Friday, May 11, 2012 at 8:54 a.m.
Republican Senate candidate Connie Mack has had to deal with a bit of drama the past few days. And the check pictured above could mean that the drama isn't over.
The trouble started when Mack, who bills himself a fighter of liberal "spending sprees
," decided to spend a pile of federal money ($18,000 on postage alone) to send postcards to Florida voters. Mack's allowed to do it because he's a congressman, and when you're a congressman, you get to spend tax dollars sending postcards.
The main limits to this "franked mail" is that you can send it only to your constituents and that it has to be informational and not overly political. So when the Tampa Bay Times
found out Mack's mailers were popping up waaay
outside of his district, people started asking questions.
Mack blamed William McClintock & Associates, the company he says put the list together. Mack said it was the firm's fault that 64 percent of the people receiving his mailer were outside of his district, and then the company cut the $18,000 check above to pay the government back for its "mistake."
I called William McClintock & Associates. I thought I was quite polite; they hung up on me anyway.
' Alex Leary reports that the House committee that oversees franked mail won't be taking any action against Mack
. But the Republican-led committee isn't the only agency that can, in theory, penalize him. The fliers still went out, after all, and could have in theory helped Mack in the upcoming Senate primary -- which means that the Federal Election Commission could get involved.
Mack says it wasn't election material, that it was a mailing intended for his constituents. In his apology letter
to the franking committee, he called it a "newsletter." Have a look for yourself:
Not a lot of news in that letter. And as for whether it's campaign material, check out the front page of Mack's Senate campaign website:
Lookin' pretty similar there, Cornelius
. Still, it's totally possible that this was a real, genuine, honest mistake.
Does it matter? The facts are the same -- Mack got 90,000 mailers
sent out to Florida voters -- now, for free -- that carried his name and a silly, unhelpful quote promoting the cornerstone of the fiscal policy outlined on his campaign website
. It doesn't say "Vote for Mack," but could it be considered campaign mail? If a congressman accidentally sends mail to people whose only connection to him is that they can vote for him in the upcoming election, is that campaigning?
That would translate to a contribution of at least $18,000 from McClintock & Associates, which is way over the contribution limit. We've been trying to figure this out for a while, and Republican primary opponent George LeMieux mused about it in a news conference yesterday. I called the FEC to get the final word.
"We're not allowed to tell you," a spokeswoman said.
She said that the news office isn't allowed to help interpret regulations on the fly like that but that someone would need to file a complaint for the FEC to get involved. She pointed me toward the candidate handbook and left it at that, with apologies for not really being able to offer any actual insight.
Surprisingly, the FEC's candidate handbook
says very little on the matter of interpreting "accidentally" distributed mass mailings in which the federal government gets a refund and the candidate gets to send the mail anyway. It does say, "When a committee, group or individual pays for a communication that is coordinated with a campaign or a candidate, the communication is either an inkind contribution or, in some limited cases, a coordinated party expenditure by a party committee." That sounds sort of close, but somebody who does this for a living is going to have to actually interpret it.
And unless a complaint is filed, we won't know what it means.