congressional franking privilege, which dates from 1775, allows Members of
Congress to transmit mail matter under their signature without postage.
Congress, through legislative branch appropriations, reimburses the U.S.
Postal Service for the franked mail it handles. Use of the frank is
regulated by federal law, House and Senate rules, and committee regulations.
Reform efforts during the past 25 years have reduced overall franking
expenditures in both election and non-election years. Even-numbered-year
franking expenditures have been reduced by almost 70% from $113.4 million
in FY1988 to $36.3 million in FY2010, while odd-numbered-year franking expenditures
have been reduced by over 85% from $89.5 million in FY1989 to $12.8 million in FY2011.
House mail costs have decreased from a high of $77.9 million in FY1988 to $11.3 million
in FY2011. The Senate has dramatically reduced its costs, from $43.6 million in
FY1984 to $1.5 million in FY2011.
No legislation has been introduced during the 112th Congress to alter the
During the 111th Congress, two pieces of legislation were introduced that would
have altered the franking privilege for Members. H.R. 5151 would have
restricted Representatives’ use of the frank to documents transmitted
under the official letterhead used for the Member’s stationary. H.R. 2056
would have prohibited Senators and Representatives from sending mass mailings during
a period starting 90 days prior to a primary and ending on the day of the
general election for any election in which the Member is a candidate for
During the 110th Congress, five pieces of legislation were introduced to alter
the franking privilege for Members. One bill would have required that all
pieces of mail sent in a mass mailing include a statement indicating the
cost of producing and mailing the mass mailing. Another bill would have
prohibited mass mailings in the form of newsletters, questionnaires, or
congratulatory notices. Three bills would have prohibited Senators and
Representatives from sending mass mailings during a period starting 90
days prior to a primary and ending on the day of the general election for
any election in which the Member is a candidate for reelection.
This report will be updated as legislative action warrants. See also CRS Report
RL34188, Congressional Official Mail Costs, by Matthew Eric
Glassman; and CRS Report RL34274, Franking Privilege: Historical
Development and Options for Change, by Matthew Eric Glassman.
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