed a questionnaire and five newsletters to his constituents, including two four-page newsletters that had one page specially tailored to certain towns or areas.

Freshman legislators traditionally have been considered to be among the heaviest users of "franked" mail since it provides a way to keep their names before voters, especially in election years. An informal review of mass-mailed newsletters and meeting notices filed by 11 freshmen Republican and Democratic House members over the last two years seems to support that perception.

The filings at the House Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards showed that in the 19 months since the 11 members took office, the majority sent four or more newsletters and six town meeting notices, though a few sent eight or more meeting notices.

At a cost of about 13 cents per piece of bulk mail, each mass-mailed town meeting notice or newsletter to 225,000 households in an average congressional district would cost the taxpayers $29,250. Members this year have been limited to three mass-mailed newsletters, but there is no limit on the number of town meeting notices, which cost the same to deliver.

The informal review of the House files also showed that the newsletters for the most part were primarily promotion pieces for the members and a means to encourage constituents to use their services in dealing with the federal government. Some members have even turned the town meeting announcements into artful advertisements for themselves.

Rep. Peter Hoagland (D-Neb.) early this year had his pictures on both sides of one of the seven town hall meeting notices he sent constituents during the 19-month period. Last February, on one side of a notice was his usual photo, on the other side a picture of the lawmaker as he "listens to a constituent on the drug problem," according to the caption.

Hoagland's four newsletters during the 19 months also featured tabloid-like front pages. "What the U.S. Congress Is Doing About Franklin Credit Union," reads the headline over a full-page photo of a tombstone with Franklin Credit chiseled on it. Inside was a photo of Hoagland during a House Banking subcommittee session and a dramatic two-page report on the meeting.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) sent out five meeting notices in her first year and used two of them to promote attendence at an Oct. 16, 1989, hearing of a House Maritime subcommittee in her district on a local Coast Guard facility. The night before the hearing she held a public forum on the issue.

Like other members, Lowey often pictured herself on almost every page of her newsletters and repeatedly referred to her activities or accomplishments.

Eight times, as specifically permitted in House regulations, she referred to herself on the first page of a 1989 newsletter on drugs. "I have been in the forefront . . . . I personally provided drug czar {William} Bennett . . . . I am writing to ask for your help . . . . I met with drug czar Bennett . . . . I spoke . . . . I provided drug czar Bennett . . . . I announced strong support . . . . I co-sponsored . . . . "

Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.) developed town meetings into forums with guest experts on issues as varied as international investment, women in the 1990s, the drug crisis and the California earthquake. Overall, Campbell mailed out notices for 15 of them over the 19-month period. Several were giant-sized postcards and carried descriptions of Campbell's view of the issue.

The freshmen emphasized in their newsletters the services they could provide constituents.

Campbell's included a list to clipped and saved. On the list was:

"Locate late or missing Social Security checks. Cutting red tape in immigration. Problems regarding veterans hospitals. Unraveling regulations involving small businesses. Problems with the IRS {Internal Revenue Service}. Fighting job or housing discrimination."

Rep. Ben Jones (D-Ga.) put his service list in more folksy tones. He wanted his four full-time case workers called if an application for passports was two months late or if a constituent wanted calendars, agriculture yearbooks, a tour package to help plan a visit to Washington or, "for a fee," a flag that had been flown over the Capitol.

Other freshman in the informal survey were Reps. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.), Melton D. Hancock (R-Mo.), Chuck Douglas (R-N.H.), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Clifford B. Stearns (R-Fla.), and Mike Parker (D-Miss.)

Under its rules, the House does not require members to disclose publicly how much they have mailed and the cost to the taxpayer. The only public filing is copies of materials that are mass-mailed to 500 or more persons.

Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, is trying to work out changes in the House franking system to include disclosure reports and a limit on mailing costs.

The proposed limit, according to House sources, would be about $177,000 per year per member, the equivalent of three first-class or six third-class mailings to each household. That would come to $77 million per year for the House, equal to the record spent by the House for mail in the 1988 election year.