House Sub Kills Bills to Curb Legislator Direct Mail at Taxpayer Expense

House Republicans have killed Democrat-sponsored bills to curb the hoarding and transfer of money from taxpayer-funded accounts used to send mailings from legislators to voters.
“If these were such great bills, why weren’t they introduced four years ago, five years ago, before we (Republicans) were in the majority?” grumbled Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, at one point in debate over two bills by Rep. McDonald, D-Portland.
Both revolve around the “postage and printing” accounts maintained for each legislator. Representatives are allocated $2,019 per year and senators $6,832. The money is intended to cover costs of printing and mailing non-political materials to constituents.
In practice, some legislators never use the money and let it accumulate for years – then transfer it to another incumbent who is facing a serious re-election campaign. That legislator can then use the money to send mailings to voters in his or her district reporting on his or her accomplishments, providing pictures of meetings with prominent people and the like.
Rep. Kent Williams, the Legislature’s only independent, referred to the materials as “so-called-not-campaign fliers” during the discussion before the House State and Local Government Subcommittee last week.
“It’s a political tool. We all know that,” said Williams, who said he favored changing the law on the accounts – just not in the way proposed by McDonald.

One McDonald bill, HB1677, would put a $20,000 cap on the amount that can be hoarded in one of the accounts. Legislative staff said six legislators now have more than that stashed and estimated passage of the bill would mean returning $192,000 to the state’s general fund.
McDonald said this would save taxpayer money in a time of tight budgets.
But Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, said that, if the money reverted to the general fund, “we’re just going to spend it” for general government while leaving it in the individual accounts would be like leaving it in a savings account. And Todd dismissed the notion as “just another Democratic initiative.”
The other bill, HB1679, would prohibit the transfer of more than $10,000 from the account of a retiring legislator to another legislator’s account and instead send the leftover money to the general fund.
Both bills were killed with just three Democrats voting for them while Williams and five Republicans voted against them.
The Tennessean reported last July that the accounts collectively held more than $1 million at that time.

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