CHARLESTON — With the May 2024 Republican primary for U.S. Senate more than six months away, U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., has ramped up spending on mail to constituents in the 2nd Congressional District, as well as tele-townhall calls to constituents.
According to quarterly statement of disbursement reports filed with the House of Representatives, Mooney has spent $275,758 on franked communications and printing costs since October 2022, shortly before the Nov. 8, 2022, general election and weeks before Mooney announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat held by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
These franked communication costs include franked mailings, the associated costs with printing and reproductions, and tele-town halls.
Mooney held a tele-town hall Saturday morning, giving the congressman the opportunity to give his stance on issues going on in Congress and bills he is sponsoring. Mooney also took questions from constituents.
“The government doesn’t have any money. They take it from you, the taxpayers, first,” Mooney said during his tele-town hall Saturday, referring to the need to pass 12 appropriations bills to fund the federal government for one year before the government shuts down on Nov. 17. “The U.S. House of Representatives can decide how your money is spent, and it is a Republican majority right now. There is a reason voters gave us a Republican majority, so we can defend ourselves … against wasteful spending plans.”
“The congressman regularly conducts telephone town hall meetings to reach tens of thousands of constituents at once to keep them abreast of how he is fighting the extreme (President Joe) Biden agenda that is crushing West Virginia families,” said Ryan Kelly, communications director for Mooney.
The term “frank” is defined as the signature of a member of Congress used on mail. Franked communications are not subject to postage costs. While the U.S. Senate has its own rules, House franked communications are subject to approval by the House Communications Standards Commission.
While franked communications are not subject to postage, that doesn’t mean there are no costs. According to CRS, House members receive funding for their offices through a Member Representational Allowance. This includes an allowance for franked postage, determined by a formula based on the number of non-business addresses in a House member’s district. This is included in a House member’s allowances for office staff and office expenses.
According to the public disclosure website maintained by the House Clerk’s Office, Mooney’s office sought advisory opinions for 28 different mass communications this year. These include 16 mailers, two radio ad scripts, two handouts, one digital ad, one text message script, one robo-call script template for a tele-town hall, two mass emails, and three templates for postcards with office locations and office hours.
The most recent approved mailer dated Sept. 12, titled “Defending American Values,” promotes Mooney’s stance for prohibiting transgender surgeries for minors, prohibiting biological boys/men who identify as transgender girls/women from participating in public school and college sports, opposing taxpayer funding for abortion, banning pornography in schools, and banning ideologies often linked to critical race theory.
“I proudly serve the American people, our traditional values, and work against those who would change the soul of our great country,” Mooney said in a quote on the front of the mailer.
According to the manual, franked communications cannot be used for soliciting votes, campaign contributions, or other political campaign or political party communications. Regulations limit the size and formatting of franked mailings. And in the House, members cannot send mass mailing to constituents within 90 days of a general or primary election and cannot send mass communications outside their districts.
However, according to the fourth quarter House statement of disbursement reports for Mooney’s office covering the months of October through December 2022, eight of the transactions included in the report were for franked mail costs between Aug. 1 and Aug. 31, Sept. 1 and Sept. 30, and Nov. 1 and Nov. 30. The 90-day prohibition on mass mailings before the 2022 general election kicked in on Aug. 8, 2022.
In comparison, during the same nine-month period between October 2022 and June 2023 when Mooney racked up more than $275,000 in franked communications costs, U.S. Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., only spent $3,538 in franked mailings and printing costs.
Mooney, a former Maryland lawmaker and chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, ran in West Virginia for the House seat formerly held by U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., in 2014, taking office in 2015. According to Legistorm, Mooney has spent more than $1 million on franked communications since 2015.
After the 2020 U.S. Census, population loss caused the state to drop from three congressional districts to two, with Mooney’s district being combined with the 1st Congressional District, represented by former Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va. Mooney defeated McKinley 54% to 36% in the May 10, 2022, Republican primary.
Between October 2021 and June 2022 which overlapped with the May 2022 Republican primary, Mooney spent $406,588 on franked communications and printing costs – nearly 93% more than the $210,673 spent by McKinley on franked communications during the same time period. Miller only spent $6,910 on franked communications during the same nine-month period when Miller was seeking re-election in the newly created 1st Congressional District covering the southern half of the state.
“Members of the House have different spending priorities as it pertains to their districts,” Kelly said. “Congressman Mooney prioritizes communication with his constituents as he always has. Rep. Mooney now represents a brand-new rural district with 900,000 constituents, many of them he has never represented before.”
A franked mailer sent by Mooney to constituents in March resulted in a complaint filed by Harry Dietzler, a Parkersburg attorney and former Democratic candidate for the West Virginia House of Delegates. That complaint was submitted to the U.S. House Ethics Committee, which also is investigating alleged ethics violations by Mooney. The House Ethics Committee does not comment on pending investigations or filed complaints.
Mooney’s Republican opponents in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate include Zane Lawhorn and Gov. Jim Justice, who announced his candidacy in April. The Justice campaign criticized Mooney for the appearance of using office resources to campaign.
“The questionable use of official office franked mail is no surprise,” said Roman Stauffer, campaign manager for Jim Justice for U.S. Senate. “Alex Mooney has a history of questionable, unethical behavior, including luxury vacations paid for by political vendors, spending thousands of campaign dollars on personal expenses, and utilizing Congressional staff for personal errands, all of which the Office of Congressional Ethics has referred to the House Ethics Committee for investigation.”
Mooney fired back on Wednesday. “Jim Justice is as wrong on this as he was in supporting $3 trillion in Biden spending,” the congressman said.