Whoever writes Cheers & Jeers at the Lewiston Tribune frequently goes to print before taking time to do his research. The article regarding my public service announcements and campaign staff dated July 10 is no exception.
It is no secret that government officials send out information or place public service announcements periodically to notify the public of their services, upcoming events, or new programs in effect. Each member of Congress is allotted the same amount of money to fund their office, pay for staff salaries, printer paper, etc. — and the cost of those announcements is taken from that allotment. They are not associated with any campaign and cannot be used for such — only for official government work.
Many people are unaware of the services a congressional office can provide, and communications outreach to Idaho’s 1st Congressional District has been an extremely successful way to spread awareness of these services. There is no shortage of feedback on our casework assistance, like this one from Courtney who we recently helped solve an issue she was having with the IRS: “I never knew public officials were so accessible to the average person. This has opened my eyes. Thank you for all your hard work.”
Three months before a member of Congress’ name is on the ballot in an election, these public service communications are in what’s known as “blackout.” This period was put in place to ensure that the public service announcements or informational outreach coming from a government office couldn’t be construed as campaign mail.
The blackout period has been part of standard operating procedure for years — until the COVID pandemic. The “pandemic emergency” was announced inside the blackout period — a time when citizens need help the most. So in an effort to encourage service communication, the Democrat-led bipartisan franking commission issued new guidelines that authorized emergency-related communications (after going through a formal approval process).
This was good news for our constituents. Since the disaster declaration on March 16, our coronavirus resources webpage hit the highest visitor number of any other page on our website — ever. Our casework shot up 141 percent in 18 weeks, with more than 798 new cases opened for Idaho constituents in desperate need of help during this time.
Here are a few examples of these cases related to the pandemic:
l Connecting families with the Department of State and working with commercial airlines to secure a flight home when the flights were restricted, including two women in Honduras and one man in Kuwait.
l Connecting constituents with emergency representatives at closed government offices.
l Tracking down tax return information when the IRS closed its offices.
l Talking constituents through unemployment issues and connecting them with the appropriate resources.
l Connecting constituents to embassies for repatriation.
l Tracking down Economic Impact Payments for constituents.
So far, $321,873 has been returned to Idahoans through these cases. Although our outreach proved successful in helping a large amount of Idahoans, there will always be people like the Cheers & Jeers author, looking to spin it negatively — especially in an election year.
Then, regarding the Jeer for the hiring of my daughter to work on my congressional campaign: Only campaign funds are used for her compensation. And I encourage the Cheers & Jeers folks to compare that compensation level with what a typical third party campaign consultant would cost.
Just please don’t tell my daughter what you find out.
Fulcher, R-Idaho, is serving his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives.