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Published March 10, 2012, 04:29 PM

Records: Rick Berg Spent $190K on Questioned Mailings

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Newly published U.S. House records show North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg spent almost $190,000 last year on official mailings that Democrats and a Republican rival have described as campaign flyers sent at taxpayer expense.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Newly published U.S. House records show North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg spent almost $190,000 last year on official mailings that Democrats and a Republican rival have described as campaign flyers sent at taxpayer expense.

The information is included in a report on House members' office spending for October through December. The mailing costs are 15 percent of Berg's $1.24 million office operating budget for last year.

The five color mailings discuss subjects ranging from the economy to Medicare, federal spending and the Republican congressman's support for a federal balanced budget amendment.

"President (Barack) Obama's administration has continued to increase spending, and America's national debt has exploded," one mailing says. Another says Berg is "working to control spending and protect taxpayers" by restraining "out-of-control spending."

Alee Lockman, a spokeswoman for Berg, said the mailings were part of Berg's efforts to keep in touch with North Dakota residents. They were not campaign mailings, Lockman said.

"He does take communication with constituents very, very seriously," Lockman said. "He is always looking for different ways to reach out to people."

Dustin Gawrylow, director of the North Dakota Taxpayers Association, said Friday that Berg should reimburse the U.S. Treasury for the mailings' cost. The group's president later disavowed Gawrylow's statement.

"If Congressman Berg is really interested in changing the way Washington works, it's time to lead by example," Gawrylow said. "We really want to see our leaders using those public funds in their own personal offices appropriately, because that is a good measure of whether we can trust them to appropriate the entire budget."

Berg, who was elected to the House in 2010, is running for the U.S. Senate this year.

His likely Democratic opponent, former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, has been critical of the mailings. Bismarck businessman Duane Sand, who is competing against Berg for the state Republican Party's Senate endorsement, called them "purely political."

"To find out that such a large amount of taxpayers' money was used to send them, when that money is just more borrowed federal debt, makes the whole matter that much worse," Sand said Friday.

Berg has supported efforts to reduce the operating budgets of House members, Lockman said. He is turning back about $130,000 that was not spent last year, and he has backed two consecutive years' worth of reductions in the House budgets of all members, Lockman said.

She said Berg had no plans to use campaign funds to reimburse the mailings' cost. The mailings generated more than 10,000 responses, she said.

"The campaign will not pay for official expenses or official correspondence," Lockman said.

Robert Harms, president of the North Dakota Taxpayers Association, said Gawrylow's statement had not been authorized by the association's board of directors. The group recognizes Berg's efforts to reduce his office budget, Harms said.

"We think franking privileges are a valid public policy issue," Harms said, referring to the ability of members of Congress to mail correspondence at public expense. "But we have now been injected into a political skirmish that we try not to be involved in."

Harms said the association did not have an opinion about whether Berg should reimburse taxpayers for the mailings, or whether they represented a waste of public money.

"The public as a whole can measure those things, and make their own opinion on that," he said.


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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