Capitol Hill was dark as superstorm Sandy swept through the Washington, D.C., area and shut down the federal government, public schools and mass transit. But staffers for the House Administration Committee and Franking Commission were hard at work.
Though House Members are prohibited from sending out franked mass communications in the 90 days before an election — a window known as the “blackout period” — there’s an exception in cases of natural disasters.
In such cases, lawmakers can send out communications to constituents that are specifically related to the event at hand. They can, for instance, send out information alerting residents of their districts to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Ready.gov, contact information for local shelters or services provided by the Red Cross.
“It’s a way for Members to stay in touch with their constituents,” said Jamie Fleet, the staff director for House Administration Committee Democrats.
Steve Dutton, spokesman for Franking Commission Chairman Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), emphasized the 90-day blackout is lifted only for Members whose districts are affected by the natural disaster.
“The commission has received requests from affected offices and stands ready to assist,” Dutton said.
As of Monday evening, the commission had received close to a dozen requests it needed to approve. Democrats and Republicans on the panel must all sign off on a piece of franked mail before it can be sent out by the Member’s office.
James Jones, communications director for DC Vote, tapes a "DC Constituents Service Day" sign on the wall as he stands with other DC residents outside of Rep. Andy Harris's office on Capitol Hill to protest Harris' actions against D.C.'s marijuana laws on Thursday, July 24, 2014. DC Vote encouraged DC residents to bring their complaints about city services to the Maryland congressman.