The folks in charge of franked mail in the House refuse to allow members of Congress to send official mail for the sole purpose of encouraging their constituents to "thank a veteran," a policy one Illinois Democrat calls "a disservice to the brave men and women who sacrifice so much for this country."
Rep. Bill Foster found out about the prohibition in February, when a Valentine's Day message his office submitted for review by the House Franking Commission ran afoul of the bipartisan, six-member panel's proverbial red pen. To drum up support for a local “Valentines for Veterans” program, Foster's office drafted a newsletter that encouraged schools, groups and individuals throughout the 11th District to create a Valentine’s Day greeting for a veteran. Members must submit official mailings for review to determine if it can be "franked," or paid for with tax dollars.
“This Valentine’s Day, I hope our community will once again show our veterans the support they deserve by thanking them for their service and acknowledging their sacrifices,” Foster stated, in a line initially flagged by the commission as a solicitation, according to the congressman's staff.
Rules set by the commission, headed by House Administration Committee Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., prohibit material that promotes or provides a benefit to an organization not entitled to use the frank, including charitable and nonprofit groups.
There is no prohibition on including a message expressing gratitude to veterans in official communications, but a member must also discuss policy, legislation, federal programs, constituent services or other permissible content listed in the 74-page Franking Manual .
After debating the specific language with commission staff, Foster's office was eventually allowed to send the newsletter. But the back-and-forth revealed another restriction that seemed "frankly, kind of silly" said spokeswoman Megan Jacobs, so the lawmaker is seeking support for a rule change.
"We understand that under current House Franking regulations, a letter whose sole purpose is to encourage constituents to thank a veteran is not considered a matter of public concern and is thereby prohibited in any official mailings and email newsletters," Foster said in a "Dear Colleague" letter that was circulated Monday.
Foster asks fellow members to join a letter to Miller and Rep. Robert A. Brady, D-Pa., the top Democrat on the House Administration Committee. In the brief correspondence, obtained by CQ Roll Call, Congress' science guy (he is its only physicist) makes a patriotic pitch.
"The freedoms and prosperity we enjoy in America are thanks to the brave men and women who have served in our armed forces. We ask you to reconsider this restrictive policy and allow us the opportunity to show our veterans the respect they deserve," Foster said.
Miller, the so-called mayor of Capitol Hill since 2013, proved responsive to past criticism of franking guidelines. In December 2013, she announced a "common-sense" rule change that allowed House members to wish their constituents "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukkah" in their official constituent communications, reversing an unpopular ban.
"We appreciate it when Members suggest helpful modifications to the Franking standards and thank Rep. Foster for his input," Erin McCracken, communications director for the committee's GOP majority, said in an email. "The Franking Commission will review his request"
In the Senate, the Select Committee on Ethics issues regulations on what can be franked. The guidelines state that the privilege is the personal responsibility of each senator, with a prohibition on solicitations for political support. Inquiries on thanking veterans were not returned.
Related: House Members Can Include 'Merry Christmas' in Franked Mail Bill Foster, Congress’ Science Guy Woodall, Duckworth Want Congress to Speak Frankly About Franking Mail The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.