U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson spent more than any other House member of the Ohio Republican delegation last year on mail and telephone town-hall calls to his constituents, and is the only member in the state to lease a car with taxpayer funds.
Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, spent $214,545 last year in taxpayer dollars going toward constituent mail and on town-hall calls. Fellow freshman U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers of Columbus, R-15th, was second with $159,622 on those expenses. At the bottom of the list is nine-term U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette of Bainbridge, R-14th, who represents northern Trumbull County, with $4,752.
Also, Johnson is the only U.S. House member from Ohio to use taxpayer money, $4,890, to lease a car, a Ford Escape, last year to travel throughout the 6th Congressional District, which includes all of Columbiana County and southern Mahoning County, on official business.
Depending on whether you ask Johnson’s campaign or the campaign of ex-U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, a Democrat from St. Clairsville, who lost to the Republican in 2010 and faces him again this year, the expenses are good or bad.
Johnson “campaigned in 2010 as a deficit hawk, but arrived in Washington a dove,” Wilson said. “After saying he would go to Washington to rein in the out-of-control government spending, he now contributes to it. ... How can we trust this type of leadership?”
Every mailing and tele-town-hall outline “is approved by the bipartisan House Franking Commission, which reviews the content and has a strict formula that rejects repeated self-promotion,” said Mark Weaver, Johnson’s campaign spokesman.
The 6th is the largest district in the state so tele-town halls and mailings are the best and most efficient ways Johnson can keep in touch with his constituents, Weaver said.
J.R. Starrett, Wilson’s campaign manager, said a “loophole in the congressional rules” allows members of Congress, including Johnson, to “abuse” the mail privilege and send “glossy campaign-stylized mail pieces to constituents at the taxpayers’ expense.”
Some of Johnson’s mail to constituents criticizes President Barack Obama, a Democrat, including one that reads: “On Empty — The President’s Failed Energy Policies.” Another is titled: “What the President’s Takeover of Health Care Does to Medicare.”
On tele-town-hall calls, Johnson is critical of Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Wilson.
On a June 26 call he said the best way to hold Obama accountable is “for you to show up to the polls in November and let your voice be heard.”
Weaver defended the calls, saying they had “nothing to do with the president’s party and everything to do with the president’s job-killing regulations and proposals. ... The people of the [Mahoning] Valley sent him to Washington to tell the truth, and what he said is absolutely true. The No. 1 solution to help this country is to reject those with poor policies and vote in favor of those with good policies.”
“If it’s not a party issue, how come he mentions Nancy Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid in his calls?” Starrett said. “He invokes Democratic leaders. To say he’s not using federal funds to campaign against the opposition party is false and misleading.”
As for Johnson’s car, the lease is “for official purposes only” and actually saves taxpayers money. With the federal mileage reimbursement rate at 55 cents per miles, the 36,000 miles Johnson has traveled in the state’s largest district would have cost nearly $20,000, four times the amount of the $4,890 lease, he said.
J.R. Starrett, Wilson’s campaign manager, strongly disagrees.
“The bottom line is that Congressman Johnson is campaigning with taxpayer money and after only 18 months in the House, Johnson has learned the ways of Washington and is spending more money than any other Republican from Ohio,” Starrett said. “It is expenditures like this that contribute to our continually-rising national debt. It’s no wonder Congressman Johnson [voted] to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. How else can we afford his ... mail programs?”
Johnson campaigned “on cutting government waste,” Starrett said. “These are the type of taxpayer expenses he ran against in 2010. He didn’t go to Washington to cut waste. He went to Washington to see how he could lease a vehicle. Congressman Johnson wants to use and abuse these government programs for his campaign.”
Weaver said Wilson spent more tax dollars during his four years in the House — ranging from 1,205,318 to $1,334,360 a year — compared to $1,147,027 for Johnson in 2011.
“Perhaps the Wilson campaign out to be criticizing Charlie Wilson for that spending,” Weaver said. “What’s worse, after voters fired Charlie Wilson, Wilson spent his last day [in January 2011] giving $56,000 of taxpayer money in bonuses to his staff.”
Wilson told The Vindicator in March 2011 that the staff bonuses, the 27th most of the House’s 435 members, were for “weeks of vacation they hadn’t used. We paid them for that.”