Public funds hit the airwaves | News, Sports, Jobs

Public funds hit the airwaves | News, Sports, Jobs

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  • August 21, 2022
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Some may sound like campaign commercials, but radio advertisements from members of Congress are funded by taxpayer dollars and go through a bipartisan process to make it on the air.

In the Mahoning Valley, U.S. Reps. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, and Dave Joyce, R-Bainbridge, are running radio ads with the closing disclaimer: “Paid for by official funds authorized by the House of Representatives.”

The two also are running for re-election in newly drawn districts with Johnson seeking to represent the 6th that has Mahoning as its most-populous county, and Joyce in the 14th that has Trumbull as its second most-populous county.

“They’re using tax dollars to indirectly campaign,” Paul Sracic, a Youngstown State University political science professor, said. “There’s tons of unfair advantages for incumbents. This is one of them. It’s an advantage of incumbency. You have this money to get your name out there. For low-information voters, if they vote, they’ll say, ‘I’ll vote for the guy or woman who’s in there now.’ This builds name ID as many people don’t know who their congressman is.”

The money for the commercials comes out of each congressional office’s annual operating budget of about $1.3 million, which is funded through tax dollars and is referred to as a member’s representational allowance. Other allowable expenses include staff salaries, travel in the district and back and forth to Washington, D.C., as well as district office rent and utilities.

While communications with constituents — known as franking privileges — have been permitted since 1789, it’s only been a little over three years that radio and online ads from congressional offices were allowed, according to the bipartisan U.S. House Communications Standards Commission, which is overseen by the House Administration Committee.

“The costs associated with delivering franked mail are paid with taxpayer dollars out of the official funds of the office of the authorized user of the frank and other official communications,” according to the commission’s communications standards manual.

The ads have to stop at least 60 days before a primary or general election.

“That acknowledges indirectly that there is a suspicion of campaigning,” Sracic said.

Each commercial must be approved by the bipartisan commission before it airs to determine if the content is “official congressional business,” according to the commission.

The tagline that the ads are “paid for by official funds authorized by the House of Representatives” may result in some “blowback” to members of Congress though “neither is in danger of losing their seat,” Sracic said of Johnson and Joyce.

“You can see more populist voters getting a little irritated by that,” he said.


Joyce’s congressional office is airing three radio commercials. His office didn’t disclose how much has been spent so far this year on the ads.

One commercial has Joyce saying: “Record breaking gas prices and sky-high energy bills have hit us hard here in northeast Ohio. We have the solution to this crisis: resources generated right here in the United States. That’s why I’m working in Congress to restore our energy independence, unleash America’s resources and provide Ohio families with affordable, reliable energy. It’s an honor to work for you.”

Another has Joyce saying: “Our economy is broken. Inflation, rising energy prices and runaway government spending are hurting northeast Ohio families. That’s why I’m working on policies in Congress that will help rein in wasteful spending, support small businesses and lower prices at the grocery store and the gas station. It’s an honor to represent you in our nation’s capital.”

The third is Joyce saying he wants to make sure the federal government is working for you and if his constituents need help with a federal agency “my office is here to help you cut through the red tape and navigate Washington’s bureaucracy.”

Regarding the commercials, Joyce said: “One of my most important responsibilities is keeping my constituents fully informed of my work in Congress and to help them navigate Washington’s bureaucratic red tape. I take great pride in representing the communities where I was born and raised and will continue to do everything I can to communicate with the people of northeast Ohio as thoroughly and effectively as possible.”

He added: “They deserve to know where their representative stands on the challenges they’re facing and what assistance is available to them when dealing with the federal government.”

Katherine Sears, Joyce’s spokeswoman, said the congressman “takes fiscal responsibility just as seriously as he takes his duty to keep his constituents informed.”

Joyce, who is serving his fifth two-year term, has returned more than $1 million in taxpayer dollars during his time in Congress back to the U.S. Treasury from his office budget.

Matt Kilroy of Deerfield, Joyce’s Democratic opponent in the November election, said: “They are all very much political pieces. These are not David talking about trying to do the best for his constituents. These are clearly political. It’s right out of the Republican playbook and paid for out of taxpayer dollars. It is clearly him electioneering at the expense of taxpayer dollars. To say it’s an unfair advantage is a huge understatement.”


U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, who is running for the Senate, hasn’t aired any official congressional office radio commercials.

So far this year, Ryan’s office has spent $5,225 on online ads, said Caty Payette, his spokeswoman.

The online ads, which are about three minutes long compared with the 30-second radio commercials, have women talking about Ryan’s constituent services.

Ryan doesn’t appear in either ad.

Vincent Peterson II, a community liaison in his Warren office and the Democratic nominee in the 64th Ohio House District, is featured in one and Jason Miller, a community liaison in his Akron office, is in the other.

In one ad, a Trumbull County woman laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic talks about her troubles getting unemployment insurance until she called Ryan’s office and Peterson helped her.

“Tim Ryan being our congressman, he was able to help me get that issue resolved within a couple of weeks,” she said.

In the other ad, a Summit County woman whose husband, a Marine, died from drinking contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., talks about getting letters from an Akron hospital mistakenly billing her for years for $6,400 in medical fees and Ryan’s office, through Miller, successfully got it reduced to $250.

“The needs and well-being of the hardworking people of Ohio’s 13th Congressional District continue to be Congressman Ryan’s top priority,” Payette said. “That is why the congressman and his staff continue to use the most effective tools at our disposal to connect with northeast Ohioans where they’re at — whether in-person or online — and ensure they know where to access all the federal resources available to them.”

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