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At first blush you might think the billboards you encounter on I-75 or the broadcast (TV/radio) ads of late for U.S. House Democrat Shri Thanedar (D-Detroit) are no big deal. After all, he is a self-made millionaire so who are we to question how he spends his money. But then we learned that the first-term House member is using taxpayer funds to promote himself through an ever expanding use of the congressional franking privilege that dates back to the mid-1700s. What started out as a way to communicate through the mail has evolved to include modern day communication methods, like television, radio, mass email, billboards and social media ads. Members of congress can determine each year how to spend a $1.9 million budget on office staff and communication. In the case of Thanedar, last year he spent 44 percent of his annual budget on promoting himself through a variety of methods, a much higher percentage than the average of House members, according to numbers tracked by Legistorm. In the month of May alone this year, he spent heavily to hype the services available from his office, which some have criticized as lacking in the past when it came to responding to constituents. Legistorm tells us that in the first quarter of this year, House members spent $2 million on such efforts but one third of that total was spent by six house members, with Thanedar among that group. Thanedar’s spending is the subject of a formal complaint to the Office of Congressional Ethics by Detroit Councilwoman Mary Waters, who is challenging him in the August primary. Thanedar’s response — everything he has put out for constituent communication was cleared by the Franking Commission, but to the layman, much of it seems borderline re-election material. Then there is first-term U.S. Rep. John James, a Republican in the district that includes a chunk of Macomb County, along with Rochester and Rochester Hills. The rumored future (seldom talked about) gubernatorial candidate wannabe is ranked 12th in spending of franking dollars. Hmmm.



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