TOPEKA — The office of U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp spent $64,000 in taxpayer funds on two glossy mailers to constituents in recent weeks, an expense his political opponents are calling into question.
One mailer refers to the Republican congressman as farmers’ “boots on the ground in Washington.” It touts Huelskamp’s efforts to halt enforcement of an Environmental Protection Agency regulation and his opposition to the estate death.
Another says Huelskamp is “defending small businesses against big government.” Alongside photos of the congressman at several businesses in western and central Kansas are references to his opposition to the Affordable Care Act and environmental regulations.
The two mailers cost $63,921, according to Huelskamp’s office. Both contain a note informing constituents they were prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense.
“Families in the First District of Kansas deserve to know how I am working for them in Congress. Communicating with Kansans is one of my highest priorities,” Huelskamp said in a statement.
Huelskamp faces two Republican opponents in a contentious primary this August — obstetrician Roger Marshall and student retention specialist Alan LaPolice — both of whom questioned the appropriateness of spending taxpayer money on flashy mailers.
Brent Robertson, Marshall’s campaign manager, accused Huelskamp of using the mailers to mitigate endorsements Marshall received recently from the Kansas Livestock Association and Kansas Contractors Association.
“The timing and content of these taxpayer mailers were in direct retaliation to major Kansas endorsements for Dr. Marshall’s campaign,” Robertson said.
Members of Congress have the ability to send unsolicited mail to their constituents through the U.S. Postal Service, a benefit known as franking, as long as the mail informs constituents of the congressman’s work in Washington. Federal laws bar the use of franked mail to solicit political support.
“I think Dr. Marshall misses the point,” LaPolice said. “It’s called the incumbent advantage, and every single incumbent politician uses it.”
“It’s not illegal, it’s just one more thing that is gravely wrong with the system which was manipulated by those within the system,” he added.
LaPolice criticized Huelskamp’s mailers, as well as his frequent travel between Washington and Kansas, as costly expenses aimed at ensuring his re-election. LaPolice pledged to not receive a pension or spend more than half of his congressional office budget if he is elected.
Huelskamp dismissed the criticisms as political attacks and said his mailers informed the roughly 700,000 Kansans he represents.
“Roger Marshall is attacking me for communicating with Kansans. This is nothing more than a desperate campaign ploy from a rich hospital CEO,” the congressman said.
Huelskamp said Kansans deserve to know what President Barack Obama is up to and what he is doing to stop the president.
“Washington insiders and their candidates like Marshall like to hide what they are doing — I do not,” he said.
In 2012, Huelskamp was chided in several Kansas newspapers for a mailer he sent criticizing the Affordable Care Act. He defended it in an op-ed, saying the mailer only cost 50 cents per household.
Huelskamp’s recent mailer on agricultural issues comes at a time when his political opponents are aggressively seeking out the support of the First congressional district’s largest economic sector. The Kansas Farm Bureau, which didn’t endorse a First District candidate in 2014, could make an endorsement in the coming weeks.
Huelskamp’s opposition to the last farm bill and programs that boost ethanol production, along with his removal from the House Agriculture Committee, have left him susceptible to attacks. Last month, Huelskamp voted against a massive government funding bill that renewed billions of dollars in crop insurance funding that had been cut.
“Why doesn’t Rep. Huelskamp think crop insurance is worth supporting, but taxpayer-funded campaign mail is?” Robertson said.
Huelskamp defended his vote on the funding bill and pointed to his prior opposition to crop insurance cuts.
“I also find it deceitful that a rich hospital CEO is attacking a fifth-generation farmer on crop insurance — when I voted against the cuts,” he said.