Are you paying for Congressman Rod Blum's reelection?
Each year, U.S. representatives get about $1.2 million to run their respective congressional offices. That money pays staff, buys supplies and allows for communication with constituents back home.
According to expense reports, last year, Rep. Rod Blum, from Iowa's First Congressional District, spent about a third of that budget-- more than $400,000-- sending mailers and mass communications. That's more than anyone else in the U.S. House.
"He ought to be ashamed of himself," said Monica Vernon, a former Cedar Rapids City Council member. "This is the people's money."
Vernon is running against fellow Democrat, Pat Murphy. Both are trying to snatch the party nomination this summer to run against Blum, come November.
Vernon, like many Democrats, has been hammering Blum on the mailers, saying he's misusing them to campaign while voters foot the bill.
"At a time when so many families are struggling to get by," said Vernon, "he's wasting tax payer dollars on, what I see as, self-promoting, campaign-styled ads."
Obviously, Vernon has an agenda, but does she also have a point?
Blum's sent out a couple mailers in March. One is a survey, asking voters to rank top issues. Another, details on a job fair.
Both are brightly colored. One has phrases like, "UNWAVERING LEADERSHIP" and "Keeping America Safe" on the front. Inside, it features quotes from the congressman. Pictures of Blum and his position on issues.
Blum says the left's criticism of the mailers is just Democrats making something out of nothing.
"It's campaign season," said Blum. "We chuckle. We get what they're trying to do. It's desperate, Democrat diversions."
According to the congressman, the mailers aren't for campaigning, they're for communicating.
"What they do is let the voters in my district-- there are 20 counties, a lot of them are very rural-- let them know what we're doing," said Blum. "Letting people know about our veterans care fairs, senior wellness fairs and our job fairs."
No matter what you think about the mailers, Blum isn't breaking the rules.
So many Democrats and Republicans use mailers, there's a group called the Franking Commission to regulate them. The bipartisan board, consisting of three Republican and three Democratic representatives, has to sign off on all unsolicited mass mailing, over 500 pieces, before it's printed and sent.
University of Iowa Political Scientist Tim Hagle says given the rules in place, and the subjective nature of the question, voters really have the final say in whether mailers go too far. They can voice their opinions on the ballot.
Blum won't have it easy. The First District is a mix of Republicans and Democrats.
The congressman is a first-term incumbent. Hagle says right now, Blum is at his most vulnerable.
"In Iowa, we like our incumbents," said Hagle. "Once people get past that first reelection in the House, they tend to stay for a fairly long time. If Democrats want to knock off Rod Blum, this really is the time to do it."
As November draws closer, mass mailers from all representatives will stop, per 90-day-blackout regulations.
In Congressman Blum's case, will they help or hurt his chances at reelection? Eastern Iowa finds out, election night.