The North Dakota Taxpayers’ Association today called on Rep. Rick Berg to reimburse his office account for the costs of a series of glossy flyers he produced and sent to voters in his district late last year.
NDTA Executive Director Dustin Gawrylow said in a statement that the cost of the franked mail exceeded $187,000, based on conservative estimates of fourth quarter spending by Berg’s office.
Gawrylow said his group wants to help Berg and other politicians “change the way Washington works,” but he said Berg needs to lead by example.
“It is simply not enough to use empty rhetoric about the way Washington works, and then operate the same way that Washington has always worked,” Gawrylow continued. “North Dakota needs a federal delegation that realizes that our country needs real leaders that don’t try to sneak things by when they think no one is paying attention.”
The Great Plains Examiner first reported on the franked mail costs in November and called on Berg to stop using taxpayer money for mailings that blurred the line between official communications to constituents and campaign propoganda. Several commentators, from all political sides, echoed the call.
Berg’s opponents in the race for the U.S. Senate, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Republican Duane Sand, have criticized Berg for using his franked mail privaleges to gain an edge in the campaign.
All senators and congressmen receive money from the federal government to pay for office expenses, including staff salaries and constituent communications. The franked mail privalege allows them to produce and distribute messages to their constituents at the expense of taxpayers.
NDTA stayed away from the issue due to a lack of clarity and disclosure as to the real cost to taxpayers. That was, until earlier this week, when the congressional disclosure report was posted online.
“An examination of this report shows that a very substantial amount of Congressman Berg’s budget went to the production and mailing of these questionable postcards,” Gawrylow noted.
Alee Lockman, Berg’s spokeswoman, said there are no plans to reimburse the congressional office account for the money spent on the franked mail.
“No, the campaign will not be paying for official correspondence,” she said. “Communicating with North Dakotans remains Rick’s top priority, and he will continue to maintain an open dialog with the people he represents, while also cutting his own budget and government spending as a whole.”
Lockman said Berg reduced office expenses by 5 percent in 2010, the year he took office, and voted to cut office expenses for all House members by another 6.5 percent this year.
“Rick has been constistantly working to lower budgets for house members,” she said.
Rob Port, who operates the conservative blog SayAnything.com, wrote that Sand has strong ties to the NDTA and questioned whether the statement from Gawrylow was politically motivated. Sand is a co-founder, past president and board member of the NDTA.
“I have a lot of respect for Gawrylow and the NDTA, and what they accomplish, but this sort of coordination with the Sand campaign leaves a bad taste in my mouth,” Port noted, adding that he doesn’t think the franked mail from Berg’s office was “all that overtly political.”
Berg’s office sent out five franked mail pieces between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31.
-Matt Bunk is publisher of the Great Plains Examiner. In the interest of full disclosure, he also authored an op-ed that called on Berg to stop using taxpayer money on franked mail that resembled campaign propoganda.