It sure looks that way. Both Valerie Longhurst and Dennis E. Williams have sent out official House correspondence to their districts that are little more than taxpayer-funded campaign pieces. There may well be others who have done the same.
The supposed deniability comes in that these are allegedly legislative updates to constituents. They are sent on their personal House letterhead, in House envelopes, and likely through state mail. And they are prepared in-house by state employees on state time. They tout the alleged accomplishments of the legislators, and, as campaign pieces are prone to do, try to mislead voters on issues where the incumbents are vulnerable. Oh, and so far, they’ve only been sent out by incumbent House members facing primaries.
When I worked in the Senate, we were forbidden from doing this. During the brief time that I worked for the House, then-Speaker Terry Spence allowed us to send such mailings. Of course, it’s likely not coincidence that this policy was set during the election season that the Rethugs were desperately trying to hold onto their majority, and if they did it, he had to let us do it. Truth be told, most of July and August were spent on preparing and sending these mailings.
Only one person can authorize such mailings: The Speaker of the House. It’s likely legal, as the General Assembly routinely exempts itself from laws that apply to everyone else. In fact, apparently it’s technically legal to send out these sorts of mailings up to 35 days prior to an election. But I submit that it’s a wasteful misuse of taxpayer funds.
Isn’t it enough that incumbents can generally out-raise their opponents using legal means? Why should taxpayers have their money wasted in ensuring that vulnerable incumbents like Valerie Longhurst and Dennis Williams are propped up? The answer is that they shouldn’t.
I’ve seen both of the pieces. Please allow me to point out some of the rhetorical bullshit that You the Taxpayers have funded. From Val Longhurst:
“Our roads took a serious beating during this harsh winter. Repairing roads in our community is a top priority. With a number of repaving projects planned for 2014, I am constantly trying to allocate limited resources to the the areas of greatest need.”
Nowhere in the letter does Longhurst mention that the resources are limited due in part to her loud public refusal (as the House Majority Leader) to even consider a gas tax increase. Fortunately for Longhurst, however, whatever limited resources the state has to work with does not infringe on her ability to send out campaign material at the state’s expense.
My favorite misrepresentation in Longhurst’s piece is this one:
I was proud to support the following bills:
Minimum Wage Increase (SB 6): Gives minimum wage workers a much-needed and much deserved increase by boosting the minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $8.25/hour…
Not only did Valerie Longhurst do nothing to push for a minimum wage increase, she buried the bill in her own House Administration Committee until she and Governor Markell were able to weaken, emasculate actually, the bill. Yes, she voted yes, along with virtually everybody else, once the bill was emasculated, but a much stronger bill would easily have passed the General Assembly if not for Longhurst’s running of interference for Gov. Markell. Valerie Longhurst cost minimum wage workers the increase they really deserved. That’s the truth, and it’s been chronicled on Delaware Liberal. What Longhurst wrote in her letter is (a) dishonest, (b) deceptive, and (c) paid for by the taxpayers. Does that seem right to you?
Rep. Dennis E. Williams took it a step further. Not only did he send out a letter on his House stationery in his House envelopes touting his alleged legislative achievements, he also sent a glossy palm card adorned with his campaign logo (twice) in the same envelope. You know, one of those ‘Useful Phone Number‘ lists. “Not Printed At Taxpayers Expense”, the disclaimer disclaims. And it’s correct. It was only mailed and prepared at taxpayer expense.
BTW, both Williams and Longhurst claim credit for ‘campaign finance reform’. Here’s how Williams described this accomplishment:
*Campaign Finance Reform-Overhaul the Department of Elections, election law and campaign finance, and strengthening the state Public Integrity Commission.
You see, because nothing defines public integrity quite like enabling legislators to send out ‘non-political’ political mailings on the public’s dime. I told you that this supposed campaign reform package was BS, this is the inevitable first example of it. Taking credit for reform while leaving the taxpayers to pick up the tab for touting this phony reform.
Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, Valerie Longhurst, and Dennis E. Williams have abused their oaths of office by using taxpayer money to fund their (caucus’) reelection efforts. While there may be others (Reps. Barbieri, Kim Williams, Miro, Peterman, and Blakey face primary challenges, although Kim Williams has already made clear that she did not send such a mailing), they would only add to the stench of your tax dollars going up in smoke to protect the careers of middling politicians. If you’ve received a mailing from any of these legislators, send me a copy ASAP. I’ll be happy to give them Dishonorable Mention. They’ve earned it.