By Scott Tibbs, January 26, 2011
Note: I actually posted this on a forum back in 2005, but never actually posted it on the blog.
Bloomington State Representative Matt Pierce is complaining that the House Republican leadership is improperly editing newsletters from Democratic house members. Pierce complains that strong criticism of the GOP leadership in his newsletter had to be toned down before the newsletter was approved.
Clearly, if legislators are going to be sending out newsletters paid for by taxpayer dollars, Hoosiers should not be forced to subsidize political messages disguised as an attempt to "inform" the voters about what is going on in Indianapolis. The question Pierce raises is how much the newsletters should be edited.
But the dustup between Pierce and House Speaker Brian Bosma raises a more important question. Should we allow Indiana legislators to send out franked newsletters at all?
The answer to that is no. When he was interviewed by AM 1370 on August 2nd, Pierce claimed that there is a distinct difference between campaign materials (which he described as "vote for me" or "vote against him") and information from the Legislature.
Pierce is right that the content and tone of a political newsletter is different from a legislative newsletter. But let's be realistic here. These newsletters are a way to get a state representative or state senator's name and face in front of the public, and are often used by legislators to pat themselves on the back for what they are doing in Indianapolis. While not technically part of a political campaign, these newsletters nonetheless are an unfair advantage that incumbents have over challengers. While that may not matter much in a gerrymandered district such as Pierce's District 61, it is a big deal in a competitive district.
We hear a lot about "campaign finance reform" at the federal level. Attempts to "reform" campaigns have been made at the state level as well. The best limit that state government can put on campaigns is to forbid elected officials from using taxpayer dollars to advertise their name to voters.
Furthermore, with all of the talk about how much of a financial crunch state government faces, why are we subsidizing these newsletters? While I doubt eliminating franked newsletters would make much of a real dent in state spending, eliminating them would send a positive message to overburdened Hoosier taxpayers.
If state legislators in either party think it is important to send these "newsletters" to the people in their district, let them fund the newsletters from campaign contributions. While I agree with Pierce that such newsletters can be informative, I do not think taxpayers should be paying for them.