House Office Spending on the Rise, NTU Reports

Posted April 17, 2003 at 1:05pm

House lawmakers boosted their office expenditures by 8.9 percent in 2001, with each Member spending an average of $1 million on official expenses such as staff salaries and mass mailings, according to a study released Thursday by the National Taxpayers Union.

House Members spent a total of $438.3 million on their offices in 2001, compared to $402.3 million in 2000 — with 70 percent of their budgets going to salaries, according to the NTU, a nonpartisan group that favors lower taxes, less wasteful spending and more government accountability.

Eight percent of expenditures accounted for district office rent, communications and utilities, 7 percent went for equipment purchases, 5 percent was for postage, 4 percent for travel, 3 percent for supplies and 3 percent for printing.

The study pinpointed Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) as the most frugal Member in 2001, spending only 49.6 percent of his Members Representational Allowance, the maximum amount he may spend under the law.

If other lawmakers followed Goode’s lead, total House office expenditures could be cut by more than $200 million.

Then-Rep. Greg Ganske (R-Iowa), meanwhile, was the biggest spender, and NTU estimates that if his colleagues were to imitate Ganske, spending would have been $31.76 million higher.

The study takes a particularly close look at lawmakers’ mass mailing costs — an area rife with abuse, according to NTU.

“Despite the zeal for campaign finance reform legislation in the last Congress, many incumbents have taken advantage of loose restrictions on mass mailings to boost their chances for re-election,” charged David Keating, the author of the new spending study.

Keating’s study — which ranks lawmakers by how much they spent on postage and other mass mailing costs — showed that it is not uncommon for lawmakers to spend more than $300,000 on “self-promotional mailings.”

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) was the top postage and printing spender in 2001, spending $254,759 on nearly 1 million pieces of mass mail. That’s about $66,000 higher than the average.

The study showed King sent out 911,099 pieces of mass mail, an average of 4.26 pieces per address at a cost of nearly 80 cents per address.

In a phone conversation Thursday, King defended his mailing practices and said he’s simply doing the job his constituents elected him to do.

“I think communicating with my constituents is absolutely essential and I’ve said that since I first got elected to Congress,” King said. “I encouraged my constituents to write back and stay in touch with them.”

King said that he has only one newspaper in his district — Newsday — and he doesn’t want his constituents to form their views on Congress simply “through the prism of Newsday.”

“I want to communicate directly and I intend to keep doing it,” he promised.

The study estimated that if every lawmaker spent as much on mailing costs as King, spending overall would increase by more than $30 million.

“Only four incumbents were defeated by challengers last year, the lowest rate since 1806,” said Keating. “The mass mailing perk clearly helps to protect incumbents.”

Keating and NTU also noted that the House’s record-keeping procedures resulted in many data inconsistencies and called on the House Franking Commission to institute strict changes.

“The House’s record-keeping for mass mail makes a mockery of the law and raises the question of whether some Representatives are evading disclosure by failing to make accurate reports,” Keating said.

He recommended that the House Franking Commission be charged with keeping accurate records of each mass mailing.

Moreover, if the House were to adopt the same sort of Member-by-Member restrictive dollar limits that apply to the Senate, it could save Congress $30 million to $40 million annually, Keating predicted.

The full report can be accessed at www.ntu.org.