At various times over the past three years, most households in Rep. John Carter’s 31st Congressional District have received taxpayer-paid missives from the Round Rock Republican featuring his rants decrying alleged wastes of taxpayer money. A few get the irony, and now even the House of Representative’s non-partisan Franking Commission, which polices members’ taxpayer-paid constituent communications for political bias, has decided Carter has gone too far.
The conservative mouthpiece Cybercast News Service is reporting that an email Carter introduced at a press conference Thursday was rejected by the Franking Commission for use in taxpayer-funded constituent communications, such as postage and printing on official House stationery. In a message critical of proposed Democratic Healthcare reforms, Carter said “The House Democrats unveiled a government-run health care plan.” The Franking Commission asked Carter to change the phrase “government run” to “public option.”
Carter has now released the Franking Commission’s email to the press, to expose what he calls the Commission’s suppression of his freedom of speech. Carter’s misrepresentation of the Franking Commission’s duties raises familiar questions of whether the Republican representative is being dishonest or if in fact he is ignorant of the law. The Franking Commission prevents the use of taxpayer funds by Congressmen who cloak political campaigning within the confines of constituent communications. Rules and guidelines related to the franking privilege of members of Congress are provided here (PDF).
The Franking Commission interprets the rules on what pieces of mail qualify for the franking privilege. The Commission explained to Carter that his submission was not qualified, and suggested changes in language to bring it into compliance. Their actions do not limit the ability of Carter to speak his mind on proposed legislation, since he is free to say or write whatever he wants. He just can’t mail it to constituents for free. The use of taxpayer funds to disseminate his words in this case is a violation of federal law. He is free to say it, but our tax dollars should not pay for his megaphone.
Yet, Carter is playing a familiar role as victim, whining to friendly media outlets who’ll dutifully print his protestations verbatim:
“Why does the Franking Commission have the right to prevent me from freely speaking what I think my folks back home ought to hear…”
“I think that is an abridgement of free speech,” he said.
During Rep. Carter’s first four years in the House of Representatives, he was a trusted ally of disgraced Republican former Representative Tom DeLay, in the majority, and freely able to proselytize his constituents at taxpayers’ expense. Now, in his third year in the minority, he appears to be unhappy with his current office. One wonders why he continues to run for re-election if he can no longer function effectively.
UPDATE: Note well the bias of CNS News’ headline, “House Democrats Censor Republican’s Use of Term ‘Government-Run’ Health Care in Constituent Communications.” The Franking Commission is a six-member committee formed by three members of each party. The Franking Commission’s staff is in fact responsible for the suggested corrections, so the House Democrats had little or nothing to do with this action.