Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), who has been under fire for his ties to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and came within three percentage points of losing his seat in November, this week sent a franked mailing to constituents highlighting his efforts to chart a "new course."
The mailing started arriving on doorsteps in the district just days before a federal grand jury in San Diego indicted two major allies of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.), who is now serving time in jail on an array of fraud, conspiracy and money-laundering charges. Defense contractor Brent Wilkes was one of the indicted. Doolittle steered $37 million in appropriations to one of Wilkes' businesses, PerfectWave Technologies, in 2002 and received $85,000 in campaign contributions from Wilkes from 2002 to 2005.
The franked mailing is titled "A New Year, A New Course," and highlights many of the same points Doolittle made in an earlier op-ed in local papers, namely that he plans to run a more open operation and spend more time in the district on constituent services. Taxpayer-funded franking privileges may be used for mail relating to official duties, activities and business of a congressional office but are prohibited from being used for political purposes.
"This new year provides an important opportunity to start fresh and make improvements," the front page of the mailing reads. "In this spirit, I'm charting a new course as your Congressman - with a renewed commitment to district service emphasizing accessibility, accountability and openness."
In a section titled "coming home, listening, reaching out," Doolittle outlines several steps in his efforts to rehabilitate his image, including: returning home to the district as often as possible, posting his schedule on his website, establishing satellite office throughout the district, being more accessible to the media, working across the aisle in Washington, and holding listening sessions throughout the district.
He closes the mailing by noting that "representing this district is an honor and responsibility I take very seriously" and providing details about three district listening sessions planned for next week.
A spokesman for Charlie Brown, who challenged Doolittle in November, said the mailing was political in nature and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
"It is sad that John Doolittle continues to waste taxpayer dollars on franked mail that serves his partisan political purposes instead of informing his constituents about the critically important issues that confront our government," said Brown spokesman Todd Stenhouse.
Stenhouse said he hopes the town-hall meetings advertised in the mailing will be open to all constituents and will include explanations for Doolittle's recent votes against cutting student loan interest rates, against raising the minimum wage, against alternative energy sources and "his recent insistence that fiction author Michael Crighton knows more about global warming that the world's top scientists."
Doolittle spokesman Richard Robinson did not return a call for comment by press time.