By ANDREW DeMILLO
Associated Press Writer
LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Republican Party said Tuesday that it filed an ethics complaint against U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, saying the Democrat improperly used taxpayer funds to mail a newsletter about her re-election bid.
The party filed the complaint with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics over a four-page mailer sent from Lincoln’s office. The mailer included photos and descriptions of her accomplishments chairing the Senate Agriculture Committee.
The complaint, dated Monday, accuses Lincoln of violating the Senate’s rules for "franking," or sending mail to constituents without paying postage. Senators are prevented from sending out taxpayer-funded mass mailings within 60 days of the election.
Lincoln’s office said Tuesday that the mailers were completed and sent by Sept. 1, two days before the blackout period, and was approved by the Ethics Committee. Lincoln’s office also provided a statement from the Senate Rules Committee, which controls the use of the frank, confirming the newsletters were mailed on time.
"The written work order documents and confirms that Senator Lincoln’s newsletter was printed and delivered to the Post Office for mailing on September 1, two days before the start of the Senate’s 60-day moratorium on Sept. 3, and fully in compliance with Senate rules," Senate Rules Committee staff director Jean Bordewich said in the statement.
Republicans said the mailer arrived in mailboxes in Arkansas during the blackout period.
"The timing of Senator Lincoln’s four-page, full-color, taxpayer funded ’Agricultural Newsletter,’ raises suspicion that the motive of the franking was inherently political, violating the spirit of the Senate privilege," Arkansas GOP Chairman Doyle Webb said in the complaint.
A spokesman for the ethics committee said Tuesday that the panel’s rules prohibit him from commenting or confirming it had received the complaint.
Lincoln is being challenged for her seat by Republican U.S. Rep. John Boozman and trails the congressman in most public and private polls. She’s considered among the most vulnerable incumbents in Washington as Republicans look to win seats currently held by Democrats.
Lincoln’s office dismissed the GOP complaint as a political attack and said the mailers were a legislative update to keep her constituents informed about issues important to them.
"Clearly, this is a politically motivated complaint by the Arkansas Republican Party as we near an election," said Elizabeth Burks, Lincoln’s chief of staff. "We took all the required steps to ensure that these mailings were reviewed and cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee for all of their written and photographic content."
The newsletter is headlined "Delivering for Rural Arkansas" and includes a letter from Lincoln citing her work on the Agriculture Committee. She was named chairwoman in 2009, and her re-election campaign has strongly focused on her role leading the committee.
The mailer touts Lincoln’s work on a child nutrition bill and on a new law overhauling financial regulations.
The complaint also accuses Lincoln of violating restrictions on the number of "personal references" — references to a lawmaker’s name or title — and on the number of biographical references senators can include on franked mail. Republicans also accused Lincoln of violating size restrictions on a photo of herself in the piece.