Members Of Congress Gripe About Ban On Holiday Mailings

Two members of the House of Representatives complained in December about a policy that prevented them from mailing Christmas cards to constituents at taxpayer expense.

U.S. Reps. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) and Mike Ross (D-Ark.) circulated a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter to lawmakers claiming the House’s Franking Commission was engaging in “political correctness” by telling members that they could not send Christmas cards for free.

Members of Congress have the right to send information to constituents about legislation, congressional votes or other government-related matters at no expense, a practice known as “franking.”

Members may not use the franking system for personal mail. Under rules promulgated by the Franking Commission, members of Congress who want to send holiday greetings, birthday cards, condolences or other types of personal messages to constituents must pay for those themselves. The policy has been in place since 1974.

The Hill newspaper reported that Walsh and Ross sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) complaining about the policy.

In their letter to fellow members seeking support for their position, Walsh and Ross wrote, “The Franking Commission should not be in the business of limiting Members from addressing their constituents in the manner they choose.” They also asserted that the policy “is just one more way political correctness is slowly dismantling the meaning of the Christmas and Hanukkah season.”

Americans United begged to differ. AU Assistant Director of Communications Rob Boston wrote on AU’s “Wall of Separation” blog that Walsh and Ross were misguided.

“Anyone who takes a minute to look at this issue can see what the Commission is trying to do: prevent members of Congress from sticking the taxpayer for the costs of mailing their holiday cards,” Boston wrote.

He added, “Of course, nothing prevents a member of Congress from digging into his or her own pocket and buying some stamps to mail holiday greetings. Members of the House make $174,000 a year, so I think they can afford it. The franking policy merely bans them from using taxpayer-subsidized postage to mail things to people that are not directly related to the business of government. Many members of the House know that this latest manufactured controversy is silly – and they understand that that body has more important work to do.”

In other news about holiday controversies:

• A religious-political display left outside the Lubbock County Courthouse in Texas in December was removed as soon as it was discovered.

The display, which was left anonymously, contained a cross, a baby Jesus in a manger and a handwritten sign that read, “Reunite the church and state, and separation of church and state is not just wrong, the ’63 ruling of the Supreme Court is unconstitutional.”

Lubbock County Judge Tom Head said he agreed with the display’s message but removed it anyway, reported Fox News.

“If I were to call our attorneys,” Head said, “they would say take that stuff down, so I don’t have to call them. I know how they think.”