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Among senators, Grassley nation's top spender on mass mail in 2015

Challenger Patty Judge questions use of taxes for 'campaign-style mailing'

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Sen. Chuck Grassley spent more on mass mailings in 2015 than any other U.S. senator, but his staff said that likely reflects fewer senators using traditional mail to reach constituents.

The Iowa Republican spent $68,358 last year, according to quarterly reports from the Secretary of the Senate.

That was the cost of putting out a full-color, multi-page brochure touting Grassley’s accomplishments and listing ways Iowans can connect with the senator, spokeswoman Jill Gerber said.

Grassley, seeking a seventh term in November, has sent a similar mailer nearly every August since 1995, she said.

“It goes to every household in the selected ZIP codes through a bulk mailing rate,” she said. “Sen. Grassley chooses the ZIP codes randomly so that over time, the newsletter is sent statewide, by and large.”

The campaign of Patty Judge, Grassley’s Democratic opponent, criticized the brochure.

“Forcing taxpayers to fund a large, campaign-style mailing to voters across Iowa — within just days of the legal cutoff — is a clear sign that Chuck Grassley is putting Washington games ahead of Iowa’s hardworking families,” spokesman Sam Roecker said in an email.

There is a moratorium on mass mailings within 60 days before primary and general elections.

“This mailing contains no urgent information and sticks to the same misleading talking points in Chuck Grassley’s television ads,” Roecker said.

U.S. senators and representatives are allowed to send non-campaign mail under the franking privilege, which lets their signature count as postage. Each senator’s franked mail postage allowance equals the cost of sending one first-class mailing to every address in the senator’s state, the <URL destination="https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS22771.pdf">Congressional Research Service reported.

</URL>Mailings allowed include newsletters, questionnaires, biographical information or pictures and parts of the Congressional Record. These are supposed to be official business, not campaign mailings, but they often serve double duty.

“It’s a bit of a twofer,” said Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa associate political science professor.

“This year — Grassley has said this — might be one of his toughest fights,” Hagle added. “It doesn’t hurt to remind voters what he’s doing.”

Grassley is leading Judge by about 10 percentage points, according to an average of polls listed by RealClear Politics. But Judge has been hammering Grassley with a “Do your job” message that relates to his refusal to hold confirmation hearings on Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Only 19 U.S. senators used their franking privileges in 2015 to send mass mailings — or mailings to 500 addresses or more, records show. Of those, Grassley spent the most, followed by Dean Heller, R-Nevada, with $66,968, and David Vitter, R-Louisiana, with $66,813.

“It looks like fewer and fewer senators are sending hard copy newsletters,” Gerber said. “We (also) send out an electronic newsletter. Maybe more senators are shifting to more electronic correspondence.”

Members of Congress are active on social media. Twitter reported all 100 senators were using the network by 2013, as were about 90 percent of representatives. Grassley himself is a frequent tweeter.

Grassley was the third-highest spender in the Senate on mass mailings over the past five years, spending $259,778 on mass mail from April 1, 2011, to March 31, 2016, Senate reports show.

The Gazette reported in April that U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, R-Dubuque, spent more on mass mailings and communications in 2015 than all House peers.

Top 2015 spenders on mailings

These U.S. senators spent the most in 2015 on mass mailings:

Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa: $68,358

Dean Heller, R-Nevada: $66,968

David Vitter, R-Louisiana: $66,813

Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut: $65,973

Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii: $62,810

Steve Daines, R-Montana: $53,281

Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii: $48,820

Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana: $31,244

Jerry Moran, R-Kansas: $19,953

Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon: $17,601

Source: Secretary of the U.S. Senate

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