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Cost of legislative franking

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Still, there are several Oakland County legislators that don't invest in bulk mailings, perhaps opting to spend their budgets in other areas and connect with legislators through electronic means.

Former Democratic Rep. Vicki Barnett, who left the House's 37th District (Farmington, Farmington Hills) in 2014 due to term limits, spent just $77.47 on postage in 2013, and $183.06 in 2014.

"I didn't want to spend taxpayer money where I didn't think it was necessary. Most of my budget did go to staff," she said. "I didn't use as much of my office budget to save money. I always spent my money very carefully. I would hand deliver some booklets, where other (representatives) would mail them."

While Barnett's concern for appropriate spending may have factored into how much she spent on bulk mailings while in office, she also said the small size of her district also contributed to the amount she had to spend on postage.

"I also had a very compact district. I'm driving within a six square-mile area," she said. "When you get into the more rural areas, they are very large because they are based on population, not square footage, so they will have larger expenses."

Kowall also pointed out that senators will inherently spend more on postage because they serve a larger number of constituents. And while he said he uses mailings to try to keep constituents informed of happenings, there does appear to be value in sending tangible material to constituents.

"Some of the things we mail out go on a clipboard or somewhere," he said. "There's nothing worse than having people confused. We try to avoid that at all costs."

Whether the old fashioned snail mail system of bulk mailing is more effective than electronic means to keep voters informed, or boost name recognition, remains to be seen. However, there is no doubt that such mailings are a tool that can be used to inform and boost name recognition.

"The state House and Senate (members) have a tougher time garnering attention from the news media for a number of reasons," Oakland University's Dulio said. "Anytime they can put their name and accomplishments in front of the voters and constituents, it's a benefit to them."

Barnett, who ran for state Senator Vincent Gregory's 11th District seat in 2014, pointed to his mailings during the campaign year, which totaled $12,398. Gregory's bulk mailings the previous year totaled only $6,853, with none spent in 2015.

"Some people say I should have spent more because I was running for Senate," Barnett said, "but I don't use state money for campaigning."

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