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Wittman accused of improper mailings
Democrats say Wittman abusing franking; Wittman says no

Date published: 10/29/2010

BY CHELYEN DAVIS

The Stafford County Democratic chairwoman is filing a complaint about what she says is an abuse of the franking privilege by Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st.

Wittman's office says he has done nothing wrong.

Congress members are allowed to send mail to constituents without paying postage, a privilege known as "franking."

But they are not allowed to send those out in large batches of 500 or more within the 90 days before an election for their seat.

That 90-day blackout began in August, but Stafford Democratic chair Kandy Hilliard says she, and others, have received mailings from Wittman's congressional office--not his campaign--within that window.

Hilliard received a couple of postcards and one glossy mailer, both of which she says looked more like campaign literature. While none had postmarks, they were marked that tax dollars paid for the mailings. They promoted Wittman's work for the Chesapeake Bay and to limit federal spending.

Wittman's office says he has followed all the rules on franking.

"Every piece sent is in compliance with the rules set by the bipartisan House Administration Committee," said spokeswoman Abby Shilling.

She said that the office got one mailer approved before the August cutoff, and that others that have gone out since then fall under the provision that allows mailings of fewer than 500 pieces.

Some of those have gone out since August, Shilling said, but they are allowed.

Hilliard said the timing and content of the mailers makes them look like campaign material, and she thinks Wittman is abusing the franking system.

"He shouldn't be using his privilege as an incumbent to benefit himself," Hilliard said. "This looks like campaign material. I looked at it and thought, 'Oh, he's started his direct mail campaign.'"

She is talking to the House committee that reviews franking rules about filing her complaint.

Shilling said Wittman's office sends out similar mailers on various issues throughout the year in an effort to keep in touch with constituents, and the postcards that Hilliard received have been in use for several years in the office.

"They're going out throughout the year," Shilling said. "One of the ways he communicates is through mail, and he absolutely complies with the rules."

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028
Email: cdavis@freelancestar.com