U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown spent $250,000 in taxpayer funds — more than all but one member of the House of Representatives — to send out mailers to constituents in the months before his successful primary election for Maryland attorney general.
Records show that in the second quarter of the year, the Prince George’s County Democrat spent $110,900 on “franked” mail, the term for official mail sent by members of Congress. An additional $138,483 was spent on printing and reproduction, which a spokesman said was for flyers, mailers and other messaging methods.
Together, it was more than Brown had spent on such mailers in the previous three years.
Brown defeated Katie Curran O’Malley in the Democratic primary for attorney general and will face Republican Michael Peroutka in the general election.
The mailers touted Brown’s efforts to combat domestic violence, improve healthcare, secure infrastructure projects and support students during the pandemic. Christian Unkenholz, a spokesman for Brown who also serves as his campaign spokesman, said that members of Congress are encouraged to use franked mail, and that a “core responsibility” of serving is “communicating frequently with and hearing from those he serves about the issues that will impact their daily lives.”
He noted that while Brown was running for statewide office, the second quarter mailers were sent to constituents in Brown’s district regardless of party affiliation, and said they were intended to also promote accomplishments by the Democratic Congress.
“After representing Prince George’s County for more than 20 years, it is safe to say the Congressman already enjoys very high name recognition,” Unkenholz said.
While Brown’s numbers were high relative to his colleagues for the quarter, Kedric Payne, former chief counsel for the Office of Congressional Ethics, said it is common for members to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on mail. All mail is reviewed by a franking commission to ensure it is not in violation of rules.
“The rules require disclosure of the expenses so that voters can decide if they approve of this use of their taxpayer dollars. Voters have a right to know that their elected officials are good stewards of taxpayer funds,” said Payne, who is vice president and senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center.
Disclosure rules did not require Brown’s spending to be disclosed until after the July primary election.
House members are prohibited from sending mass mailings fewer than 60 days prior to any general or primary election in which they are a candidate, and are prohibited from sending unsolicited mass mailings outside their district.
Rules also state that official communications should not be used for political or personal business; that mailers should not include content laudatory of a member on a personal or political basis; should feature no unsourced graphs, charts, or statistics on policies; and shouldn’t contain endorsements or promotion of non-governmental companies, products, or services, including charitable organizations.
Those records show the only representative to spend more during the same period than Brown was Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican representing Washington state, who spent almost $500,000 in franked mail and printing. Like Brown, all of Herrera Beutler’s spending occurred in the second quarter.
Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican, was also near the top of the quarter’s highest spenders, with $193,428.
In contrast, Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin spent $98 on franked mail and $1,405 on printing during the quarter, while Rep. David Trone spent $1,157 on franked mail and $3,061 on printing. Rep. Kweisi Mfume spent $53,492.
For the year, Brown ranks sixth in spending among members of the House of Representatives. There are 435 members of the House of Representatives.
He is behind Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.), who spent $373,663; Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who spent $348,786; Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah) $316,514, and Rep. John Moolenar (R-Mich.), who spent $273,745.
Unkenholz said that Brown had previously exceeded $100,000 in franked mail spending annually from 2017-2020, spending $217,067, $145,565, $131,793, and $116,058, respectively, during those years. He said it was 2021 that was an outlier, when Brown only spent $7,231. He attributed that to the office opting to use email newsletters and robocalls to share public health and safety information during the pandemic.
Brown spent more money on direct mail from his Congressional office than he did from his campaign coffers. His election campaign spent $166,100 on direct mail and printing out of $1.96 million spent so far this year.
Members of the House are permitted to spend any portion of their Member Representational Allowance on franked mail. According to LegiStorm, Brown’s allowance for the legislative year is $1.75 million, and he has spent $812,614 total, about 22% more than the average members’ expenditures to this point. Unspent funds are returned to the Treasury.
One of Brown’s congressional mailers touted his efforts to combat domestic violence. “Congressman Anthony Brown helped pass major improvements and initiatives to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault while providing support to survivors,” the mailer read. It included laudatory comments about Brown from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Katie Ray, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Another mailer read: “After many fell behind in the pandemic ... Congressman Anthony Brown is getting schools and students back on track.”
They were marked with the line “Paid for with official funds from the office of Congressman Anthony G. Brown.”
Peter Whippy, communications director for the Committee on House Administration, which oversees a bipartisan committee that regulates franked mail, said he could not comment on Brown’s mailers unless someone filed a complaint.