House Republicans this week accused Democrats of censoring GOP mailings to constituents on a variety of subjects and of imposing uneven requirements on the minority party’s mail.
Democrats on the franking commission — which must approve all official mail — have blocked Republicans from using politically weighted descriptions of climate change legislation, the stimulus bill and other issues, according to e-mails obtained by Roll Call.
Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) said he went through seven drafts of his last newsletter, which included language about energy policy.
“It’s embarrassing and unsupportable,— Culberson said, adding that requests for approval used to take a matter of days instead of weeks.
Several e-mails between Member offices and franking commission staff obtained by Roll Call show that a number of recent GOP mail pieces were initially denied in part because they used the phrase “cap and tax— to describe the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The bill would establish a cap on carbon emissions, allowing companies that cannot meet the cap to buy offsets from other companies that emit less than their share, otherwise known as cap-and-trade. Republicans argue the measure amounts to a broad tax on consumers.
Kyle Anderson, a spokesman for the House Administration Committee, which has oversight over the franking commission, said the mailings were denied because they did not comply with longstanding rules.
“The requirements and regulations imposed by the franking commission have not changed, nor has the review process,— Anderson said. “They are designed to ensure that taxpayer funds are not used for political and partisan purposes.—
Anderson said majority and minority staff reviewed the content of the GOP franking requests and that decisions were made in a bipartisan process.
“It’s regrettable that some Members’ offices view the process as inconvenient, but the majority Members and staff take their responsibilities and their stewardship of taxpayer resources very seriously,— he said.
Culberson said he plans to circumvent the Democratic attempts to censor his newsletters by posting them online.
“Democrats can’t win a fair fight in the sunshine. They’ve always got to rig the rules,— he said.
“Cap and tax— was not the only phrase that was barred by the franking commission.
In addition to demanding changes to terminology about the Democratic energy bill, a proposed e-newsletter from Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) was returned to his office with notes asking for detailed citations to back up passages critical of Democratic policies. In one instance, the commission asked that the word “Democratic— be removed from the text and “majority— be put in its place.
“The franking commission is not there to fact-check,— Franks said. The commission “is not there to tell us what our own vernacular should be.—
Franks said he was also asked to remove his reference to the stimulus package as the “so-called stimulus.—
Franking rules stipulate that taxpayer-funded mailings cannot be used for campaign purposes. The rules also state that comments about policy or legislation “should not be partisan, politicized or personalized— and should avoid “excessive use of party labels.—
But Franks said that by barring Republicans from using phrases such as “government-run health care— in communication with their constituents, Democrats “truly diminish free speech itself.—
One Republican found that the exact partisan language the commission rejected for a GOP mailing had been approved three years ago for then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) proposed writing in a draft newsletter, “[O]ur nation will wind up paying the price for the Democrat Congressional majority’s special interest agenda,— language that was initially cited as too partisan by the franking commission. But Barton’s staff found a 2006 Pelosi newsletter that said the same thing about the then-Republican majority.
“[Pelosi’s newsletter] said, But too many here and across the nation are paying the price for the Republican Congressional majority’s special interest agenda,’— said Sean Brown, a spokesman for Barton.
The franking commission approved the Pelosi mailer on Aug. 3, 2006, three months before Democrats won back the majority.
A commission staffer explained to Barton’s staff that the Pelosi newsletter was approved in error.
“Although you provided a copy of 2006 Pelosi letter and the advisory opinion attached, they argued staff error in approving the Pelosi newsletter,— said an e-mail from the franking commission Republican staff. “You can delete and get approval from the Democrats or you can take before the commission when they return in September.—
Brown said Barton asked for the commission to put the decision in writing, explaining why the sentence was rejected. The decision was then reversed and the newsletter was approved.
In July, Republicans blasted the franking commission Democrats for blocking pieces of mail that included a chart critical of Democratic health care proposals.
Franking rules could change in the coming months.
Franking commission staff have been reviewing the rules to see if updates are in order. The current version of the franking rules were approved in June 1998.
One GOP aide said the six members of Congress who sit on the franking commission would meet in September to decide what, if any, changes need to be made.
The bipartisan commission is chaired by Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) and Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) serves as the ranking member, but it appears that disputes over the GOP mailings have been primarily driven by commission staff.