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Cost of legislative franking

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State Senator Mike Kowall (R-White Lake, Walled Lake, West Bloomfield, Commerce Township, Wixom, Novi), who spent $41,459 on bulk mailings from October 2013 to September 2014, said he uses a portion of his allotted office budget for mailings in order to keep constituents informed. However, Kowall has spent zero on bulk mailings during the current fiscal year, as of August 2015.

"It all depends on the issue," Kowall said. "Last cycle, we had two ballot proposals, and people were really confused. We got calls in the office, so we spent some of the allotment on that as an informative thing."

Kowall's assessment of his bulk mailings fit one of two views on legislative franking: it's simply another tool used to communicate with constituents or it's a polical promotion tool to keep lawmakers' names in front of voters.

Dan Opsomner, legislative director for Democratic Rep. Jim Townsend (D-Royal Oak, Madison Heights), said Townsend's office always communicates with constituents by mail, which adds to the total postage cost.

"On the bulk end, we spend about $9,000 to $10,000 on newsletters in the spring and fall," he said.

In addition, Townsend typically sends reminders about coffee hours and town hall-style meetings where he updates constituents on legislation he is working to get passed.

"We do e-newsletters as well. If people aren't signing up for those, then they aren't getting the information. We also do an e-mail before coffee hours to remind residents," he said. "In terms of reaching people, especially older residents, direct mail is still preferable to them, so I think they appreciate that."

Oakland University Professor David Dulio, who serves as chairman of the university's political science department, said franking has benefits for both politicians and voters.

"It builds name recognition," Dulio said. "It's a longstanding truth that most Americans cannot recall their House member's name, but they can recognize it if they are presented with a list of names. And when are they presented with a list of names? On the ballot."

The value of bulk mailings is clear in some of the more competitive legislative districts in Oakland County, such as the 39th House District (Commerce Township, Wixom, part of West Bloomfield Township), and the 41st District (Troy, Clawson).

Rep. McCready, who spent $16,376 on postage in 2014, an election year, said his 40th District, which includes Birmingham, Bloomfield Township, Bloomfield Hills and part of West Bloomfield, is slightly less competitive than some of the other districts in the county. McCready said party and candidate support in a district can also determine how much is spent on mailings.

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