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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Franking abuse

Stauber is sending campaign-like materials to constituents at the public’s expense


A recent mailing from U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber’s office caught our eye for what looks like another misuse of the congressman’s franking privilege to disseminate material nearly indistinguishable from campaign literature.
The headline: “Congressman Pete Stauber: Standing with Minnesota’s Law Enforcement Heroes Against Criminals,” is the exact kind of mailing typically used by campaigns.
Much of the piece focuses on the Twin Cities, rather than Stauber’s own Eighth District, harkening back to the now four-year-old riots in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. It also criticizes Gov. Tim Walz, the Minneapolis City Council, and the Hennepin County Attorney for actions that Stauber claims are making the Twin Cities less safe. It’s consistent with the scare-mongering around crime that has become a hallmark of right-wing politicians, even as crime rates have fallen significantly in most urban areas over the past two years after spiking during the COVID pandemic.
Stauber claims that “the crime crisis in the Twin Cities continues to spiral out of control,” and he blames liberal policies which have led to a sharp reduction in the ability of the Twin Cities to recruit and retain officers.
It’s true that the number of active police officers in Minneapolis has declined by nearly 40 percent according to a recent public statement by the city’s new police chief. Yet while some categories of crime have increased in Minneapolis (assaults are up ten percent while domestic assaults are up 13.7 percent) over the past three years, most types of crime have actually declined, in many cases significantly, according to the city’s own crime data.
Gun violence has dropped sharply, with reported shots fired down 35.9 percent over the three-year average so far this year. Gunshot victims have dropped by nearly 25 percent, while weapons violations are down 6.6 percent.
Carjackings, which had been a scourge in the wake of the pandemic, have dropped by 48.6 percent over the three-year average. Other stolen property offenses are down by 22.8 percent over that same period, while larceny is down 3.7 percent and robberies are off 5.9 percent. Non-negligent homicides are down 24 percent.
That’s hardly “spiraling out of control,” as Stauber has claimed. But the GOP had already determined that urban crime is going to be one of the top issues for their candidates this election season, so they’ve simply chosen to ignore the fact that their rhetoric doesn’t match the current reality of declining overall crime rates in most major cities.
One could hope that when members of Congress send mailings to their constituents at public expense, that they might offer information rather than partisan attacks. One might also hope that such mailings would include accurate information, rather than false, exaggerated, or outdated claims designed to gain political advantage.
Unfortunately, abuse of the franking privilege is not that rare, but it’s something that should still irritate taxpayers. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, “franking” describes the right that members of Congress currently have to produce and send materials through mass mailings — including materials constituents never requested — at the public’s expense. There are supposed to be rules that guide what members can send, but there are some easy ways to get around the rules, such as calling your mailing an “official survey.” That’s what Stauber did in his most recent law enforcement-focused mailing. Approximately a quarter of the mailing is comprised of a two-question “survey” that would more accurately be described as a push poll. It asks: “Are you concerned by the increased attacks on Minnesota’s law enforcement officers? Followed by: “Do you believe liberal policies have made our state less safe?”
Stauber isn’t the first politician who has pushed the limits of the rules on franking. Some of Rep. Jim Oberstar’s mailings, produced in a far more gentile political period, included an occasional partisan poke, but never with the vitriol or outright dissembling that Stauber uses routinely in his franked mailings.
Franking privileges have varied over the years and there were times in U.S. history when the privilege was suspended because critics recognized it gave sitting members of Congress an unfair advantage because they could essentially campaign on the public’s dime. That’s exactly what Stauber is doing in this recent mailing and he deserves to be called out for it.