LITTLE ROCK The Republican Party of Arkansas filed a complaint Tuesday with a U.S. Senate ethics panel, charging that Sen. Blanche Lincoln illegally mailed a pamphlet earlier this month describing her tenure as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Lincoln’s office dismissed the complaint as a politicalstunt.
The eight-page complaint lodged with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics contends that Lincoln’s Sept. 1 mailer titled “Delivering for Rural Arkansas” - mailed at taxpayer expense - broke the law because it “reinforces her principle campaign message.”
The filing asserts other violations, including exceeding the legal limit of personal references, including biographical information and a picture of Lincoln, a Democrat, that was purportedly 7 square inches too large to comply with federal requirements.
“Sen. Lincoln has been in Washington long enough to know the rules pertaining to franking privileges,” said Doyle Webb, chairman of thestate Republican Party, in a news release. “The fact that she’d commit such an obvious abuse of this privilege demonstrates that she’s not looking out for the taxpayers of Arkansas.”
The “franking privilege,” enacted in 1789, allows members of Congress to send official mail using their signatures instead of stamps.
The Republican Party alsocharged that Lincoln’s newsletter violated the law, arriving in Arkansas mailboxes less than 60 days before the Nov. 2 election.
Lincoln’s office said about 14,000 pamphlets were mailed on Sept. 1, two days before the deadline.
Her office released a supportive statement from a senior staff member on theSenate Rules Committee, which oversees the mailing privileges of the Senate.
“The written work order documents and confirms that Sen. Lincoln’s newsletter was printed and delivered to the Post Office for mailing on Sept. 1, two days before the start of the Senate’s 60-day moratorium on Sept. 3, and fully in compliance with Senate rules,” said Jean Bordewich, staff director of the Rules Committee.
Lincoln characterized the GOP complaint as political gamesmanship.
“Clearly, this is a politically motivated complaint by the Arkansas Republican Party as we near an election.We took all the required steps to ensure that these mailings were thoroughly reviewed and cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee for all of their written and photographic content,” Elizabeth Burks, Lincoln’s chief of staff, said in a emailed statement. “The mailings were approved by the Ethics Committee as a legislative update from Sen. Lincoln to keep her constituents informed about issues important to them.”
The agriculture newsletter was the third newsletter sent out in recent months from Lincoln. The other twoaddressed senior citizens’ and veterans’ issues. In total, Lincoln’s office has said it has sent out about 30,000 franked items this summer.
Next to a photo of Lincoln, the newsletter lays out its message in a headline: “Delivering for Rural Arkansas.”
Over the next several pages, other headlines promote Lincoln’s activities as chairman, such as “Lincoln’s Historic Child Nutrition Legislation Passes Senate” and “Lincoln’s Tough Wall Street Reforms Become Law.” Photos show her meeting students at the Arkansas School for the Deaf and delivering a giant check, representing U.S. Department of Agriculture funding, to Winrock International, the Little Rock-based organization that runs domestic and international development programs.
Before this summer’s mailings, Lincoln hadn’t used her franking privileges since 2005.
Since 1994, senators have been limited to spending $50,000 a year on mass mailings, defined as having more than 500 pieces of mail.
Senators must register their mass mailings with the secretary of the Senate, who “shall make them available for public inspection.”
Lincoln is trailing her Republican challenger U.S. Rep. John Boozman in recent polls.
A spokesman for the committee said that the panel has a strict policy of not commenting on complaints.
No ruling is expected before the election.
Information for this article was contributed by Alex Daniels of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.