WASHINGTON — A government mailer sent to voters across Florida by U.S. Rep. Connie Mack violates House rules barring distribution outside his district and raises questions about his U.S. Senate campaign, which features the penny-pinching plan that was the subject of the mailer.
The color brochure, complete with a photo of Mack, began showing up this week in Hillsborough County, Miami Beach and Sarasota, among other places beyond Mack's district in southwest Florida.
A mailing list vendor, who has done work for Mack's Senate campaign, took responsibility for the "mistake" Wednesday and wrote a nearly $18,000 check to the U.S. Treasury to cover postage. Mack, in a letter to House officials Wednesday, said any violation was due to the vendor and was "unintentional."
"Absolutely no taxpayer dollars will be spent on this project," Mack wrote to the chairman of the House Franking Commission.
But as he sought to contain the problem, political opponents pounced. George LeMieux, a rival in the Republican U.S. Senate primary, released a statement calling it an abuse of office. "Voters are fed up with this type of behavior from Washington politicians like Mack and there's no doubt Floridians will reject his candidacy."
The mail piece was sent to 90,356 homes, of which 57,827, or 64 percent, went outside his congressional district, said Mack's campaign spokesman David James. For how that came to be, he referred questions to the vendor, William McClintock Associates of New Jersey, which describes itself as a "Republican political targeting firm" and provides mailing lists.
Bill McClintock declined to provide details when contacted by the Tampa Bay Times, other than to acknowledge he did work for Mack's Senate campaign as well as handling official House mail. Mack said he will no longer work with McClintock's firm.
"Franked" mail has often caused controversy because it is an advantage incumbents have to raise their profile under the guise of official notices and explanations of issues. In Florida, Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota is a leading user of the privilege, but so is Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa.
A bipartisan committee approves the content of mailers, which cannot be overly political or refer to elections. But the mail pieces resemble campaign mail and a voter may not know the difference. Rules prohibit the distribution beyond a congressional district and Mack's violated that.
A spokesman for Rep. Aaron Schock, the Illinois Republican who chairs the franking commission, said he did not have information on the how many similar violations have occurred, or the size of a typical mailing.
Whether the incident causes Mack trouble with the House is unclear. Someone could file a complaint but the rules also say an offer to pay for the mailer would be viewed "as an act of good faith" in the event of a formal complaint.
Mack defended the use of official mail at the same time he rails against government spending. "It's an absolutely appropriate way to communicate with our constituents," he said.
His penny proposal, which would cut one penny out of every federal dollar spent for six years, has gotten support from conservatives (the mailer touts Sen. Marco Rubio as a co-sponsor). But it has not budged in committee since being introduced a year ago this month. Despite that, Mack has made it a feature of his Senate campaign.