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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Who does Ann Kuster think she is?

Telegraph Editorial

As reported by the New Hampshire Sunday News this week, since taking office in January of last year, Rep. Ann McLane Kuster has spent about $293,000 in taxpayer money to send out mass mailings and communications to her constituents in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District.

That’s more than the entire rest of the state’s congressional delegation combined, according to the story by Sunday News reporter Tim Buckland, which found: ...

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As reported by the New Hampshire Sunday News this week, since taking office in January of last year, Rep. Ann McLane Kuster has spent about $293,000 in taxpayer money to send out mass mailings and communications to her constituents in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District.

That’s more than the entire rest of the state’s congressional delegation combined, according to the story by Sunday News reporter Tim Buckland, which found:

n Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, who represents the 1st Congressional District, spent $46,268.83.

n Sen. Jeanne Shaheen spent $1,393.37 during that same period.

n Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-Nashua, has not sent out any mass mailings at taxpayer expense.

“Congresswoman Kuster believes this is an important tool that allows her to communicate directly with her constituents,” Kuster spokeswoman Rosie Hilmer wrote in an email to The Telegraph. For instance, she said, “Many N.H. veterans are best reached by mail, so this is often the best way to let veterans know that Congressional offices can help advocate on their behalf if they’re experiencing issues.”

Nobody expected Kuster’s office to back down and say, “Yeah, we might have gone a little overboard in our franked mailing.” Not when, in politics, the best defense is a good offense. Perhaps the only surprising part of the response from Kuster’s office is that they didn’t accuse Shea-Porter, Shaheen and Ayotte of being a bunch of slouches by not spending more money to communicate with their constitutents more fully.

One problem with Hilmer’s explanation is that the mass mailings sent out by Kuster don’t target veterans or a particular segment of the population. They’re scattershot mailings, not unlike the fancy campaign fliers that will start showing up in your mailboxes soon. About the only difference is that the $293,000 in mailings sent out by Kuster thus far were paid for by taxpayers.

As Hilmer’s description suggests, the mailing privileges are supposed to be used for official congressional business only – which is to say, not exploited for campaign purposes. But like most everything else that Congress seems to touch, the system is subject to abuse by incumbents who don’t think twice about using it to further their re-election chances, if only to, as they say, “keep your name out there.”

It’s not exactly a coincidence that the volume of mail sent by members of Congress soars during election years. We also suspect that a lot of those mailings would seem a lot less urgent if the costs were coming out of members’ pockets, instead of ours.

Nobody begrudges members of Congress the opportunity to communicate with the people who elected them, but the discrepancy between what Kuster’s office spent on mass mailings and what the other members of the state’s delegation spent gives voters proper cause to question whether Kuster is abusing the system. We think it looks that way.

If so, she wouldn’t be the first member of Congress from the Granite State about whom such questions have been raised. In fact, former 1st Congressional District Rep. Frank Guinta – who is seeking to rejoin the ranks of Congress – spent more than $400,000 on mass mailings during his term in Congress.

Ironically, one of the issues on which Guinta previously campaigned against Shea-Porter was – you probably saw this coming – her excessive mailings. Then, when he took office, Guinta left Shea-Porter in the dust in that department by sending out fliers as if they were free.

To blunt possible charges of excess he undoubtedly knew were coming, Guinta pointed out that his office returned $50,000 to the U.S. Treasury.

Funny, but that’s the exact same point that Kuster’s office made; same amount and everything.

Who does Kuster think she is, Frank Guinta or something?