Voters Are Best Ethics Watchdogs

Many of us receive mailings from those who represent us in both the state and national legislatures, often with glowing reports of how the lawmakers are “working for you.” Funny thing is, there seem to be more of them in months leading up to elections.

Some lawmakers appear to try to keep constituents “in the loop” regularly. That provides a service – while, not just incidentally, polishing the official’s image.

But others seem to become concerned about communicating only when they are facing re-election campaigns. Now, the West Virginia Ethics Commis-sion plans to look into the propriety of such mailings.

A few weeks ago, a state Republican Party official accused about a dozen Democrat state legislators of abusing the franking privilege – government-paid postage – for political reasons.

The complaint was over mailings the legislators sent to constituents in advance of the May primary election.

Clearly, there was some abuse. One lawmaker allegedly targeted his mailings to an area of his district where he had not done well at the polls previously.

Don’t look for the Ethics Commission to put an end to abuse of the franking privilege, however. Proving politicians’ mailings were for political purposes is difficult.

Still, commission members should consider the issue carefully, in the hope of providing guidelines that may cause at least a few politicians to think twice about having the public pay for their campaign literature. Unfortunately, officials who think about the issue probably are the least likely to engage in the abuse.

The most effective curb, of course, is wielded by voters – who should use ballots to register their displeasure with politicians who insult our intelligence by “staying in touch” with us only when they are up for re-election.