U.S. Rep. Charles Djou is taking advantage of one of the privileges of being in Congress: taxpayer-financed messages back home.
Djou, R-Hawaii, has sent out color brochures and recorded telephone messages asking constituents in urban Honolulu’s 1st Congressional District their opinions about federal spending, banking reform and energy legislation.
Members of Congress are entitled to what is known as "franking," mass mailings or telephone calls that convey information or seek input from constituents on matters of public concern or public service.
Lawmakers are not allowed to use the congressional frank to share personal information, engage in partisan politics or solicit money. The U.S. House Administration Committee’s franking commission, a bipartisan panel of fellow lawmakers, must approve the messages.
But lawmakers are given latitude. In Djou’s survey, for example, many of the questions have a leading tone that can be traced to the congressman’s own positions on the issues.
Djou, who opposed the federal stimulus package, asked constituents whether the federal government is spending too much and hindering economic recovery. He asked whether federal regulations on banking and lending should be increased even if it meant it would cost consumers more for loans.
In response to the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Djou asked whether constituents support a comprehensive energy approach that includes renewable energy and developing domestic resources.
Djou also asked about a potential energy tax, known as "cap and trade," that he predicted would cost Hawaii families an additional $3,500 a year.
Daniel Son, Djou’s press secretary, said the franking commission cleared the survey.
"Congressman Djou felt it was important to hear from his constituents on those issues that he was likely to vote on," Son said.
Franking is covered by each member’s representational allowance for staff, office expenses and mail. Last year, Gannett News Service reported, House lawmakers spent more than $45 million on franking.
Djou, who is filling out the remaining months of former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie’s term, which expires in January, only has a short window of time to enjoy the frank.
Franking is prohibited 90 days before the September primary or November general election.
Lynne Matusow, secretary of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, said the brochure she received in the mail from Djou was a surprise given his attacks on government spending.
"He was a guy who doesn’t want to spend any money, but he’s spending my money on this?" she said.