State senators without re-election opponents this year have transferred thousands of dollars of state government funds used for voter mailings to challenged colleagues — a practice now banned for members of the state House.
The contrast reflects differing positions taken by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell on use of the “constituent communications” funds. A review of records also shows a striking disparity in the amount of money stockpiled in the accounts by senators compared with representatives.
Only two of the 99 members of the House have more than $10,000 in their accounts, and several have used their own money — or checks drawn on their political campaign accounts — to cover the cost of newsletters, constituent questionnaires and the like because they lack money in their taxpayer-provided accounts. Most senators, on the other hand, have far larger balances — topped by Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, with $117,157 stashed in his communications fund.
Bills filed in the past legislative session would have prohibited transfers from one legislator to another and put limits on stockpiling. Yet another bill would have banned mailings to voters in a legislator’s district for 90 days before an election instead of the current standard of 30 days.
The bills failed with Ramsey voicing opposition, but Harwell quietly last March acted on her own to ban transfers by members of the House, a fairly widespread practice for decades by both senators and representatives. The two speakers have overall control of how members can use the money allocated to them — $6,832 per year for senators; $2,016 for representatives.
“She firmly believes that postage money belongs to the constituents of that particular district, not the member. The funds are there to communicate with the constituents of that particular district,” said Kara Owen, spokeswoman for Harwell. Continue reading