NASHVILLE -- Democratic congressional candidate Eric Stewart is accusing U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., of competing to become the "Junk Mail King" by taking the No. 2 spot in the 112th Congress when it comes to taxpayer-funded mass mailings and communications.
Stewart's campaign says DesJarlais, a Jasper physician, spent $455,308 in taxpayer funds so far in his first term of office representing the 4th District.
"Washington is broken, Congressman DesJarlais isn't part of the solution, he's part of the problem," said Stewart, a state senator from Winchester, in a news release. "We have a lot to be proud of in this district but having the Junk Mail King for our congressman, probably isn't one of them."
Citing House records, Stewart's campaign says DesJarlais spent $370,977.75 on mass mailings, which are defined as substantially identical mailings to 500 or more individuals. They include newsletters, surveys and questionnaires.
The remainder was for mass communications, which can include emails with nonsubcribers, handouts and radio, television and newspaper advertisements for town hall meetings or personal appearances at an official event.
DesJarlais campaign manager Brandon Lewis said, "It should come as no surprise that once again we have seen this campaign resort to the spreading of misinformation and half lies."
Lewis said Stewart failed to mention that "through prioritization of spending Rep. DesJarlais is actually one of the most frugal members of Congress."
In a Times Free Press article in March, which addressed DesJarlais' spending in 2011, the congressman said "while we invested heavily in constituent communications, we cut other portions of our office budget, allowing us to return nearly $126,000 to the Treasury."
The Stewart campaign updated the information to include the first quarter of 2012.
Stewart's attack "is just another attempt to hide the fact that all he has to offer is a vote for President Barack Obama's failed policies," Lewis said.
Moreover, Lewis said, "it is unfortunate that someone running for Congress thinks communicating important issues and getting feedback from the 700,000-plus people of Tennessee's 4th District is unimportant. Statements like this show he is just another out-of-touch politician."
Anticipating that response, Stewart said, "DesJarlais will say these mailings are how he communicates with his constituents but everyone knows what these are when they open the mailbox, and I doubt they know these mailings cost taxpayers $30 million a year."
He said DesJarlais spent more than 433 other congressmen did, often on "slick" mailers.
House rules say such communications cannot be overtly political. There is also a cut-off period to prevent them leading up to an election.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...