It's easy to be pissed off at our peerless elected leaders, isn't it? Yet for those of us who make a modest living publicizing their errors, omissions, evasions and dubious decisions, these are the best of times.
Colorado Springs, always a target-rich environment, has been particularly rewarding of late. Let's consider Congressman Doug Lamborn's latest peccadillo — and no, I'm not talking about the "tar baby" comment.
I got a taxpayer-funded mailer the other day from Lamborn's office, titled: Important Capitol Update: Cutting Spending and Growing the Economy. Under the guise of informing his constituents in Colorado's 5th District about events in the nation's capital, Lamborn sent out a campaign mailer.
Here are just a few sample quotes: "The policies of the Obama Administration have failed ... under the Path to Prosperity, the Republican-backed budget for 2012, the national debt will be eliminated by 2050 ... [we must] reform the tax code to enable American businesses to bring back their overseas profits without having to pay a tax penalty."
Pretty standard pages from the GOP playbook. But why should taxpayers fund the dissemination of partisan propaganda? Curious to know how many pieces were mailed, to whom, and at what cost, I asked Lamborn's communications director, Catherine Mortensen. Her response:
"Here is a link to the House page on which all Member expenses are listed quarterly. The cost for the mailer you just received will appear in the third quarter Statement of Disbursement. Those will be posted 60 days after the end of the quarter. The quarter ends at the end of September. The Statements of Disbursement will be online in November."
The most recent "Statement of Disbursement," 3,283 pages of small print and columns of figures, is, like Washington itself, opaque and incomprehensible. The information available may be accurate, but it's often useless.
Example: In the first quarter of this year, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter sent out 462,052 mailers at a cost to the government of $59,536, or about 20 cents apiece. His House colleague Cory Gardner sent out 324,890 such communications, and billed the government $841, or 2/10ths of a cent each. Makes no sense — maybe Gardner used e-mail, or campaign funds, or the billing info wasn't updated ... who knows? Unless your representative sent out no communications at no cost, it's hard to figure out what's going on.
Colorado Congressmen Jared Polis, Scott Tipton and Mike Coffman are proud members of the 2011 zero-zero club, at least for the first quarter. Lamborn, who sent out 39,913 mailers that quarter, nicked the government for a relatively modest $4,443. Nevertheless, that's $4,443 too much. It's jarring to read, on the upper right-hand corner of the new mailer: "This document was prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense."
These mailers are relics of another time, when communications were slow and media outlets few. That's no longer the case; such mailers, whether paper or electronic, amount to just another particularly egregious perk.
Each House member receives the "Member's Representational Allowance," which covers staff, local offices and other miscellaneous expenses. The exact amount is based on a complex formula that takes in the distance of one's district from Washington, local office rental costs and a variety of other factors. Lamborn gets $1,458,774 a year, slightly below average.
Here's a suggestion: That money should be spent on actual constituent services, not on government-financed propaganda. Any government-funded communication to constituents should be produced by all of a state's representatives, and include significant votes in Congress, concise reasons for the votes from each member, and other relevant, factual information.
Just imagine, Doug Lamborn and Diana DeGette would have to agree on the content of any mailer! Well, good luck on that...
Many years ago, before the Cowboys met the Steelers in Super Bowl XIII, Dallas linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson famously said of Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw: "Bradshaw's so dumb he couldn't spell 'cat' if you spotted him the C and the T!"
And Congress? To paraphrase Henderson, if you spotted the Democrats and the Republicans the C and the T, they couldn't agree that they were letters of the alphabet!