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PoliGraph: Clark one for three

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DFL State Sen. Tarryl Clark's latest challenge to her opponent Rep. Michele Bachmann goes something like this: cut your salary and budget because I cut mine.

The challenge comes in a new Clark television ad and letter launched Sept. 15.

"When Minnesota faced a record budget deficit, I cut my legislative compensation and budget," Clark said in the ad.

In a separate letter to Bachmann on the same subject, Clark wrote, "You spend more taxpayer dollars on campaign-style mailings and radio ads than any Minnesota Member of Congress. You spend more taxpayer money on self-promoting media staff than on legislative staff."

Clark gets two of these three claims wrong.

The Evidence

"When Minnesota faced a record budget deficit, I cut my legislative compensation and budget."

In the 2007-2008 biennium, Clark made about $102,380, including base salary, a leadership bonus and per diem. This biennium, Clark trimmed her per diem spending by $13,316, or about 13 percent, for a total salary of $89,064. She also declined a communications budget, among other things.

"You spend more taxpayer dollars on campaign-style mailings and radio ads than any Minnesota Member of Congress."

Clark is talking about money Bachmann spends on constituent communications regarding congressional business - her "franking" privileges, which are paid for with public funds. This claim does not concern campaign mailers, which are covered by campaign coffers, not taxpayer dollars, though Clark's staff points out that some of Bachmann's fliers are fancy, full-color spreads that tout her accomplishments.

In late 2009, several articles were written about how much the delegation spends on mail after the U.S. House of Representatives published its first quarterly report on the subject. Indeed, between July 1, 2009 and Sept. 30, 2009, Bachmann spent more than any other member on franking expenses.

But there's more current data available. For the entire congressional session, which includes July 2009 through June 2010, Bachmann comes in fourth behind Reps. Erik Paulson, John Kline, and Tim Walz. During this period, Bachmann spent $171,521 of her more than $2 million budget on franking costs. Paulson, in comparison, spent $262,716 of his more than $2 million budget on constituent mail.

"You spend more taxpayer money on self-promoting media staff than on legislative staff."

Clark's also wrong that Bachmann spends more on her media staff than on her legislative staff. According to Legistorm, a website that tracks Hill staffer salaries on a quarterly basis, Bachmann has so far spent $184,989 on legislative staff this congressional session. During the same period of time, she's spent only $174,551 on press staff. Narrowing the search to 2009 or the first two quarters of 2010, it's the same story: Bachmann spent more money on legislative staff than on press staff.

The Verdict

Clark has cut her own salary and budget. But the record shows that Bachman is not the biggest spender when it comes to mail. And she's never spent more on her media staff than on her legislative staff.

By Catharine Richert

Sources

Tarryl Clark for Congress, "Challenge," accessed Sept. 16, 2010

Tarryl Clark for Congress, open letter to Rep. Michele Bachmann, accessed Sept. 16, 2010

"Challenge" Fact Sheet

Tarryl Clark for Congress, The Bachmann Agenda: Self-Promoting at Taxpayers, accessed Sept. 17, 2010

Minnesota Independent, Bachmann a member of House's million-franking club, by Chris Steller, Dec. 4, 2009

The Star Tribune, A look at the MN delegation's office expenditures, by Eric Roper, Dec. 1, 2009

The Congressional Research Office, Franking Privilege: Historical Development and Options for Change, Dec. 5, 2007

The U.S. House of Representatives, Statement of Disbursements: July 1, 2009-Dec. 31, 2009, accessed Sept. 16, 2010

The U.S. House of Representatives, Statement of Disbursements: January 1, 2010-June 30, 2010, accessed Sept. 16, 2010

The Minnesota House of Representatives, State Elected Officials' Compensation, accessed Sept. 17, 2010

Legistorm, Rep. Michele Bachmann, staff salaries, accessed Sept. 16, 2010

Rep. Michele Bachmann's legislative staff salaries, created Sept. 16, 2010

Rep. Michele Bachmann's press staff salaries, created Sept. 16, 2010

Interview, Carrie Lucking, spokeswoman, Tarryl Clark, Sept. 16, 2010

Interview, Senate Finance, Sept. 17, 2010

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