Jeff Wentworth didn’t come up with the idea of having taxpayers pay for political self-promotion mail-pieces. But his state senate office’s mishandling of a “district newsletter” demonstrates why it’s long past time for this perk to end.
For decades, taxpayers have picked up the tab for mass-mail newsletters in which legislators highlight their own achievements and promote themselves at the taxpayers’ expense.
It was revealed this week that the office of State Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) put his newsletter in the mail to nearly 100,000 homes… three months earlier than they had planned. The letter was written to coincide with the Christmas and New Year holiday.
You know, that’d be a new year which begins with Wentworth on the ballot in a re-election campaign. Coincidentally, a campaign in which he will likely be challenged from the right, on his legislative record.
So it was probably just another coincidence that this newsletter includes articles bashing Congress and lamenting the death of legislation addressing illegal immigration. All red-meat issues for his primary voters. Remember, just coincidentally, it was going out at the front end of his re-election campaign, not at the end of the legislative session. Just a coincidence.
Yeah, right. All a coincidence.
For his part, Sen. Wentworth apologized — sort of — for the mailing. Well, not exactly; he apologized for the piece going out early, and lamenting he didn’t have the money to re-mail later to those households who got the letter ahead of schedule.
After all, those voters might go into the election season forgeting about all the good things he said about himself with their money… They might not remember all the right-sounding things he had to say, safely divorced from his rotten record as a Republican lawmaker. (He scored an “F” on the Fiscal Responsibility Index, far below the GOP average in the Senate.)
Proponents of these official-political fluff pieces (that is, the elected officials themselves) claim the mailers are a critical way to stay in touch with their constituents, providing them with news and information. Pure bunk. The newsletters provide news the same way a newspaper editorial page does. Which is to say, it doesn’t. These publications are merely ways for legislators to flex the muscles of their incumbency at the expense of Texas’ taxpayers.
Legislators will claim, correctly, that the dollars spent don’t amount to very much of the overall budget. That’s nice, but it’s not the point. The question isn’t how much is being spent on the activity, but that the activity takes places at all. Taxpayers shouln’t pick up the tab for legislators’ re-election materials.
Some readers might remember that leading up to his 2010 electoral defeat, former State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) distributed a tax-funded newsletter in which he tried to bolster his pro-business credentials… By plagiarizing the speeches of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. (Moody lost to Republican businessman Dee Margo in the 2010 general election.)
Letting politicians use the taxpayers cash to promote themselves is bad enough, it’s worse when it happens during an election, and downright disgusting when it’s so cynically produced so many months in advance.
It’s time for the tax-funded “district newsletter” farce to come to an end. Ina ll fairness, Mr. Wentworth’s “newsletter” deserves some credit for reminding us just how manipulative lawmakers can be in spending the people’s money.