Berg’s mailers under fireRepublican Rep. Rick Berg’s shared opponents in the 2012 U.S. Senate race are accusing the freshman representative of wasting taxpayer dollars on “slick campaign-style” mailers to North Dakota residents.
By: By Ryan Johnson, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
Republican Rep. Rick Berg’s shared opponents in the 2012 U.S. Senate race are accusing the freshman representative of wasting taxpayer dollars on “slick campaign-style” mailers to North Dakota residents.
Berg’s three announced opponents in the Senate race, Republican Duane Sand and Democrats Heidi Heitkamp and Tom Potter, issued a joint news release Monday calling on him to account for the four documents sent to North Dakotans in recent weeks and to disclose how much money he has spent.
In a written statement, Heitkmap said Berg “is wasting hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on mailings saying he’s the one to stop government waste.”
“He should stop these wasteful mailings immediately, and reveal the cost to the people who paid the bill — the people of North Dakota,” she wrote.
But spokeswoman Alee Lockman said Berg’s job requires frequent interaction with his constituents through town hall meetings, regular email updates and official mailers like these to discuss the “larger issues” that impact the state.
“Rick is incredibly committed to communicating with North Dakotans, the people he represents,” she said. “He strongly believes in order to represent the people of North Dakota and its interests, it’s vital that he’s actually communicating with them.”
The North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party has raised questions about Berg’s recent mailers for the past month, issuing frequent news releases criticizing the documents’ “glossy campaign” substance and unknown costs.
Sand, who will challenge Berg next March for the Republican U.S. Senate endorsement, said he plans to issue a separate statement on the issue later this week. But he said he was called Monday by Heitkamp’s campaign to see if he had similar concerns about Berg’s letters to constituents.
“We’re not teaming up with Heidi so much as I think we both feel the same way about this issue,” he said. “It may be the only time next year we agree on something, but we agree on this.”
Heitkamp’s campaign also reached out to Potter, a Grand Forks man and part-time pastor. Potter and Heitkamp both are seeking the Democratic-NPL Party’s nod to run for the U.S. Senate.
“I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, because when I got the mailings at my house, I thought, ‘Man, incumbents really do have an advantage because they can use taxpayer money to mail campaign flyers,’” Potter said.
Potter and Sand said their main criticism of Berg’s recent mailers is that they appear to be campaign documents — not official business of the U.S. House, as is required by congressional rules.
“The only difference between these mailings and campaign mailings that Rick Berg sent out last year is the taxpayers are paying for these, and this time the country is broke,” Sand said.
Four documents sent by Berg’s office since October have included short constituent surveys on topics such as what should be done to address future shortages in Social Security and Medicare, congressional efforts to repeal the 2010 health care reform legislation and a national energy plan.
The mailers also have included a short list of Berg’s priorities in office, including creating more jobs, cutting government spending and repealing the health care bill.
Lockmann said these issues are topics Berg is passionate about and working to address in Congress. She said “piles” of the completed surveys arrive in the office each day, and recent mailers have been able to poll constituent support for an upcoming House vote on a balanced budget amendment.
“Rick is just very encouraged by the response that he’s seen from North Dakotans,” she said. “He really does have to know what’s on peoples’ minds.”
“Franked mail,” as documents like these are known in Congress, are paid for out of an allowance set for each lawmaker based proportionally on the number of constituents they serve.
Berg’s most recent spending disclosure, which covered April 1 through June 30, showed he spent $1,315.73 on franked mail — a total on the lower end of the range of mailer spending by House members, which ran from less than $100 to more than $20,000 per lawmaker.
When asked how much Berg has spent on the four recent mailers, Lockmann said they would be included in an upcoming quarterly spending report.
Berg’s franked mail spending on the recent flyers will be included in the fourth quarter disclosure, which will be published within 60 days of Dec. 31.
Ryan Johnson is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.