From televisions to a name sign, freshman lawmakers ring up big office costs as they settle into job

In the three months since taking office, freshman lawmakers — many of whom ran successful campaigns based on fixing a faltering economy — have started to rack up office costs: for example, $4,235.96 for four televisions, $1,447.77 for a digital camera and $925 for a sign.

Many of the expenses are typical of new members’ offices as they launch into their Washington and district roles. Items like the stamp bearing her signature that Rep. Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickWomen make little gains in new Congress McCain wins sixth Senate term In Arizona, history and voter registration data gives GOP edge MORE (D-Ariz.) bought for $22 were typical of the 56 freshmen who took office in the 111th Congress.

But then there are other purchases — like the $4,235.96 Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) paid for the televisions in his office — that are more costly and less frequent with freshmen, but which they justify as “one-time” investments.

“Tracking proceedings on the House floor and in numerous committees simultaneously is an important part of our job,” said Dave Natonski, spokesman for Schock. “Consequently, it made sense to make a one-time investment on office televisions, which remain official government property.”

Lawmakers are allowed to make purchases for their offices using their annual “members representational allowance” of taxpayer dollars. The items, however, are required to be passed on to the next member when they leave office.

Rep. Cynthia LummisCynthia LummisDems on offense in gubernatorial races Trump's Interior candidates would play Russian roulette with West Trump eyes House members for Cabinet jobs MORE (R-Wyo.) also bought a television for $945, which is for “the people of Wyoming to watch House floor proceedings while they visit her office in Washington,” said her spokesman, Ryan Taylor.

While many new members try to cut down on costs by reclaiming furniture from the outgoing member’s districta office, not everything can be acquired that way, and there are certain things they have to buy. Like the $10,946.21 Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) spent on two large purchases of used office furniture — desks, chairs and file cabinets — for his two district offices.

Other items members are forced to replace. When Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) won the seat of former Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine), she bought a $925 sign for her district office in place of the one Allen had outside the same office.

The basics of starting a district office can be costly, as was the case for Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-Md.), who spent $1,666.66 on janitorial services and “handyman services including shelving, repairs, installation of security systems and the like,” according to his office.

“These services were a fixed fee for start-up costs instead of an hourly rate,” said Kevin Lawlor, spokesman for Kratovil.

When a member leaves behind items he purchased, he makes an inventory for the incoming office. But sometimes the transfer of office equipment goes awry. Consider the case of Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzWhen political opportunity knocked, Jason Chaffetz never failed to cash in Chaffetz resting after 'successful' foot surgery Lawmakers reintroduce online sales tax bills MORE (R-Utah), who inherited a digital camera, which was subsequently stolen before he took office, according to his spokesman.

So Chaffetz purchased a $1,447.77 digital replacement “of comparable value and quality” in February, his office said. Chaffetz also paid $10,960 to replace the existing copier machine, which was not stolen, but rather just run-down, his office said.

“Some of the functions were inoperable and despite our best attempts to have them fixed [we] were unable to do so,” said Alisia Essig, Chaffetz’s spokeswoman. “We were able to combine the functions of many pieces of office equipment into one device: copier, scanner, fax and printer. The new machine is an important tool in our constituent communications operation.”

Rep. Mike McMahon (D-N.Y.) also purchased a digital camera, for $602.76, and a video camera, for $370.12.

“The camera and camcorder — both were purchased so that Rep. McMahon could document his work in Congress to share with his constituents back home,” said Lauren Amendolara, spokesman for McMahon.

Freshman members are often told by their veteran colleagues that they need to begin campaigning for reelection almost as soon as they take office.

One key indicator of that can be found in how much members spend on “franked mail” — letters, pamphlets, etc. — that they send to their constituents at the taxpayers’ expense, usually to inform them of issues they are opposing or supporting.

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) leads his fellow freshmen, spending $28,530.77 on three major mailing campaigns. Luetkemeyer also paid the outside consulting firm Capitol Franking Group $12,100 to host 11 tele-town hall meetings, his office said.

“He may work in Washington, but Missouri is home,” said Paul Sloca, his spokesman. “And this is the best way for him to reach out and let people in the district know what he’s doing. He’s pleased that he’s No. 1, simply because his No. 1 priority is communicating with constituents.”

Though not technically a freshman, this Congress will be the first full term for Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), who replaced former Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) last year when he resigned.

Edwards spent $6,075 on calendars from the U.S. Capitol Historical Society that her office said she distributes at community events and to schools.

“Social studies, history and government teachers like them because of the history lessons throughout the calendar,” said Dan Weber, a spokesman for Edwards. “Our senior citizens are among those who make the most requests for this historical calendar.”

The rent on their district office is another hefty expense for members. At $4,950 per month, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico) spends more money renting his office, which is in Old San Juan, than does any other freshman lawmaker.

“Congressman Pierluisi has only one district office in [Puerto Rico] even though he represents 4 million constituents,” said Dennise Perez, his office’s spokeswoman, in an e-mail. “Moreover, this rent is very reasonable considering the office location and its square ft (5,000 sq ft).”

Travel can be a major cost for members, as many commute back to their districts nearly every weekend, at the taxpayers’ expense.

Lummis spent $23,313.99, the most of any of the other freshmen, on travel-related costs in the first three months of this year. Much of the costs Lummis racked up were for car mileage and gas, which is due to the vastness of Wyoming and the fact that she’s the only representative for the state, her office said.

“Wyoming is 98,000 square miles in size and it is one of the least densely populated states in the nation,” said Ryan Taylor, her spokesman.

“Most communities in Wyoming are separated by more than 100 miles, sometimes even more. Given those challenges, Rep. Lummis and her staff travel great distances to listen to and speak with the people she represents.”