When are members of Congress communicating with constituents? And when are they campaigning?
Democrats in North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District say U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson appears to have crossed the line in the use of taxpayer-funded mailings.
Hudson, a Republican, has sent out 17 taxpayer-funded mailings or advertisements this year, more than any of North Carolina’s other 12 House members and far more than most. Such mailings, known as “franking,” are designed to allow members of Congress to communicate with their constituents on official business.
The race between Hudson and Democrat Pat Timmons-Goodson is widely considered North Carolina’s most competitive. Hudson holds a big financial edge over Timmons-Goodson, though she outraised him nearly 3-1 in the second quarter.
The 8th District stretches east from Cabarrus County to Cumberland County. The Cook Political Report rates it as “lean Republican.”
According to the House clerk, 10 of Hudson’s communications this year came in July. That’s more than 11 delegation members have sent all year. Members are not allowed to send such mailings during the 90 days before a general election. Wednesday is the deadline.
One recent Hudson mailer features a photograph of a rifleman taking aim. “A Leader in Protecting the 2nd Amendment,” it says, referring to Hudson. It details his legislative efforts to defend gun rights.
Another details his efforts to help veterans. “Fighting for Those Who Fight for Us,” a headline says.
Each taxpayer-funded piece was reviewed and approved by the staff of the House Franking Commission.
“Congressman Hudson is campaigning with taxpayer money and abusing his congressional privilege during a global pandemic when many North Carolinians are struggling,” Timmons-Goodson said in a statement. “This might be the way that it works in Washington but for our community, it’s another example of how politicians are putting self-interest over people.”
Hudson spokesman Robert Andrews defended the mailings.
“Franked mail is official communications that must be approved by a bipartisan commission and Richard Hudson believes communicating with his constituents often, especially in the midst of a pandemic, is the highest priority,” he said. “It’s shocking that anyone running for Congress would think otherwise.”
At least three of Hudson’s July communications were in the form of online ads, according to the House clerk. One Facebook ad showed the congressman behind a coffee shop counter. “Congressman Hudson is working to keep our community safe during COVID-19 so we can re-open and rebuild our economy,” it said.
Donald Sherman, deputy director of Citizens for Responsibility in Washington, said he’s heard complaints about franked mail before.
“This comes up in election cycles but isn’t a widespread complaint that I’ve heard,” he said. “But keep in mind most members are in pretty safe districts.”
No member of Congress has ever been reprimanded for misusing the frank.