PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Congressman David Cicilline sent more than 17,000 younger voters a letter this weekend blasting the Republican Party's "extreme" policies on Medicare, transportation and "Big Oil" - and taxpayers picked up the tab.
"While I have remained focused on policies that will help put Rhode Islanders back to work, many of my colleagues have proposed extreme legislation that would unquestionably set us back," Cicilline wrote in the two-page, single-spaced letter printed on his official letterhead and dated last Thursday.
"The Republican budget proposal would also end the Medicare guarantee as we know it and replace it with a voucher system, while at the same time enacting a new round of tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires," the first-term Democrat wrote, suggesting the GOP is "balancing the budget on the backs of our seniors and students."
The letter was mailed to 17,276 people in the 1st Congressional District who are between the ages of 25 and 45, Cicilline spokesman Richard Luchette told WPRI.com. Printing and postage for the letter cost an estimated $10,100. "We wanted to reach out to as many of our constituents as was possible within the constraints of our office budget," he said.
Young voters are a crucial constituency for Cicilline. A WPRI 12 poll last month found voters ages 18 to 39 are the only generation that supports him over Anthony Gemma, and they do so by
a 36-point margin.
Cicilline also used taxpayer money recently to send a notice to voters ages 45 to 80 trumpeting "Congressman Cicilline's Senior Resources Fair," a June 4 event in North Providence about government services for the elderly. "We must keep the promises we have made to our seniors and protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for future generations," he wrote on the mailing.
The so-called "congressional franking privilege," which predates the U.S. Constitution, allows lawmakers to mail materials using taxpayer dollars for postage. Cicilline spent $61,000 of his $1.3 million office budget on mass mail this year, which is
about average, Luchette said.
Cicilline's mailings were approved by both Democratic and Republican staff members, he said.
Cicilline got out his letter to young voters under the wire - an official blackout on sending unsolicited mail or email from his congressional office goes into effect Tuesday because he is now less than 90 days away from the Democratic primary against Anthony Gemma. Cicilline has a slim lead over Gemma and was 15 points behind his Republican opponent Brendan Doherty in February.
Ian Prior, Doherty's campaign manager, blasted the latest letter from Cicilline as "outrageous" and described it as "not the first time we have seen him use taxpayer money in his attempt to stay in power." Prior criticized the congressman for using nearly $40,000 in taxpayer funds to pay for 13
telephone town halls with his constituents, as well.
"He should pay for it from his campaign account," Prior told WPRI.com. "The fact that Congressman Cicilline is using the hard-earned money of his constituents to pay for his campaign activities shows how out of touch he is with the economic problems facing this country and affecting families throughout the First District."
Luchette defended the letter to young voters as a legitimate use of taxpayer money. "With so many issues important to Rhode Islanders being talked about in Washington today, and especially as a new member of Congress, David takes very seriously his responsibility to communicate with the people he serves," he said. "This is one of a variety of ways we communicate with residents of the district."
A spokesman for Congressman Jim Langevin, Rhode Island's other U.S. House lawmaker, said Langevin has sent "a handful of larger mailings on letterhead about particular issues for people/groups that have expressed interest in that topic" since taking office in 2001.
Prior pledged that Doherty will not send similar mailings if he defeats Cicilline this November. "I can tell you this right now," Prior said, "no matter what the rules may or may not allow, as a member of Congress Brendan Doherty will not use taxpayer money to campaign or push his message for the purpose of re-election."