Franking Blackout Rules

Mass Mailings

Title 39 U.S.C. Section 3210 (a)(6)(A) provides that a Member may not send mass mailings during the 90 days immediately preceding the date of any election (primary, general, special, or run off) in which the Member’s name will appear on the ballot as a candidate for election or re-election to any public office.

A mass mailing is defined as an unsolicited mailing of 500 or more pieces of substantially identical content - whether mailed singly or in bulk - over the course of a legislative year (January 3 of one year through January 2 of the following year).

Mass Communications

Likewise, House Administration Regulations prohibit mass communications – regardless of media – 90 days immediately preceding the date of any election (primary, general, special, or run off) in which the Member’s name will appear on the ballot.

A mass communication is defined, consistent with the definition of a mass mailing, as any communication of substantially identical content to 500 or more individuals over the course of a legislative year, regardless of media. 

During the blackout period, all running online advertisements other than those specifically stated below must be terminated. Member offices may not incur any costs related to the distribution of unsolicited mass communications or mailings during that time.

Examples of prohibited mass communications and mass mailings include:

  • Automated telephone (“robo”) calls
  • E-communications distributed to non-subscribers
  • Advertisements (radio, TV, internet, newspaper, etc.) of town hall meetings or of the personal appearance of the Member and/or the Member's employees at an official event
  • Mass mailings, e.g., newsletters, meeting notices, newspaper inserts, surveys and questionnaires, etc.
  • Facsimiles
  • Posters, flyers, leaflets, handouts, etc.
  • Video or audio communications for which a Member may incur expenses for production, distribution, and/or broadcast

The restrictions do not apply to:

  • Advertisements for employment and internship opportunities in the Member’s congressional office, U.S. Military Academy Days, and An Artistic Discovery, and the House STEM Competition
  • E-communications distributed to subscribers within the district the Member currently represents
  • Mailings or communications which are in direct response, i.e., a solicited response, to inquiries or requests from the person to whom the response is directed
  • Mass mailings or communications to Members of Congress, government officials (Federal, state, and/or local), and mailings of news releases to bona fide communications media outlets
  • Updates to the Member’s official web site(s)
  • Video teleconferencing services in support of official business

In addition to understanding the above stated regulations, it is imperative that each Member and his/her staff be knowledgeable of their state election laws and how they may apply to pre-election mailings and communications.  Do not rely on vendors to be aware of these restrictions and when and how they apply to the distribution of your official mailings and communications.

If you have any questions regarding the pre-election mailing and communication restrictions, please do not hesitate to contact the Franking Commission (Democratic staff) at 202-225-9337.