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Cost of legislative franking

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09/28/2015 - Should public schools require students to be vaccinated as a condition of attendance? Do you support legalizing marijuana? Should churches be required to perform same-sex marriages?

These are just some of the questions state Senator Marty Knollenberg (R) has asked in the three mailings he sent this year to constituents in the state's 13th Senate District (Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Rochester, Rochester Hills, Royal Oak, Troy, Berkley, Clawson) at a cost of $14,818 for printing and postage. The mailings, which are ultimately funded by taxpayers, are often thinly veiled promotional materials that come in the form of "legislative updates" or "resource guides" with detachable surveys that may be sent back.

Legislators who utilize the state's version of the congressional franking privilege say bulk mailings are a good way to keep in touch with constituents, while others suggest the privilege is simply a form of free promotion.

"We do mailings about two or three times a year," said state Rep. Mike McCready (R), who represents the state's 40th District (Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township, West Bloomfield). "We did one on Proposition 1. That was an informational brochure where we tried to show both sides. We have a spring/summer mailer that went to households of people 50 and older. It showed all the different festivals in the state. A lot of people really liked that."

The mailer, entitled "Michigan Family Fun and Festival Guide 2015," includes a two-page spread of various festivals throughout the state through October. If you like pumpkins, you're in luck. There are four official pumpkin festivals this October, but only one chili cook off.

"We are working on another. We will probably do one before the end of the year," said McCready, who spent $6,768 on postage for the mailer. "It comes out of our office budget $102,000 which pays for our two office staff, phones and supplies. Those (mailings) have to be non-political and information based."

Unlike congressional franking privileges, which allows individual legislators to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds on bulk mailings, the amount Michigan legislators may spend on bulk mailings is limited by their individual office allotments. That's about $102,000 for Republican House members and $99,000 for Democrats (majority members and officers receive more). That allotment is used to pay for staff, travel, phone, publications, printing, postage and other expenses.

Mailings from House members are requested through the House Business Office, while senators utilize the Senate Business Office. Each office also is tasked with reviewing mailings to ensure content meets the requirements set forth by each respective chamber. Once requests are approved, they are printed and shipped by the Legislative Services Bureau.

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