Bipartisan Praise for Updated House Communications Standards

Dec 19, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Republican and Democratic lawmakers today praised the release of new Communications Standards by the House Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards (Franking Commission).

The new standards, approved unanimously by the Franking Commission this week, streamline and simplify the rules Members of Congress adhere to in communicating with constituents, while dramatically increasing transparency and accountability.

Last substantively amended in 1998, the Franking Manual has produced frustration among Members and the public and have been widely criticized for being both overly vague and overly prescriptive while delaying timely communication with constituents through an unwieldy approval process.

“I applaud Chairwoman Susan Davis and Ranking Member Bryan Steil for their efforts in updating and streamlining the rules by which members communicate with their constituents,” said Committee on House Administration Chairperson Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). “It has been two decades since these rules were substantively updated, and since that time they have become woefully inadequate in today’s fast-paced digital environment. These new rules will enable members to communicate with constituents more quickly, allow members to write in the manner they actually speak, and importantly, will considerably increase public access and transparency through greater disclosure of official communications.”

“My goal since becoming Ranking Member of the House Administration Committee this Congress has been to make the House work better for Members, so they can more effectively represent their districts. A key component of that effort is ensuring effective communication between Members of Congress and their constituents,” said Ranking Member Davis (R-Ill.). “I applaud Susan and Bryan for their work overhauling the outdated regulations that govern Members’ official communications. These updates will modernize and streamline communications, and I look forward to seeing them implemented in the House in the coming weeks.”

“The Select Committee is producing recommendations to help Members of Congress better serve the American people,” said Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress Chair Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Vice Chair Tom Graves (R-Ga.). “This includes increasing the quality of constituent communication, and making it easier for all Americans to connect with their Representatives. Today we passed new recommendations which directly address communication rules in the House. We are grateful to the Committee on House Administration and the Franking Commission for working with us on these recommendations, and for their continued support. We look forward to working together to implement these important recommendations.”  

The new standards feature greater transparency and a simpler set of rules. Highlights include:

Public Transparency and Accountability:

  • For the first time, approved communications copies will be available to the public online
  • Imposes a strict and clearly tiered penalty approach to violations which, depending on severity and frequency, may include:
    • an unsolicited communications time-out
    • public posting of Member violations
    • mandatory communications standards training
    • reductions in the MRA (office budget)
    • personal financial liability to the Member

Simplified Rules:

  • Prohibits campaign, political, and grassroots content
  • Prohibits endorsement of non-governmental services and products
  • Prohibits ad hominem attacks on persons or party
  • Prohibits content with deep fakes and other visual misrepresentations intended to harm other individuals
  • Removes burdensome photo, size, and other personal reference limits
  • Removes photo caption requirements
  • Allows Members to send birthday, condolence, congratulations, and other messages to constituents
  • Allows Members to run ads with their photos or likeness

Streamlines the Review Process:

  • Removes requirement for emails to be pre-approved since there is no direct cost per email. This is the same process adhered to in the U.S. Senate.
  • Expands the ability for constituents to opt in to all forms of communication
  • Allows for reuse of approved templates for an entire Congress

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Issues: 
Congress Number: 
116th Congress