Larry Dale Keeling: Frankingly, my dear, Andy Barr sucking up welfare for pols

herald-leader ColumnistJuly 27, 2014 

Taxpayers footed the bill for U.S. Rep. Andy Barr's flyer though it looks for all the world like a typical campaign mailing.

FRANKFORT — This and that before a squatzillion members of the national media invade the 134th Annual Fancy Farm Picnic to watch Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes strut their oratorical stuff on the same stage (possibly for the last time in this campaign, given the lack of progress in debate negotiations):

Long ago in a faraway land known as the Kentucky state Senate chamber, Republicans launched an ultimately successful campaign to do away with partial public financing of gubernatorial campaigns by denouncing it as "welfare for politicians."

This phrase came back to mind when Wednesday's mail included yet another flyer, delivered courtesy of U.S. Rep. Andy Barr's franking privileges.

As the Herald-Leader's Matt Young recently reported, the 6th District Republican spent more than $190,000 of taxpayers' money on mailings and telephone town hall meetings during his first 15 months in office. Barr's total was more than 10 times what any other U.S. representative from Kentucky spent during the same period and ranked 26th among House members for whom data was available.

If there is a more egregious form of "welfare for politicians" than allowing incumbents at all levels of government to spend tax dollars "communicating with constituents" in ways that amount to thinly disguised re-election campaign propaganda, my aging mind has forgotten what it could be.

I'm fine with paying for incumbents' official correspondence (truly official correspondence) and responses to queries or complaints from individual constituents, but general mailings rip off the public.

Except for Barr's signature substituting for postage (thereby shifting the cost to taxpayers), Wednesday's flyer looked for all the world like the tons of campaign literature we're going to be inundated with during the next few months. But one aspect of it pointed out the absurdity of this particular form of "welfare for politicians."

A clip-and-mail survey asked flyer recipients to respond to five questions about legislation, each of which included the phrase "such as my bill." In the upper right corner of the address side of the survey was the phrase "PLACE POSTAGE HERE."

So, Barr spent my tax dollars sending me a flyer that, in addition to bragging about all the great things he has done for 6th District constituents (and subliminally asking me to send him back to Washington in November), includes a survey asking me to respond to loaded questions about legislation "such as my bill(s)."

Then, I have to spend more of my money on postage to send the survey back to him telling him what he can do with his bills? Excuse the terrible grammar, but that ain't right. No way. No how. Not in any interpretation of rightness.

Be they Democrat, Republican, Independent, liberal, conservative, Tea Partiers or visitors from state Sen. Brandon Smith's next favorite planet, incumbents of all stripes and at all levels abuse the privilege of corresponding on the public's dime. None of it should be acceptable to voters. The only reason Barr stands out is he's sucked up way more of this "welfare for politicians" than most lately.

When Attorney General Jack Conway reported raising more than $750,000 less than two months after he announced his 2015 gubernatorial bid, House Speaker Greg Stumbo and former Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, both of whom are considering running for governor next year, suggested Conway was hurting Grimes' ability to raise money in her campaign to oust McConnell.

A week later, Grimes reported raising more than $4 million, a record for Kentucky, in the second quarter of this year. Enough said about Conway's impact on her fund-raising.

Comparing Earth and Mars in regard to climate change? Seriously, Sen. Smith?

As much as I love the food and fun at Fancy Farm (and summer Saturday nights in downtown Paducah), I'll kick back and watch McConnell and Grimes strut their stuff on KET's live broadcast. Hope those of you who do go get to the barbecue and home-cooked veggies before the invasion of national journalists scarf them all up.

As a lung cancer survivor of nearly 14 years, I'm pulling for former governor and U.S. Sen. Wendell Ford to be as lucky as I was. Best wishes to him and his family.

Reach Larry Dale Keeling at lkeeling@herald-leader.com.

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