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home : most recent : statewide implications June 24, 2016

4/22/2012 11:26:00 AM
State lawmakers spent $5 million on constituent mail in 2011

Eric Bradner, Evansville Courier & Press Indianapolis bureau

—State lawmakers spent $5 million in taxpayer money in 2011 on mailers that each of the General Assembly's 150 members crafted for residents of their districts.

The 100-member Indiana House spent $3.1 million on constituent mail, and the 50-member Senate spent $1.9 million – money that came out of both chambers' budgets, spokespeople for the Republican majorities in both places said.

Each chamber has its own set of rules about what can and can't go into the mailers. The Senate has a formal draft; the House's were negotiated between each side's leaders and are not written down in a publicly-available format.

In the Senate, members each get four district-wide mailings per year, although they cannot send one within 30 days of an election.

Lindsay Jancek, the Senate Republican spokeswoman, said the cost there for mailers works out to less than 30 cents per constituent.

"These are seen as important contacts with constituents in each district asking for input on public policy and legislation, informing the public of important information, and making the public aware of forums and methods of communicating with and utilizing government resources and representatives," she said. "These communications form a critical component of a Senator's government's ability to inform the public of activities and potential legislation and policy changes. They also provide multiple resources for the public to contact their citizen legislators and offer input and advice."

Some are designed and drafted by staff members. Others are put together by legislators themselves. And some are a little of both.

Take for example mailers sent out by state Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, and state Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, at the beginning of the 2012 legislative session.

Each included a list of priorities, as well as constituent surveys. The priorities – jobs and the economy, fiscal responsibility, education and police home entry laws – were identical. The wording underneath was tweaked, but only in minor ways.

Their surveys, meanwhile, were much different. Tomes asked about police home entry, requiring online high school courses before high school graduation, allowing counties to ditch their commissioners in favor of single executives and barring local government nepotism.

Becker, meanwhile, asked the same questions about police home entry and county commissioners, but then also asked about a statewide public smoking ban, a law requiring parents to report missing children to authorities and whether the state should consider giving preferences on contracts to veteran-owned businesses.

Some of the questions seemed designed to elicit specific responses that aligned with Republicans' objectives. "Would you support or oppose legislation that balances the protection of police during high-risk criminal investigations with reinforcing Hoosiers' right to resist illegal intrusion into their homes?" one asked – even though police said the new law contains no such balance.

Others were more straightforward. "Would you support making pseudoephedrine (common ingredient in cold medicine which is also used in the production of meth) available only by prescription?" asked Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon.

Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville, did not include a survey in her mailer. Instead, she directed constituents online to take it, and also listed a phone number they could call to request a written version.

Another Riecken mailer lists a number of House Democratic objectives for the 2012 session, including tax credits for companies that hire unemployed Hoosiers, expanded job training, clawbacks to get tax incentives back from companies that do not live up to their job-creation promises and more.

Most include priority lists that largely mirror the political objectives set forth by each side's leadership.

House members are including QR codes so that Hoosiers with smart phones can scan them and go directly to the representative's website.

"Since everything is going digital, we are beginning to move that direction. But there are still many Hoosiers that may not have the accessibility to digital newsletters that some do," said Tory Flynn, the House Republican spokeswoman.

"The mail policy's overarching goal is to reach every district and inform them of the happenings of their state government."

In the House, each two years, legislators get to send seven postcards to a maximum of 13,000 constituents each time, and they can select which constituents should get those postcards.

They also get five district-wide mailings over the two-year period.

"Every legislator utilizes their allotments differently – some will send quite a bit of updates, some will send hardly any. Mailings that are not used in a two-year period are not able to be transferred to another member, or saved for another year," Flynn said.

There's a history of leniency with what can be included in the mailers. For example, in 2005, state Rep. Win Moses, D-Fort Wayne, sent one out thanking local firefighters for their work when his apartment went up in flames.

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