When Georgia Republican Rep. Jack Kingston first ran for congress in 1992, he “blasted Congress for its many perks and exemptions to the laws it passes,” saying, “Our government doesn’t live in the real world,” according to the Savannah Morning News.
Now, Kingston, who is running for Senate, is under fire for the perks and privileges he enjoys as a congressman.
In December, Kingston suggested that children from low-income families who are eligible for the federal school lunch program pay some nominal fee or do chores “to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch.” The comment drew huge amounts of criticism at the time, and reignited this week when WSAV, a Georgia television station, reported on the thousands of dollars worth of free meals that Kingston received during his term in Congress.
This week, Kingston took advantage of another privilege: franking, which allows members of Congress to send mail to their constituents without paying for postage. Instead, the postage is paid for by taxpayer funds. Franking is another perk that Kingston once disavowed.
When Kingston first ran for Congress in 1992, he called for “an end to most franking privileges,” according to the Savannah Morning News.
“We don’t use our franking privileges to send unsolicited mass mailings or newsletters,” Kingston told the Savannah Morning News in 1994. Instead, the article explained, he and several other members made television shows to address their constituents and keep them informed.
But Kingston appears to have changed his mind. Since 2009, Kingston has spent $124,613.39 on franked mail — a taxpayer-funded sum — according to the Sunlight Foundation. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, he spent over $30,000 a year on franking. In 2012, the costs dropped dramatically to $11,499.78 and down again to $9,255.77 in 2013.
On Friday, residents of Georgia’s first district, which Kingston represents, received a several page color mailer from Kingston about his American Renewal project. A spokesman for Kingston could not give the exact cost of the mailer, but said that the congressman had made great efforts to be frugal in his spending of taxpayer money. Kingston, said his spokesman Chris Crawford, “has returned more than $1.3 million and will once again return funds this year” to the treasury from his total office budget, the amount of money a member is given to do the things necessary to run their offices — including franking.
“Mr. Kingston strives to be a voice for his constituents in Washington and fostering a conversation with them on how best to address the issues facing our country is a fundamental part of that duty,” Kingston spokesman Chris Crawford told The Daily Caller.
Franking is a privilege that almost every member of Congress uses. But use of any congressional perks could be particularly fraught since the “free lunch” comment.
“But one of the things I’ve talked to the secretary of agriculture about: Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch?” Kingston said in December. “Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria — and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money. But think what we would gain as a society in getting people — getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch.”
Kingston defended himself against the backlash, saying he was not suggesting that poor kids should have to sweep the floors, but that children of all socio-economic groups should be instilled with a work ethic.
“I never did say poor kids,” Kingston said on CNN.”This wasn’t anything in a backroom. This wasn’t a policy statement. This was a discussion, and it seems like you can’t even have that in America anymore.”