Franking, Mass Mailing, and Letterhead
The guidance herein is intended as a summary of relevant Senate Rules, federal law, and related standards of conduct. The application of ethics laws, rules and standards of conduct is fact-specific, and the information herein is not meant as a substitute for obtaining the Committee’s advice and guidance on a particular matter. Providing advisory guidance to Members, officers, and employees is an important part of the Committee’s work, and the Committee strongly encourages Members, officers, and employees to contact the Committee and seek advice whenever possible.
The frank is the facsimile signature of a Member on an envelope, which takes the place of a stamp and authorizes sending official material through the domestic mail without prepayment of postage. Use of the frank is governed by 39 U.S.C. § 3210 (Franking Statute), Senate Rule 40, and the Regulations Governing the Use of the Mailing Frank (Franking Regulations).
- The frank may be used only for official Senate business.
- The frank may not be loaned to an outside group or organization. For example, an outside organization’s pamphlet cannot be included in a franked mailing.
- The frank is not free postage. The costs associated with delivering franked mail are paid with taxpayer dollars. The 1991 Legislative Branch Appropriations Act (2 U.S.C. §§ 503-505) established an ‘‘official mail allowance’’ (franking allowance) for franked mail. It also mandated public disclosure of Members’ expenditures under the frank.
- The franking allowance may not be used for special mail services such as express mail, certified mail, registered mail, or return receipt.
- The frank may not be used to send materials outside the United States unless the address is an APO or FPO address.
- The Franking Regulations do not apply to electronic communications. Consult the Committee on Rules and Administration.
The following are authorized users of the frank:
- Senate committees, or joint committees whose chair is a Senator, using the frank of the chairman (for official committee business that does not focus unduly upon the chairman or any other committee member)
- Vice President
- Secretary of the Senate
- Sergeant at Arms
- Senate Legislative Counsel
- Senate Legal Counsel
- Democratic Caucus and Republican Conference
- Senators-Elect (for Senate-related duties)
- Former Senators (for 90 days to close the office)
- Surviving spouse of a Senator (for nonpolitical correspondence relating to the death of the Senator for 180 days after the Senator’s death)
The frank may be used to send the following:
- Matters of public concern and Congressional actions.
- Official newsletters and press releases.
- Questionnaires seeking public opinion.
- Mail between a Member’s D.C. and state Senate offices.
- Mail to other Members of Congress and all other legislators.
- Congratulations on a “public distinction” including:
- Recent naturalization as an American citizen.
- Receipt of a high school diploma by a senior citizen through an adult education program.
- Enlistment or re-enlistment in the Armed Forces or acceptance into a U.S military service academy.
- Becoming an Eagle Scout, VFW Commander, or American Legion Commander.
- Becoming a director of a state museum.
- Being elected or appointed to public office.
- Federal regulations or federal publications containing general information.
- The Congressional Record, in whole or any part thereof.
- Public service material created exclusively with appropriated funds.
- Nonpartisan voter registration or election information.
- Biographical material or pictures in federal publications or in direct response.
- Seeds and agricultural reports.
The frank may not be used to send the following:
- Mail that is laudatory or complimentary to a Member on a personal rather than official basis.
- Holiday greetings unless they are an incidental reference in otherwise frankable mail.
- Senator’s family activities other than in connection with official duties.
- Solicitations for political support or financial assistance.
- Personal mail.
- Condolences sent to the public.
- Congratulations on a “personal distinction” including:
- Birth, marriage, or anniversary.
- Graduation from high school or college, or selection as class valedictorian.
- Being in the top 10% of a graduating class.
- Promotion in a business.
- Establishing a new business.
- Registering to vote.
- Receiving an award from a local organization.
- Mention in an article in a trade association journal or newspaper.
Note that while mail related to personal distinctions may not be sent using the frank, it may be sent using official funds if the communication is officially-related. Mail related to a personal distinction does not become frankable simply because it is mailed in direct response to a request.
A mass mailing is a mailing of 500 or more substantially identical pieces of mail within one session of Congress, regardless of whether the pieces are mailed at the same time or separately.
A mass mailing does not include:
- Mail in “direct response,” including responses to petitions. To be considered in “direct response,” it must be mailed within 120 days of the original receipt of the written request, inquiry, or expression of opinion or concern.
- Mail to other Members of Congress, or to federal, state, or local officials.
- News releases to the media.
- Town meeting notices (please consult with the Committee on Rules and Administration regarding the content of town meeting notices).
- Federal publications or items provided to all Senators or made available for purchase with official funds for distribution.
- Electronic communications (please consult with the Committee on Rules and Administration regarding the content of electronic communications).
Restrictions on Mass Mailings
A mass mailing:
- Must be sent under the frank.
- Must be produced by or for the Member issuing the mailing.
- Must be prepared and mailed by the Office of Printing, Graphics and Direct Mail.
- Must contain the phrase “PREPARED, PUBLISHED, AND MAILED AT TAXPAYER EXPENSE” at the bottom of the first page of the mailing in no smaller than seven point font.
- Must be registered quarterly with the Office of Public Records.
- May not be purchased, printed, or prepared using private funds.
- May not be personal or partisan.
- May not contain gratuitous biographical information.
- May not exceed two sheets (front and back) of legal-sized paper or their equivalent.
- May not exceed an average of eight personal references per page. A personal reference is any appearance of the Senator’s name, title, or official positions, and the Senator’s photo in the masthead. Pronouns such as “I” or “me” do not count as personal references, nor does the frank itself.
- May not contain the Senator’s name in a font larger than one-fourth of an inch (excluding the masthead).
- May not contain more than four photos of the Senator (excluding the masthead).
- May not contain photos of the Senator alone larger than 12-square inches, or of the Senator with others larger than 20-square inches.
- May only contain photos that relate to the text of the mailing.
- No mass mailings postmarked fewer than 60 days immediately before the date of any primary or general election for any federal, state, or local office in which the Senator is a candidate (except if the election is uncontested and no legal possibility for a write-in candidate exists).
- No mass mailings during the 60 days immediately before a biennial federal general election.
- No mass mailings of town meeting notices fewer than 60 days immediately before the date of any primary or general election for any federal, state, or local office in which the Senator is a candidate. There is no exception for uncontested candidacies.
Note that the 60-day moratorium does not apply to mail sent under the frank of the chairman of a committee, which relates to official committee business and does not focus unduly upon the chairman or any other committee member.
At the request of a Senator or employee, the Select Committee will examine the proposed mail matter and render an opinion as to whether the mailing is in compliance with the Franking Statute, Senate Rule 40, and the Franking Regulations promulgated thereunder.
If you would like the Ethics Committee to review a mass mailing prior to its distribution, the Senate office must submit a final proof of the mailing for review. Please allow adequate time for the Committee to review the mass mailing prior to your desired mailing date.
Official Senate letterhead, using the words “United States Senate” or “Official Business,” may be used for the following:
- All mail that is properly sent under the frank.
- Congratulatory letters (on personal or public distinctions) that are sent in the Senator’s official capacity.
- Condolences that are sent in the Senator’s official capacity.
- Mail to other legislators and public officials regarding officially-related business of the Senator’s office.
- Inside mail, also known as “Dear Colleague” letters.
- Letters of recommendation for current and former staff.
- Letters to Senator’s state offices regarding officially-related activities.
- Responses to invitations to events that are officially-related.
- General, non-partisan voter registration information.
Note that the standards governing the use of official letterhead are not identical to the standards governing use of the frank. Some materials properly printed on official letterhead are nevertheless not frankable.
Official Senate letterhead may not be used for the following:
- Solicitation of a financial contribution or other form of assistance for any campaign or election.
- Solicitation of a contribution on behalf of a charity.
- Any campaign or campaign-related correspondence.
- Personal correspondence.
- Political or partisan correspondence, including political endorsements.
- Thank you letters to contributors or campaign workers.
- Correspondence regarding political fundraisers.
- Responses to personal invitations, such as weddings, birthdays, and other celebrations.
- Commercial endorsement letters.
Non-Senate organizations or individuals may not use the words “United States Senate” or “Official Business” on letterhead or envelopes.
Generally, no. The franking statute (39 U.S.C. § 3210) specifically prohibits Members from loaning the frank to any non-Congressional group, organization, or person. Enclosing materials published by a non-congressional organization in an otherwise frankable mailing is almost always a loan of the frank to the organization and renders the entire mailing unfrankable.
The Committee is happy to review a proposed mass mailing. Please submit the final, full-sized hard copy of the proposed mailing from Printing, Graphics and Direct Mail for our review.
The Committee does not generally review mass emails, as they are not sent under the frank. Please contact the Committee on Rules and Administration for guidance on mass emails.
Official letterhead may be used for a letter of recommendation written in the Senator’s official capacity; for example, a Senator may use official letterhead to write a letter of recommendation for a current or former staff member. Other letters of recommendation should generally be written in the Senator’s personal capacity, without the use of Senate resources.