Hastert and the franking rules

by Harry on September 1, 2004

As a fellow prohibitionist I decided to send an email to Mr Hastert asking him either to assure me that he has turned over the evidence he has of Mr. Soros’s wrongdoings to the relevant authorities or, if there is no evidence, to withdraw his accusations as prominently as possible. I got this very odd message after I send my email:

bq. Due to Congressional franking rules I cannot send a personal response to people outside the 14th District of Illinois. Your opinion is still important to me though and will be registered.

What on earth does this mean? The Speaker of the House is not allowed to correspond with people outside his district? Can this be right? I am not asking this frivolously, or to make a partisan point against the Speaker, since my experience of US electoral and campaigning laws is sufficient to know that it is labyinthine and bizarre in the extreme; incredible as it is I’m entirely willing to believe it. I ask so that some of the experts out there can explain what it means.



Chance the Gardener 09.01.04 at 8:59 pm

No he just doesn’t want to pony up for a stamp.


Chance the Gardener 09.01.04 at 9:00 pm

No, he just doesn’t want to pony up for a stamp.


Andy 09.01.04 at 9:00 pm

No actual knowledge, but I’d imagine the franking privilege is limited so that Reps can’t flood the nation with free mail.

Now, for e-mail, that seems less plausible, tho I suppose there’s some minute cost to the taxpayers to sending e-mails ….

Trust me, defending the Hasterts of the world is against my instincts, but this one may very well be legit.


Buck 09.01.04 at 9:02 pm

Franking is sending free postal mail — something that some congresspeople abused heavily not too long ago. That’s probably why it’s restricted. It’s still pretty disingenous — “We can’t respond for free, so we can’t respond.”

Just a guess. People from within his congressional district get a form letter generated based on the subject, and everyone else gets nothing.


sd 09.01.04 at 9:03 pm

“Franking” is the process whereby government officials send mail to citizens free of charge (no postage required). Due to widespread abuse of the system, reforms were put in place several years ago to limit this power. So while Hastert is free to send letters to whoever he wants, he has to pay the postage out-of-pocket.

Still, franking remains one of the most powerful weapons of incumbents as they fight off electoral challengers. Congressmen can send letters to their own constituents communicating what they’ve done and how many wonderful results have accrued, and the taxpayers foot the bill.


djs 09.01.04 at 9:14 pm


he in fact *did* send you a personal response via email, just one devoid of value to the recipient.


General Glut 09.01.04 at 9:24 pm

Here’s the full dope:


Hastert is full of it since you aren’t part of an unsolicited mass mailing, but asking for a solicited individual reply. It’s true that Hastert can’t mass mail (for free under the frank) outside his district, but this excuse is one of the lamest yet.

Hastert is flat out lying when he says he is forbidden to give you a “personal response”. He is forbidden to include you in a mass mailing 90 days before the election; a mass mailing is clearly all his office is willing to do for you.


Ted Barlow 09.01.04 at 9:26 pm

Yeah, it’s probably legit. I get mailed replies to my emails to my Senators and my Representative, but just form emails from others. It makes sense.


Michael Otsuka 09.01.04 at 9:34 pm

I think politicians (or their lackeys) tend to send anything approaching substantive rather than pro forma replies by letter rather than by email, since the latter are easy to forge. So Harry you might try sending Hastert a letter with a stamped, self-addressed envelope enclosed and see whether he responds.


Michael Otsuka 09.01.04 at 9:41 pm

…and if you really want a response, try stuffing the envelope with cash.


Ophelia Benson 09.01.04 at 9:47 pm

Yeah, remember the familiar DC saying – Your money doesn’t buy you influence, but it does buy you access.

Is that a ringing endorsement of clean government or what.


fyreflye 09.01.04 at 10:13 pm

Hastert is interested only in the opinions of those who are qualified to vote in his district and those who’ll send him money to support their favored legislation. His interest in the first group is limited to devising lies to get their vote and in the second group to how much they’ve got to spend. You don’t count.


Anthony 09.01.04 at 11:59 pm

I’ve long been aware that any Congressperson will almost never respond to letters from non-constituents – as fyreflye said, there’s just no reason for them to do so. I probably knew at some point that their ability to frank was also limited as to encourage that preferential treatment of constituents (not that recieving mass-mailings is really so great).

But I don’t see how email is legimately restricted by the same rules, given the points other people have made about the almost nonexistent costs to taxpayers. And as djs notes, Hastert’s auto-response clearly undermines his own reason for ignoring you. Which is not to say that his other reason isn’t still valid – seeing as you won’t be voting/contributing in any way that influences him anytime soon, he has no reason to expend time and energy giving you an actual reponse. He could at least have the decency to say so, though. I say, write back and call him on the lie.


nick 09.02.04 at 12:22 am

Franking is still very much abused. The Congressman for NC-11 has been sending glossy ‘information brochures’, prepared and posted at taxpayer expense, to people in the district.

This is prohibited from 90 days before an election, and he’s very careful to stay just within the rules on self-promotion. But it’s earned lots of extremely pissed-off letters in the local paper.

MPs are not allowed, by convention, to respond to ‘constituent matters’ for people outside their constituency. However, Hastert is not speaking as ‘the member from Illinois’, but as Speaker of the House, which makes his excuse pure weaselry.


Kriston Capps 09.02.04 at 1:06 am

An enormous problem in Texas, though not here in DC, where (postage be damned!) congressional representation is too costly to provide to residents.


Sean Hurley 09.02.04 at 1:22 pm

While the rules don’t prohibit Hastert from offering a direct reply to your (out of district) letter, in general Representatives and Senators don’t reply to anyone who is not their constituent. Instead, longstanding practice is that they forward your letter to your Representative (or Senator).

The reply you received was BS — a polite “get lost” letter.


jif 09.02.04 at 4:13 pm

I get franked and mailed responses to my emails & phone calls from my rep (Boehlart- R, NY), and long emailed responses from one of my senators (Clinton, D, NY), and no response whatsoever from my other senator (Schumer, D, NY). So responses seem to run the gamut. However, as an email response does not require franking, and you emailed and were sent an email back, and since one need only cut and paste the response that would be printed out and franked for his district (is it safe to assume that the Speaker’s office is not populated by aides and interns chained to Corona type writers and mimeograph machines?) the response is totally bogus. The ‘expense’ of sending the email was already laid out when the “we’re not responding to you” response was sent. While reps and senators may not normally reply to non-constituents, the correct response would have then been to say “I will forward your concerns to your representative,” rather than “I don’t feel like answering you so I will make up a bullshit excuse.”


Ereshkigal 09.04.04 at 7:28 am

Hastert is too cheap to send a 37-cent stamped letter, and franking doesn’t apply to email. Unless– he has received and believed that email hoax regarding a proposed five-cent tax on email messages.

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