The Franking Commission Digs Own Grave

When exactly did the Franking Commission become part of the Democratic Party? Somehow, though the tradition of “franking” dates back to the English House of Commons, I don’t think very many people saw this coming. First they shut down the mailing of a graphic with a flow chart about health care on it, and now Rep. John Carter of Texas has been informed that he can’t record a telephone town hall introduction message with the awful, America endangering phrase, “government run health care program” on it.

Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), the secretary of the House Republican Conference and a former District Court Judge, is having his messages to constituents censored by Democrats on the Franking Commission. Republicans are no longer allowed to use the words “government run health care” in the communications to their constituents.

Carter received an email from the Franking Commission informing him of the censorship.

“What we proposed as language was as follows, ‘House Democrats unveiled a government-run health care plan,’” Carter said. “Our response from Franking was, ‘You cannot use that language. You must use, ‘The House majority unveiled a public option health care plan,’ which is Pelosi-speak or ‘just last week the House majority unveiled a health care plan which I believe will cost taxpayers…’”

I know we have a number of regular readers who have sympathies that lie with the Democrats, but can you honestly read that and not start to get a creepy feeling running up your spine? The Franking Commission is now going to censor communication between the members and their constituents based on nothing more than how the representative characterizes a particular proposal?

Let’s see what they’re really supposed to be doing under their charter, shall we?

Pursuant to Public Law 93-191, the bipartisan Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards or the “Franking Commission” has a three fold mandate: (1) to issue regulations governing the proper use of the franking privilege; (2) to provide guidance in connection with mailings; (3) to act as a quasi-judicial body for the disposition of formal complaints against Members of Congress who have allegedly violated franking laws or regulations.

Back in the early days of the Iraq war, I very specifically remember getting mailers from my Congressman talking about “The Invasion and Occupation of Iraq.” I heartily agreed with the description, by the way but even I recognized that it drove the Republicans up the wall and they spent a lot of time and money working to fight that characterization and spin things their way. One thing they didn’t do was try to stop the member from mailing his own views on an important issue of the day to the people he represented.

I don’t really know what more to say. I don’t know if there’s even a process of appeal on obviously partisan decisions by this supposedly bi-partisan, independent body. But there certainly should be if there’s not.

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  • AustinRoth

    Once again, the Left in the embodiment of the current Democratic majority shows their true feelings towards free speech, and their tendencies toward acting in a Fascist manner towards communications.

  • DaMav

    Well well well. Good for you. Usually this place is a repository for far left nonsense but today I salute you for standing up for free speech. Attempts by the government to censor the free flow of information and opinion should be unacceptable to all, regardless of who is doing it. Could not agree more, and thanks for saying it.

  • Kastanj

    I'm a communist according to the nutty American spectrum, and I think the Franking commission can frankly go burn.

    I hate the idiots running around acting like they're characters in a Rand novel, but imagine some GOPper trying to prevent democrats from calling the Iraq invasion an actual invasion! The democrats would rightly have gone nuts.

  • CStanley

    Kudos, Jazz- I couldn't agree more with your post and with the other commenters who applaud you for bringing it to people's attention.

    Ironically, as another blogger mentioned (sorry but I don't recall where I read it), this censorship is having the opposite of the desired effect as the “Bradley Chart” has gone viral over the internet and far more people are now seeing it than would have if the mailers had gone out to constituents in Red districts.

  • DLS

    Imagine the censorship if Carter had wanted to use the word “liberal” along with “government run”!

    Mass redaction!

    The House Dems are indeed going too far, and “Waterloo” should apply to them as well as to Obama.

  • http://twitter.com/TheGrandP David Jacobs

    Surely, the Democrats are wrongs here. It is ludicrous to think that this isn't just a cheap poltical ploy and an attempt to control the message. Censorship is the proper word to use here. They are wrong and should be called to task for this ridiculous over reach of authority.

    But just as surely your example fails, because our President ordered the invasion and occupation of Iraq. That is precisely what happened. What other words could be chosen to “characterize” those events? On the other hand, the GOP call the Democrats plan “government run healthcare” which is a characterization to score cheap political points. If anything the term is so broad the case can be made that all healthcare in the US is “government run” by simply invoking a few facts like government licensing of MD's, or the FDA drug approval process.

    We all understand what invasion and occupation mean, but what does “government run” mean?

  • StockBoySF

    Well, yes… let's call a spade a spade.

    If it IS a government-run healthcare program then Carter should be able to label it as such. If it's not, then no one should attempt to put another label on it. I'm tired of politicians from both parties calling stuff what isn't… and some people think lying is protected under free speech and they get away with it.

    Specifically with regards to this post… I think Carter is absolutely correct that it is a government-run healthcare program. Certainly there is a private component to it, but there is a government (and taxpayer-supported) component, too.

    So if he wants to label this accurately, then let him.

    Shame on those Dems for not only censoring his speech, but limiting his ability to accurately portray what it is… a government-run healthcare program.

    I think it is the responsibility of our elected officials to get accurate information to the public. Sounds like Carter is trying to do that but the Franking Commission is not allowing that.

    By the way… I'd like to hear the Franking Commission's version of what they told Carter he must use. I'll assume that Carter's depiction is accurate, but I'm open to changing my mind if the Franking Commission can offer an alternative. If the Franking Commission sent a letter (which I doubt) which would contradict Carter's statement, then that would be best.

    Otherwise it's a “he said, she said” situation and that's a minefield I don't like walking through when it comes to politicians with competing agendas they want to push. But for the moment I'll believe Carter and the responsibility is on the Franking Commission to fully prove otherwise.

  • Rambie

    So who is on this commission? From the charter, “the bipartisan Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards or the 'Franking Commission' ” it doesn't sound like it's just be Democrats running it.

    Before we light the torches and grab our pitch forks, what does the Franking Commission have to say?

  • pacatrue

    From the info presented, it clearly sounds bad and maybe it exactly is bad. I just don't know enough yet to evaluate it. What does the Franking Commission do practically on a day to day basis? What is its history of advice? Who is on it? I need some damn context to evaluate this. It's just weird with all the name-calling and partisan bashing that happens every single day from both parties that all of a sudden this Franking Commission that I've never heard of doing anything pops up and does blatant censorship of one particular member's single email.

    But if they did, then I agree completely with Jazz.

  • CStanley

    This article explains the other incident that I referred to, the Brady Chart. The article gives a bit of detail that might shed some light- the committee has three Ds, three R's. In the case of the requests to mail out this chart graphic, the committee hasn't decided yet but the issue is that the Ds are even raising these objections.

    So I think the point isn't that the committee is run by Dems, but just that Dems in the House are attempting to use the committee in ways that (seemingly, anyway) it hasn't been used before.

    But as I mentioned- the effect of these complaints, although they hold up the mailings and might even censor them completely- is backfiring because the messages get far more attention this way anyway.

  • RERSRESQ

    This is disgusting. What arrogance of the Democrat majority?!?

  • Kastanj

    “This is disgusting. What arrogance of the Democrat majority?!?”

    Franking Commision != The rest of the DNC

  • lurxst

    I am not aware of all the traditions of this committee, but it appears that it is charged with crafting the official language used in “congressionally paid for” mailing and correspondence. Carter can still have his mailers and his recordings, but he will have to find other means to pay for it outside of congressional operating budgets. Even the Human events article noted this. This doesn't quite rise to censorship, more a matter of who is required to pay the tab for a congressperson's political speech.

    A committtee with 3 dems and 3 repubs doesn't exactly strike me as a one sided affair, likely a group that is trying to maintain a level playing field for both parties. I like this notion better than the even simpler, “too bad, elections have consequences” as it at least gives some hope that the standards don;t change based on whose in power.

  • http://www.blogtalkradio.com/msr Jazz

    For David Jacobs:

    But just as surely your example fails, because our President ordered the invasion and occupation of Iraq. That is precisely what happened. What other words could be chosen to “characterize” those events?

    Probably without intending to do so, you've proven my point exactly. My congressman, Maurice Hinchey, characterized it in one mailing as the toll in American lives and dollars for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Hell, that's exactly how I characterized it. But there were more than sufficient Republicans (and some Dems too, early on, if you recall) who chose to call it the “Liberation of Iraq.”

    Now how would you feel if Congressman Hinchey had prepared his mailer to me, as one of his constituents, and had the Franking Commission block it and say that he could send it, but he would have to rephrase it to say, “The costs incurred in the process of the liberation of Iraq?” Wouldn't you be pissed? Wouldn't Hinchey? Shouldn't we all?

  • pacatrue

    Thanks, CStanley.

    Alright, so what we have going on is that there is a bi-partisan committee in place who's job is to make sure that all Congressionally paid for mailings follow the franking rules that have existed for a long time. One of those rules, from CStanley's linked article, is that newsletters paid for by Congressional funds cannot be “partisan, politicized, or personalized”. I don't know if they have any rules to determine what does and does not meet this standard, but some committee members have decided the Carter newsletter does not meet these standards. So what is the issue here? There are so many possible scenarios here that it's still hard to make a call.

    1) Carter thinks his mailing does meet the standards and therefore disagrees with the ruling of the Franking Commission. Is there any procedure for these disagreements, or did Carter circumvent them and just go for the political jugular?

    2) Did the Republicans on the committee make the same determination or is this only the Democrats? Since it's a 3-3 commission, if this is an official ruling, then I assume one Republican went along or they have some way to break ties.

    3) Maybe Carter doesn't think the Franking Committee should have any ability to control what's in congressionally paid for mailers. That's possible, but we accept every corporation's right to decide what's in the mailers that they themselves pay for. The Franking Commission doesn't control what the congressman says, only what they pay for. With the “Brady Chart” for instance over 50 congressman have put the chart on their web site.

    4) Is this just a delaying tactic where there was no actual ruling, but the Dems on the committee put it “under review” with no intention to ever actually review it? If so, then bad on them.

    Again, I'd want to know more history of this committee than two recent decisions, both being bandied about by a single party.

  • pacatrue

    So, Jazz, in reference to your latest comment in particular, is your position that the Franking Commission made an error in this case or that the Franking Commission has no right to make the decisions its been told to make?

  • http://www.blogtalkradio.com/msr Jazz

    pacatrue,
    My position ties into the precedent already set for where the bar lies in terms of mailings (and now, apparently, voice recordings for phone based town hall meetings / conference calls, which also cost taxpayer dollars for the service) which are paid for by Congressional funds and cannot be “partisan, politicized, or personalized”

    The bar, in the past, seems to have been set awfully darned low on that one. It's communication between a seated member of congress and the voters in his/her district. Surely, having run a campaign, they are aware that their representative has at least SOME partisan, party oriented bias. How could they not? And the rep can express those opinions.. in fact SHOULD express those opinions to the voters in the district within reason so they know what they are getting.

    My example in the last comment, I would hope, would ring true to you. There's a pretty big difference between saying “the invasion and occupation of Iraq” and the “liberation of Iraq” in partisan political terms, but both have validity to those using them. The “public option” for health care reform, as it's called, most certainly can have a connoation of being a govt. run plan, as some of your more liberal co-commenters here have even acknowledged. That's not one party calling the other Nazis or Fascists or brownshirts. It's a policy discussion. If you don't want the Franking Commission to be telling this guy not to say government-run health care plan and substituting a phrase straight out of a Pelosi press release, then I certainly hope you will be up in arms demanding that they be able to retrofit all past and future mailings on Iraq to term it the “liberation of Iraq.”

  • pacatrue

    So basically you think that the Franking Commission has a right to make these sorts of decisions, but that this was the wrong one in this case. Correct? If so, then I think I agree with you. One could make a decent argument that publicly funded insurance is not government run healthcare, but the difference is small enough that I wouldn't want to stop anyone from saying the latter. I'd still like to know if the Republicans on the committee also agreed with sending the note, but that's only interesting for knowing who to blame, and I'm more interested in the correct decision.

    I should note that one party didn't call the other fascist, but AustinRoth did, “Once again, the Left in the embodiment of the current Democratic majority shows their true feelings towards free speech, and their tendencies toward acting in a Fascist manner towards communications.”

    :)

  • http://www.blogtalkradio.com/msr Jazz

    So basically you think that the Franking Commission has a right to make these sorts of decisions, but that this was the wrong one in this case. Correct?

    That's a fairly amazing jump to make, if I may say so, given the amount of time I put into answering you. In some odd, alternate universe, I suppose the answer to that could somehow be construed to be yes, but it obviously doesn't go far enough. Unfortunately, the existence of such a commission relies on the now fictional beast known as “common sense” or the oft maligned pornography analogy, “I know it when I see it.”

    If the mailer says that Nancy Pelosi is secretly a member of an occult wiccan group who dines on the flesh of children and includes a badly photoshopped graphic of her doing so, then it just might possibly have gone over the line. But when the two parties have their own characterizations of a particular bill and there is at least some possibility of merit to each, then the commission is engaging in severe overreach.

    As I tried to say before, I'd be outraged if they changed “the invasion and occupation of Iraq” to the “liberation of Iraq.” But to be honest here, if a Republican sent one out saying “liberation of Iraq” and they said it had to change to “invasion and occupation” we have to be equally bothered. Is that in any way unclear?

  • pacatrue

    Hey, Jazz, I wasn't trying to misconstrue what you said at all. I may have done so unintentionally, but, well, it was unintentional.

    I get your point loud and clear that you wouldn't want people to decide exactly how people describe the Iraq War. Each member has the right to choose occupation or liberation. I agree.

    You also seem to think that the committee has some rights to not fund some mailings, which I take based upon your Pelosi the Cannibal example. We agree again there.

    So the Franking Committee then has a right to prevent mailings, but they went way too far in this particular decision. Isn't that a decent summary? Going forward, the question is what the standard should be. I don't know enough to decide, though I'm inclined to agree with you on this specific case. The free speech motive is a good reason to keep the bar very low, but there's a good reason to not put it too low as well, namely, turning Congressional mailings into the mail room for the parties.

    There's a rule in place that you can't do campaign work in the White House. People were angry at Al Gore a few years back for this. In the same way, it makes some sense to not let the Congress fund the DNC and RNC campaigns. Do you want the Congress funding “Vote Obama!” stickers? I assume not. Each party has to do their own fund raising.

    So, my take is that some group should try to decide what is excessively partisan rhetoric, such that it's not news but campaigning, but that they made a bad decision here.

  • http://twitter.com/LadyLogician LadyLogician

    “We all understand what invasion and occupation mean, but what does “government run” mean?”
    David – government run is just as clearly understandable as “invasion and occupation”. You prove Jazz's point quite well.

    LL

  • dmaddc

    My congressman constantly sends out campaign pieces disguised as “information”, but 2 years ago he sent out an outrage of a piece – check it out on my blog

  • JimTreacher

    “Franking Commision != The rest of the DNC”

    Oh, it “=” alright. It “=” like crazy.

  • joeinhell

    I actually read that post on what the franking commission is supposed to do.

    The true purpose is give the incumbent senator or congressman a huge lead automatically over any challengers in contacts, government letterhead, propaganda and false statements. There may be no other direct benefit that so favors the incumbent in the federal government legislative expenses. How much would a challenger have to sell out for to have the money to even begin to approach the mailing by franking privileges by incumbents.

    Franking should be totally abolished.

    Remember the House bank scandal when a slug of congress critters were basically running what was supposed to be a convenient check cashing service as a no limit no interest credit card. Well, that cost about .000001 per cent as what franking would cost if it were ever totaled up and it isn't.

    1

  • GeorgeSorwell

    Pacatrue made some good points.

    And the best point of all was made by Joeinhell:

    The true purpose is give the incumbent senator or congressman a huge lead automatically over any challengers in contacts, government letterhead, propaganda and false statements. There may be no other direct benefit that so favors the incumbent in the federal government legislative expenses. How much would a challenger have to sell out for to have the money to even begin to approach the mailing by franking privileges by incumbents.

    Franking should be totally abolished.

  • CStanley

    I agree with Joeinhell and GS on the point about the incumbent advantage built into this system, which should be abolished.

    I'm still not quite sure I fully understand the current controversies though. I noticed that my own Congressman, Tom Price, is actually one of the Rs on the Franking Committee. I don't know if I'll get around to contacting his office to try to get the scoop, but I may try to do so.

    But it appears there's more controversy than just mailing. Some here have pointed out that if mailing costs are going to be paid, the committee would naturally have some oversight and rules about what it will fund. But apparently there's been a partisan fight going back a few months over Pelosi attempting to change the rules so that the Franking commission also now will oversee email messages (and presumably telephone- which appears to be the case with this Carter incident regarding a recorded phone message for a telephone town hall.)

    Now, I don't think the same basis would apply for those communications, since there isn't funding involved. So perhaps the GOP that have fought against the new rule are correct to point out this overreach. If they're not getting funding for sending out those kinds of messages, then what business is it of the committee to even review the content?

  • http://www.go2sbm.com/blog @SharonMcP

    This has Pelosi written all over it. Looks the Franking Commission has become another puppet in Nancy's 'who's strings can I pull next' side show.

  • captainron

    When Democrats now cite statistics about “the American people” they should be required to add “factoring in as Americans, of course, the more than 12 million illegal aliens who we have accepted as full constituents.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marc-Sorbello/596447720 Marc Sorbello

    Not trying to get to political here but read this; talk about a violation of our free speech by the dems.

  • claudiaw

    Actually, the Constitution does protect liars. All people are protected, regardless of what they say, including the fools who say the holocaust never happened. Just someone saying something is so, doesn't mean it is so. And a skunk by any other name will still stink. Thank God we live in a nation where our right to interpret and portray any idea is protected whether others agree with us or not. And those who disagree have the right of rebuttal. But to censor anyone in the way they portray their ideas is a gross violation of their constitutional right to free speech. The franking commission has overstepped their authority. I don't care which political alffiliation you belong to, you should be objecting to this censorship.

  • agentr

    Preface: I am an artist, and freedom of speech is implicitly important to me. I feel strongly about the choice to freely express oneself through all modes of language and imagery.

    “Public option health care plan,” is, apparently, the (Democratic) preferred terminology. I can see why. “Government-run health care” does seem to imply a negative slant on what Obama is trying to do with creating universal/choice-based health care for all. It says: “Democrats are just big government and this is a way for them to control your health.” I am not well-versed (yet) on the current points, but intend to read on. In my experience, it seems that Republican-semiotics lean toward the induction of fear in people. Fear, consume, obey, and so on. I am not necessarily a Democrat, so I'm not just sticking up for my party. I vote for who seems best, which is usually the libertarian party, or green…but we all know there are really only two choices at this point. I am trying to be my own devil's advocate and see where this is all coming from. If it's really speech control, or something else.

    I don't think this is so much about free speech as it is about government officials branding a new policy in a negative/positive way in order to receive a particular, manipulated, response from people who will base their opinion on one statement or title, rather than researching and understanding what it really is.

    It's propaganda, from both sides of the aisle.

    ~r.

  • RememebrNovember

    once again AustinRoth pipes in with talking points that only demonize one side. Learn to read Roth, please it's getting tedious. If you are going to be part of the dialog learn how to frame an oppositional viewpoint.

  • frdmbased

    “By the way… I'd like to hear the Franking Commission's version of what they told Carter he must use. I'll assume that Carter's depiction is accurate, but I'm open to changing my mind if the Franking Commission can offer an alternative. If the Franking Commission sent a letter (which I doubt) which would contradict Carter's statement, then that would be best.”

    “Otherwise it's a “he said, she said” situation and that's a minefield I don't like walking through when it comes to politicians with competing agendas they want to push. But for the moment I'll believe Carter and the responsibility is on the Franking Commission to fully prove otherwise.”

    The Franking Commission is a bipartisan commission made up of 3 Republicans and 3 Democrats. If Carter's depiction of the healthcare legislation or the Republican chart of same is incorrect, the Democrats have the opportunity to send out their own mailings explaining where it is wrong. The Franking Commission is also known as Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards. It is rare that it has been used for censorship. The Democrats may be hurting themselves here.

    http://cha.house.gov/franking_about.aspx