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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Robbery! Wisconsin's Congresspeople owe you 31¢

There's this thing they say about local TV news: If it bleeds, it leads. In other words, if a story can be sensationalized and work people into a tizzy, it deserves prominence even if it creates an inaccurate picture of the way the world actually is.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel never passes up a chance to do the same thing to our politicians--usually Governor Doyle--and today they go after our congressional delegation:
Wisconsin's eight House lawmakers spent nearly $1.7 million on "franked mail" from 2003 through 2005, a review by the Journal Sentinel found.

Letters, brochures, constituent surveys--these and other mailings all go out at taxpayers' expense. Thanks to a system known as "congressional franking," lawmakers need not bother with postage; their signature suffices. [. . .]

With changes in both franking rules and technology, spending is no longer restricted to mail. Lawmakers also use automated phone calls, newspaper ads and high-volume e-mails to put out the word that they're doing their job.

Taken together, it's a built-in advantage for incumbents, political scientists say.
While I won't deny that the last statement is true, the paper is clearly overblowing the story. Some of the Cheddarshere has also fallen for it, too: From the left, Tony Palmieri raises his Pork Advisory warning level; from the right, Peter DiGaudio complains about the "staggering cost" of government spending--presumably, the cost of the franking a part of that.

But here's the deal: The paper reports that between 2003 and 2005--over three years--Wisconsin's eight representatives spent nearly $1.7 million. If you do the math, that's about 31¢ for every citizen of Wisconsin. Ten cents a year per person. Even if you wanted to go per household, you might be talking a dollar per household for the last three years. That won't even buy you the newspaper that reported the story.

But, you know, it bleeds.

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