Amid the swirling accusations and counter-accusations across America in the waning days of Election 2016, here are a series of questions to ask about the campaign in Virginia’s 10th Congressional district:
- Did Representative Barbara Comstock (R-VA10) violate the House of Representatives Franking Rules with a recent mass mailing that occurred well within the ‘election blackout dates’?
- If Comstock’s actions did violate these rules,
- was this an illegal action or simply an administrative violation?
- what are potential remedies for this violation?
To provide a brief summary, Members of Congress have a ‘franking’ privilege — the ability to send mailings out ‘postage paid’ by the taxpayer when it is in furtherance of their official duties. Due to the reality that these are politicians, whose lives are both official duties as paid public servants and politicians looking for political advantage, there are serious rules as to how Senators and Representatives can — and cannot — legally use the franking privilege.
One of the clearest restrictions is a prohibition on mass mailings during ‘election blackout periods’. “A mass mailing is an unsolicited mailing initiated by a Member to his/her constituency”. The 2016 blackout period began on 11 August (e.g, last legal date for a mass mailing to occur was 10 August). Any mass mailing sent post 10 August is, a priori, a violation of the Franking privilege and likely a violation of Section 3210(a)(5)(C), title 39, United States Code (see complaint form on page 40).
The Franking rules are well established, have been around quite a long time, and are well known by anyone who has spent (like Barbara Comstock) serious time on Capitol Hill (or, well, simply Washington-area natives who read the newspaper).
Now to the particulars, see this from last week:
— Karen Jimmerson (@KarenJimmerson) October 25, 2016
Here is an unsolicited mail item from Barbara Comstock’s office that used the Franking privilege well within the blackout period.
On the face of it, it appears likely that Barbara Comstock violated the House franking privilege, illegally using taxpayer resources to help her amid a (surprisingly to her) tough reelection campaign.
Unless or until Barbara Comstock and her office provide full information about this mailing — how many were sent and on what date — it seems fair to operate under the assumption that Barbara and her staff violated the law.
Regretfully, a GOP-dominated House will not investigate something like this seriously and certainly not in a timely manner within less than a week of the election date.
Perhaps someone in the media (hint, journalists …) will look into this and ask the questions worth asking.
- Perhaps this was simply an errant mailing, something mailed back in April that got caught in the U.S. postal system. Or,
- Perhaps Barbara Comstock and her team made a knowing choice to violate House Franking rules on the eve of the election to help turn the tide in her favor with a cold political calculation that a slap on the wrist six months from now for illegal activity is simply the cost of doing (dirty) business.