Message out of sync with spending

It sure looks bad that Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, increased his congressional office spending by 11 percent last year at the same time he stepped up his strident calls for less government spending.

And his spokesman's effort to blame the spending spike on President Obama, because of the increase in call volume, was not credible — especially because more than half of the $196,000 in higher staffing expense was due to five people who also were paid or reimbursed for working on Tiahrt's U.S. Senate campaign against Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Hays.

An article by reporter Dion Lefler in Wednesday's Eagle revealed Tiahrt's increased spending last year, including a 22 percent hike in personnel. Moran stepped up his office spending, too — though only by 1.5 percent, hiring one more person to deal with calls but cutting payroll by 1.4 percent.

In overall spending, though, each fell short of his 2009 allowance of public funds of about $1.4 million.

Elsewhere in Kansas, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal, Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, spent $422,000 on mass communications in 2009, compared with Tiahrt's $107,000 and Moran's $8,000 (retiring Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Lenexa, spent $10,000). Only eight members of the House spent more on franking than Jenkins, who was second among the 54 House freshmen in her communications spending.

Meanwhile, the Kansas Republicans railed against "big government programs paid for by taxpayer dollars and runaway spending and borrowing" (Tiahrt), "too much spending and not enough accountability" (Moran), and "the massive debt being piled on the backs of the next generation" (Jenkins).

No doubt the line of demarcation between legislative and political operations is clear to the Kansans in Congress. But to constituents, it increasingly looks like all campaigning, all the time. Especially since the health care debate began, the language of so much congressional communication has turned sharply partisan and hyperbolic.

Indeed, much of the constituent mailings from lawmakers in Topeka as well as Washington, D.C., contain so many self-serving talking points that they might as well have come from the campaign office. The Saline County-City Building Authority board even changed its policy for using meeting rooms in February, after what was booked as a Tiahrt town hall meeting came off as more of a political event.

There's apparently nothing (including shame) to prevent Tiahrt and others in Congress from operating in ways that increasingly blur their legislative and political work, or find their message out of sync with their own spending. But they shouldn't expect constituents to approve, or to fail to recognize campaign propaganda — and hypocrisy — when they see it.