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Puerto Rico’s Delegate to Get $2M Budget

Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner may be a nonvoting Member of the House, but the office can still lay claim to the chamber’s largest budget — poised to reach the $2 million mark this year.

According to public financial records maintained by the House, the office of Puerto Rico’s official delegate to Congress received more than $1.9 million in 2008, nearly $300,000 more than the second-largest office budget, given to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) personal office.

With individual House office budgets estimated to increase by an average of $90,000 this year, freshman Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi’s (D) office will likely receive close to $4 million for operations — including staff salaries, office supplies, travel and mass mailings — during the two years of the 111th Congress.

The House Administration Committee determines office budgets, known as Members’ Representational Allowances. Each office receives a base amount of about $1 million for staff salaries and “official expenses,” along with additional funds based on travel distance, office building rental rates and postage costs.

Administration Committee spokesman Kyle Anderson cited Puerto Rico’s population of nearly 4 million — significantly larger than the about 650,000 people in the average Congressional district — to explain the Resident Commissioner’s sizeable budget.

“The higher MRA reflects the costs of doing mailings to the entire population, as well as other costs related to the representational responsibilities for that population,” Anderson said. “The higher MRA would also include higher travel expenses. Other states with similar populations have delegations that consist of multiple Members (and corresponding MRAs) that each serve a portion of the state’s population.”

(By comparison, after the most recent survey in 2000, the Census Bureau reports show Rep. Denny Rehberg’s (R) at-large seat in Montana contained 905,000 residents, the largest single district. That office received a $1.5 million budget in 2008.)

In particular, Anderson pointed to Puerto Rico’s more than 1 million private postal stops, more than three times the average of 300,000 stops in House districts. The Administration Committee sets each office’s postage budget based on the district’s total nonbusiness addresses.

During his four-year term, the previous Resident Commissioner, now-Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño (R), recorded spending less than $6,000 on franked mailings through the third quarter of 2008, the most recent information available. The Republican lawmaker’s office also listed a total of $1.1 million on printing and reproduction costs during that time, which are often associated costs.

A review of Fortuño’s franked mailings, copies of which are maintained by the Clerk of the House, shows that the then-Resident Commissioner produced twice-yearly newsletters to be inserted into local newspapers but did not otherwise issue any mass mailings — any communication issued in identical form to more than 500 residents.

The Clerk of the House does not maintain copies of franked mail prior to 2005, but according to House financial records, then-Resident Commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilá (D) spent at least $360,000 on franked mail from 2001 to 2004, as well as $300,000 on printing and reproduction costs during that period.

Although House offices face some restrictions on MRA resources, including a limit on staff size and salaries, there is no prohibition on spending funds issued for postage on other official expenses should a Member opt to do so.

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