Monday, July 24, 2006

Congressman Dent Uses Franking Privilege to Plug Leaks in Santorum's Sinking Ship

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThis weekend, a friend showed me a nice multi-colored mailing she received last week from the Lehigh Valley's man in Congress - Charlie Dent. It's in full color, has a nice picture of Charlie and the statue of liberty, and it gives us the "facts" on illegal immigration. Charlie uses neat colors like this or that to grab our attention. And he doesn't call himself Congressman Charlie Dent. Nope, he's Congressman Charlie Dent. Pretty cool, huh?

O.K. Here's the "facts" on illegal immigration. First, the House wants to get rid of all illegals , and Charlie's all for that. Second, those wimps in the Senate want to keep some. That's it.

Charlie's latest mailer just happens to be the same message that a desperate Santorum has been driving home through radio ads in his quixotic quest for re-election to the U.S. Senate. In fact, Republicans intend to use illegal immigration as THE issue to retain control of Congress. After all, they can no longer paint a pretty picture in Iraq or Afghanistan. So now, illegal immigrants are identified as the cause of all of our problems. They're the new Jews, especially those who look Hispanic.

As I looked more closely at my friend's mailer, I noticed something else that looked like this:

This mailing was prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense.

There were no colorful highlights here. And for those of you who may have missed it, let me amplify just like the ad execs who prepared Charlie's mailer.

This mailing was prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense.

Now just as Charlie mailed my friend "the facts" about illegal immigration,
let me tell you this about Charlie and his mailer. Right after telling us the mailing was done at taxpayer expense, he tells us , "It is provided as a service to my Congressional District constituents." Let me translate that, too. "It is provided as a service to my Congressional District constituents."

Isn't that nice? Charlie wants to keep us in the loop. But is this really true? Here's my problem. Charlie never sent a mailer to me. I called my friend Tom, and asked if he got one. He gets everything, and saves it in all these little boxes, like a frickin' pack rat. He didn't get one either. Neither did Sue or my brother. More than half of those I called never got Charlie's mailer. And they just happen to be Democrats. Charlie's message was obviously sent to a targeted audience - one his ad execs identified as most likely to be swayed by the politics of fear.

And the mailer is hardly informational. It instead advocates the new Republican party line that vilifies the illegal immigrant, the Lehigh Valley's new Jew. Charlie is making the same arguments advanced by Rick Santorum. The only difference is that Santorum is paying for his ads, and we're paying for Charlie's.

You see, Congressmen have a franking privilege that enables them to send out informational mailers to their constituents. When incumbents started flooding post offices with "informational" mailers during congressional contests, other candidates began to complain. So now they can't send them for 90 days before an election. Charlie sent out his illegal immigration mailer just a few days before the 90 day cutoff on what the Republicans have identified as their hot button issue. His ad had to get approval from a Congressional committee. Gee, it must be tough for a Republican congressman to get a mailer approved by a Republican controlled committee.

Now Dent already has $840,000 in his campaign warchest against Dertinger's $8,000. When he uses our money to send out campaign mailers, isn't he piling on? Forget the law for a minute. Does it strike you as fair? If he wanted to send out an informational mailer, here's something I'd like to know. I'd like Dent to explain why he took $60,000 from Big Oil ($51,500 in 2004 and $8,600 in 2006), and then recently voted to block an investigation into price-gouging by Big Oil. Just who are his constituents anyway, us or BIG OIL?

If he had a conscience, maybe Charlie would take some money from his $840,000 warchest, money that should have been used for what was really a campaign flier, and use that money to buy some body armor for American soldiers in Iraq. But I forgot. The enemy this election cycle is illegal immigration.


Chris Casey said...

I think using tax dollars to "inform" your constituents at any level is B.S. and abuse of privilege. It is another waste of money. Incumbents should pay out of their own pockets, just like challengers. If Big oil is going to pay for it, they will pay for it. It is all in how honest you want to be with yourself and taxpayers. My money comes from Labor organizations, and I am proud to support Unions, my father belonged to one all his life. I believe in what they represent. What irks me is how some politicians like Dent try slight of hand to fool you.
Doug Reichley trumpets his "Free" breakfasts to sit down with constituents, but doesn't tell them anywhere on the flyer that they, the "Taxpayers are paying for it. It is at all levels. Too bad there is no fine print on the forehead of the politicians for us to read.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I think something is written on our foreheads - SUCKER.

Chris said...

How did immigration become this huge problem overnight?

Bernie O'Hare said...

When Republicans noticed they were sagging in the polls.

Anonymous said...

I believe it was Lincoln who said "without vice there can be no virtue" or something to that affect.

With that in mind, every time you write that Charles Dertinger refuses to take "Big Oil" money I have to wonder if his refusal is worthy of praise.

Mr. O'Hare, do you really believe that energy PACs are knocking down Dertinger's door with PAC checks? Can you really refuse something that was never offered?

You seem to equate accepting contributions from energy companies as a moral outrage. However, two well known PA Democrats, Tim Holden and John Murtha have taken significant sums from energy interests according to the website:


Can we no longer trust John Murtha's integrity or judgment because he takes energy money?

I appreciate your site.

LVDem said...

Nobody in my circle of Democratic friends and family got the mailing except for one person: my brother who is just graduated from college and has only voted in two elections (2002, 2004) and is a white male at an age when he is looking for a job. In short he's the most vulnerable to fear.

Bernie O'Hare said...

To Anon 10:37, You make a good point. First, let me thank you for the link. I was unable to verify that Murtha took money from the oil and gas industry, so I checked I'm familiar with that site, and although I found tons of money from numerous special interests, I didn't se any contributions from the oil and gas industry. But I don't doubt your word, and will play with the link and see if I can find it later. You have to excuse me. I'm a liberal.

But any pol, Democrat or Republican, who accepts money from that special interest is not going to win any points with me. We have peaked and are running out of gas, and the oil and gas industry has led us down the primrose path for far too long. I think you could argue over how long our fossil fuels are going to last, but I don't think anyone can dispute that we will run out. I don't think this is an issue of left v. right but is actually one of survival. I wouldn't call it a "moral outrage" to accept this money, but the oil and gas industry has been outrageous. They have price-gouged, refused to build new refineries, and received tax concessions and subsidies during a time when prices at the pump are going through the roof, and home heating and natural gas prices have escalated as well.

You're probably right. I don't think Big Oil was going to be knocking on Dertinger's door. But I was impressed that he came out and pledged he would refuse to take a dime and took the further step of appearing at a rally for oil independence. But your point is valid.

I don't make decisions about a candidate based on one issue. But to be honest, it does trouble me to know that Murtha or Holden are taking money from that special interest.

Russ Shade, who's only running for state rep., has an interesting idea. He thinks campaign contributions should be limited, at least to some extent, to the district in which the office is being sought. I think such a rule could diminish the impact of some special interests.

But my point with Charlie Dent was not so much his symbiotic relation with Big Oil as his use of taxpayer money to send out what I considered a campaign mailer on the very issue that Republicans are using to keep control of Congress. And to make matters worse, he sent it to a targeted audience, which I believe proves that it was not intended as a constituent service but was rather a political mailer.

Now if a Dem were in office, would he have done the same thing? You bet.

Thanks for your comments. We actually agree on most everything when you come right down to it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LVDem, Thanks for letting all of us know. I find it very troubling that a Congressman could claim to be performing a "constituent service" by sending a mailer on illegal immigration to a targeted audience. It is obviously political.

MST3K said...

"There's no 'there' there."

Congressional mailings (and for that matter, mailings from state reps and senators)can not be mailed to an individual based on either that individual's party affiliation or voting propensity.

The only specifics that can be used in sending out mail are geographical area (based on zip codes), age (senior issue mailers wouldn't be sent to someone in their twenties) and gender (specific issues like womens' health concerns would be an example).

Keep in mind that the only way a piece of mail from a legislator ends up in your mailbox is because some career bureaucrat in a standards office has decided that it meets the Federal or State regulations required for it to be sent out.

Of course, your concern is with the issue, but I wanted to make that point.

Bernie O'Hare said...

MST3K, Thanks for your comment. I suspect the illegal immigration mailer was targeted in some way so that it could pack the biggest political punch. The friend who showed me the mailer resides in Williams Tp, which is Republican country. Perhaps Dent mailed to geographic areas that tend to vote R? I know many Dems who did not get the mailer, so this gegs the question hoiw Dent made his determination. He could simply go to geographic areas with heavy concentrations of Rs.

I knew that a committee had to bless off on the message itself, but did not know that the destination was also subject to scrutiny. So I must thank you for your very knowledgable comment. But inasmuch as the mailer is devoted to a topic that just happens to be the R's main issue this electiuon cycle, I question the type of scrutiny this piece received. And I've since learned that very similar mailers were also mailed by R Congressmen in other districts. This was not "informational," it was politics.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think anything was illegal. And I think a Dem Congressman would do the same thing.

But I did send Dent 3 emails concerning an issue, and heard nothing. And now people are getting unsolicited information from him that is really political. And the audience was targeted in some way. I know it wasn't strictly along party lines becuase I know some Ds who received the mailer. But there definitely was a method to the madness.

So I respectfully disagree. I think there is a "there" there.
I think a) it was political; and b) it was targeted. But I am not so impressed with my intelligence to foreclose the possibility that I'm full of shit.

I think the best way to avoid this is to restrict blanket mailers to one or two per year, to be sent to ALL constituents, and to be sent as far away from an election date as is possible.

By the way, I really appreciate your knowledge of the subject matter. Thanks for your comments. Perhaps it was just an innocent mailing. But I don't think so.

FtHillDem said...

Since you didn't get the mailing, perhaps you also didn't get the phone message about Dent's "telephone town meeting".

The message I got was crafted to sound like you were being called by Charlie Dent himself, and he would have talked to you had you been home to answer the phone.

There were no details about the "phone meeting", not even a time ("I will try and contact you again..."). But I'm sure the Congressman's office would provide details if anyone were interested.

I don't know. Dent is acting as though he might just need every bit of his 100 to 1 financial advantage.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Interesting. Now I think his campaign probably paid for that call, but who knows?

Thanks for this info.

MST3K said...

Richard Lamm, a three term Democrat governor of Colorado gave a speech in 2004 called "I Have a Plan to Destroy America."

It's worth checking out on the Gorenet.

Bernie O'Hare said...

MST3K, Thanks. I'll check it out tonight when I get home from work. I'm finally back to riding my back again, so perhaps I should say I'll check it out IF I get home.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I found the speech and gave it a quick read. It's fascinating. I think I'll set it up as a separate post in the next few days for a good statement of another point of view.

Anonymous said...

Well, after reading this post I began to worry that I was left out of Charlie's latest publicity stunt. Okay, so I'm a registered indy, but I live in a very rethuglican area (LMT) and I just love it when Charlie uses my tax dollars for his self promotion.
Well, my worries were for naught, because when I got my mail yesterday, there it was! Joy, oh joy! And it even had a pre-addressed post card (I don't have franking privileges so I only have to put on the postage) to let Charlie know just how I feel about this immigration problem. It's a good thing this country has no real problems to solve so that we can dedicate ourselves to this issue, along with flag burning and banning gay marriage.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Hi Anon, Your tax dollars at work for Charlie, I mean, you.

Anonymous said...

"Rethuglican?" Does that make you feel smarter and wittier when you write something like that?

It's about as funny as "Dumbo-crat" or "Demo-rat."

It's not a partisan thing. It's a comedy thing. When you post something like that you're offending my sense of humor.

Signed: Bill Clintdumb

Bernie O'Hare said...

Hello Bill, Your point is well-taken. I had not noticed the disparaging reference until you pointed it out. It's great to argue ideas and will attack on issues, but don't like to get personal. We're all in this mess together, and we're probably a lot more alike than we pretend at times. That said, it was funny, as was your description of Democrats. I'll have to use that, but better make sure I insult everyone.

I appreciate your remarks.

Anonymous said...

To mst3k...

WHO are you kidding? There is NO bureaucratic oversight committee at ANY level of government that tells an elected member of Congress or the State Legislature WHO they can or cannot mail to!

Those are postal regs that must be followed. And, of course, there is the cursory review by someone (Chief Clerk, Secretary of the Senate) who approves the mailing after basically checking that it does NOT say "ELECT ME" anywhere that is noticeable.

With a frank, you can mail anywhere you want, as often as you want to! It's like printing postage stamps, for god's sake!!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

No, I know there is oversight of the actual message. It's House Rule 14, not a postal reg, and I referred to it in my post. I saw nothing about the targeting of the mailer, but it would make sense to prohibit mailings restricted to one party or to super voters. Maybe this is where postal regs come into play.

My point is that you can't expect that much oversight when you are sending a message that the party controlling the committee wants to send out.

I have to dig in to this a bit more and find out for sure whether this committee also pays attention to where the mail is sent.

I know the content is actually checked by a congressional committee. But as we all would probably agree, it's morte or less a rubber stamp, or should I use some other word?

Thanks for the comment. I'll check into targeting and if you have time to do it before me, please let me know.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, Bernie, Bernie....

1) You tell me how many times a franked mailing from ANY Congressman has been blocked by House Rule 14.

2) If that was TRULY the case, then every voter in CD 15 would have received the "illegal immigrant" mailer from Charlie Dent.

3) THEREFORE, we can safely conclude that Congressional mailings are TARGETED to those voters who may be most receptive or most persuadable to such a political message.

4) If you think otherwise, then you should keep on thinking that Congress acts on issues because of their merits--and it has absolutely nothing to do with any political considerations (given that the election is 4 months away).

Bernie O'Hare said...

I am only aware of one instance in which a Congressman was challenged over a franked mailing, and I have no idea whatever came of the formal complaint filed.

According to one of the commenters, a Congressman cannot mail to just supervoters or one political party. But he can restrict mailers to certain age groups or zip codes. And I believe that is what Dent did. It is stil a targeted mailer and was not really a service to his constituents as stated in the mailer.

There is no question in my mind that this was a targeted mailer designed to preach the Rs "hot button" issue this election cycle. I'm with you. This was the whole point of the post.

But I'd like to get my hands on the rules for how these mailers may be sent. Dent probably cannot be attacked for the subject of the mailing itself, although it is obviously political and just happens to be very similar to mailers sent by other Republican Congressman. But where are the rules that govern how they are sent? Those I must find. And if you get your hands on them, let me know. I'd like to tag this kind of crap before it escalates.

It would probably be a waste of time to make a formal complaint. But if there was a basis for doing so in the law, I'd jump on it.

Get my drift?

Anonymous said...

If you'll allow me to address the anon. individual who didn't like my use of the term "rethuglican." Too bad! Until someone comes up with something better for a party that lets their fearless leader run roughshod over the constitution, I'll use it. Until someone comes up with something better for the real "cut and run" party (CUT taxes for the wealthy and RUN up the deficit), I'll use it. I'll use it because the rethugs had a chance, when they took over congress, to really change the mess in Washington. And they squandered the opportunity.
And for the record, I don't have a problem with calling the demos "dumbocrats." They've earned that title for more reasons than I could list. But, number one on the list is creating the mess that allowed the rethugs to take over.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Dg, You're at least an equal opportunity offendor.

Anonymous said...

I certainly appreciate the foresight it took the "founding fathers" in creating our constitution, etc. But they screwed up one major thing. I don't think they ever imagined a "professional politician." A person who, instead of doing what is right for the country and it's citizens, would only do whatever it took to get re-elected and line his (or her) own pockets.
And while I see it, perhaps, to a lesser extent from the demos, it's still there. So, now that we have our new "electronic" voting machines, it will be my pleasure to exercise my right to vote, and where necessary, write in the name of Nonof The Above.

Anonymous said...

At the state level mailings by reps and senators have to be approved by the Chief Clerk of the House or the Secretary of the Senate.

In Congress there is a special oversight committee made up of three Democrats and three Republicans that have to sign off on franked mail.

In other words, if you don't like getting mail from Charlie Dent on immigration you should know that three Democrats in Congress decided that it was appropriate to send out.

Bernie O'Hare said...

To Anon., Thanks for those details. I knew content had to be approved by a committee, and pointed that out in the original post. But I did not know that it was split between both parties. And when I think about it, it makes perfect sense. Democratic and Republican incumbents want to retain their offices, so they approve each other messages. I imagine that someone somewhere is right now complaining about the political nature of a mailer he received from his Democratic Congressman. Perhaps the Ds approved the illegal immigration as in excahnge for the Rs approving a Dem mailer about our health care or the minimum wage.

Although I'm talking about Caharlie's mailer speciafically, the criticism probably applies to ALL incumbents.

And here's something else that really frosts me. The US spent God knows how much to send this unsolicited mail. In the meantime, I sent THREE emails to Dent about one specific issue and never got the courtesy of a reply. Unlike the mailers, it would have cost nothing for a staffer to respond to an email. I believe it was wrong for Congressman Dent to ignore one constituent who asks questions while flodding thousands who don't with a mailer. Wouldn't you agree?

And the mailer was most certainly targeted.

: smintheus :: said...

Has Dent's targeted mailing at taxpayer expense been publicized beyond here? I've seen nothing about it elsewhere. I suspect that with even a little help from Dertinger's campaign, this could gain traction. It's an issue of arrogance, of refusing to play by the rules.

We did not receive Dent's mailer, in a very red corner of Lehigh County.

I don't understand why Dent is considered strong on constituent services. He has only replied to one of my emails - and that was (a) two and a half months after I wrote to him, (b) after the Congressional letter to Bush which I'd asked him to sign had already been handed in to Bush, (c) his response did not answer whether or not he would sign or had signed the letter, and (d) his email in response was sent only after I had gone on WHYY as a guest on Radio Times to discuss the very matter he had failed to respond about.

As I said, my other emails and calls he has simply not responded to at all. So which constituents does he serve so well? Maybe it's the ones who received this taxpayer paid mailer.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Smintheus, Thanks for your comments. I'm in Harrisburg this weekend. But when I get back, I want to check out your blogs. I don't have you linked and will rectify that if you're a local and active blogger.

As far any press coverage of this mailer is concerned, I don't think there has been any press coverage. But last week, when a R controlled committee had John Morganelli jumping up and down about those nast illegals, the MC blasted John in an editorial. Carpenter also tagged the committe for what it is in a column today, especially after the chair last week revealed he's only interested in listening to those who agree with him.

It's very clear to me, and many others, that Rs are using the "illegal immigrant," the new Jew, as its latest ploy for Congressional control.

I haven't seen any specific coverage od Dent's mailer. And to be fair, it was approved. But I think it was divisive in tome and suibstance and played the politics of fear.

Republicans can do better than that. God, we give them enough rope. But I think Rendell was very courageous to call Rs on their xenophobia, as he did last Friday.

Thanks for your comments.

Bernie O'Hare said...

smintheus, To other points as I reflect on your interesting comment:

1) Dent did not respond to my emails requesting him to pledge against campaign money from Big Oil. Now I could understand him telling me he was not willing to take such a pledge, but he let me down by declining to answer several emails. I think I deserved the courtesy of a reply. And I think any constituent deserves such courtesy. Now perhaps if I had written about another sort of problem, he would have helped immediately. But it was disappointing.

2) If you look at Dertinger's campaign site concerning illegal immigration, there doesn't really seem to be a big difference between the two guys. Like Dent, he also opposes amnesty.

I don't think illegal immigration is a real issue - it is really a distraction designed to keep us from focusing on the real problems.