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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Council Corner Conversation Continued

We didn't get around to voting on it, but we had a lengthy discussion in the wee hours of the morning about my proposed resolution to suspend the Council Corner column during the election campaign season.

The people who stayed around long past midnight to address the city council on this topic were almost all opposed to the resolution. I was amazed that a recurrent theme was their mistaken belief that suspending the Council Corner would be a violation of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. (There seems to be confusion about the meaning of "free" as in "unrestricted" versus "paid for by someone else," i.e., taxpayers.) One resident called my resolution "censorship," and compared it to Russia. I think I remember another speaker even suggesting that the city should be required to mail a letter on behalf of the mayor to all residents of Maplewood, at taxpayer expense, if she wished to during the election campaign.

Since some people considered it unthinkable that government would not fund currently elected officials' communications during their reelection campaigns, I thought it might be instructive to look at the franking privilege for members of the United States Congress.

Specifically, Congress has set rules for itself to prohibit taxpayer-funded mailings during election campaigns (quoting a 2007 Congressional Research Service document):
Senators are currently restricted from mass mailing during the 60 day period prior to federal elections, and during the 60 period prior to primary elections in which they are a candidate for any public office. The restriction for Representatives is 90 days prior to federal or primary elections in which they are a candidate for any public office.
Note that this prohibition on using the franking privilege at all during a reelection campaign is in addition to the regulations on content of franked mail at any time (including a prohibition on mailings that "relate to political campaigns, political parties, biographical accounts, or holiday greetings").

If somebody really thinks this poses a constitutional problem, perhaps they should let the U.S. Congress know.

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