NORFOLK -- In days of the Continental Congress, communication was relatively primitive. The only way members could stay in touch with constituents was with a hand written letter sent by horse or pony.
Today almost all members of congress have web sites where you can sign up for daily email newsletters and press releases. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-4th District) blogs and has his own t-v show. You can be Glenn Nye's friend on Facebook. Your congressman likely has videos posted on youtube. They also may be a tweeter.
Christopher Newport University Professor Quentin Kidd says, 'The United States is one of the most email connected countries in the world. So, the idea that you still need to frank is really anachronistic.'
Yet members of Congress, by law, can send three mailers a year to every address in their district. It adds up to millions of dollars and you pay for it.
Rep. Glenn Nye (D-2nd District) is a big spender on franked mail. Through the third quarter of last year, we found Nye spent more than $100,000 on mailers, he claims, to keep his constituents informed.
Nye told us, 'I try and describe in our mailings that we send out exactly what we're up to and provide people with a chance to let me know what's on their minds and what they want me to be doing.'
Rep. Randy Forbes spent more than $75,000 of your money on franked mail through the third quarter of 2009, more than most members of Congress. Forbes blamed the media, saying cut backs have made it tough for him to get his message out.
'We think it's important that our constituents are not just adequately informed, we want them to be the best informed constituents in the country.' Forbes told us.
Critics say there's little news in the mailers. The pieces are largely an effort by members of congress to promote what they're doing in a way that puts them in the best light. Nye's mailers remind constituents he's working hard for veterans and that he can help you set up a tour of Washington. Some of Forbes' mailers come in the form of surveys with skewed questions more designed to influence than inform.
'I think you would have to be blind to the reality of politics to say frank mailing doesn't have a real strong political component,' commented Quentin Kidd, a critic of the mass mailers. Kidd also told us there's a reason Glenn Nye, who's facing a tough re-election bid, spent so much on mass mailers last year while Bobby Scott, his seat considered politically safe, didn't spend a dime.
Frank mail is seen as the cost of doing business in Washington today and the mailers are not going away anytime soon. In its 2010 budget, the US House of Representatives requested an 80-percent increase in money for franked mail. That would be $16 million of your money.