Michele Bachmann uses freedom of the (taxpayer-paid) press to promote herself

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On Michele Bachmann’s congressional website, she pledges to uphold the “American Taxpayers Bill of Rights”, which calls on House conservatives to “Restore fiscal discipline and find innovative new ways to do MORE with LESS … If families in America can tighten their belts, so too can bureaucrats in Washington.”

But when it comes to Bachmann’s self-promotion at taxpayer expense, there’s no fiscal dieting to be found. An examination of congressional mailing expenditures from the first six months of 2007 shows Bachmann to be the runaway big spender in the Minnesota delegation, doing LESS with MORE tax dollars to promote herself.

Bachmann’s oversized four-color glossy mailings have been the subject of much debate in the 6th District. Most recently, a Stearns County constituent questioned the expenditures for Bachmann’s puffery in a St. Cloud Times editorial. Not surprisingly, Bachmann’s office has not been forthcoming with an explanation of the costs.

However, all members of Congress must file quarterly reports of their office’s expenditures — including details of mass mailings to constituents conducted under the franking privilege [pdf]. That information eventually is published in Statements of Disbursements for the House of Representatives.

The most recent Statements of Disbursements available cover only the first two quarters of 2007. Only four members of the Minnesota delegation — Bachmann, Keith Ellison, Jim Ramstad and Tim Walz — reported significant mass mailings over 10,000. The House defines mass mailings as “unsolicited mailings of substantially identical content to 500 or more persons in a session of Congress.” Reps. Jim Oberstar and Colin Peterson reported minor mass mailings, and Betty McCollum and John Kline reported no mass mailings during the period covered.

Based on those reports, the cost for Bachmann’s first mass mailing last year was 46 cents apiece for printing and postage — more than double the 22 cents apiece mailings for Walz and Ramstad cost and significantly higher than Ellison’s per-piece cost of 28 cents.

The biggest difference was in the production costs of the mailings. Bachmann spent a total of $32,589 with The Franking Group for mass mailings totaling 136,465, for a production cost of 24 cents each — far beyond what her colleagues in either party spent.

Ellison spent $31,358 with Gold Communications for mass mailings totaling 265,522 — a production cost of just 12 cents apiece.

Walz’ figures show only $2,210 spent on printing production of 101,017 pieces for a meager production cost of two cents each.

Ramstad paid Catterton Printing $15,295 for mass mailings totaling 300,017 — a production cost of only 5 cents each.

In her first year in office, Bachmann has papered the 6th District with her slick campaign ads masquerading as official constituent mailings. It will be interesting to see what the final tally for these self-promotional gimmicks is — including the costs for her latest scam, the tele-town halls. Unfortunately, it may be months before those reports are available.

Meanwhile, if anyone happens to run into Michele, you might ask her if there isn’t a cheaper way of staying in touch with her constituents — like maybe renting a local school auditorium and having a real town hall meeting with them.