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Spending your money

Priorities influence how Lamborn and other House members use their funds



Since Doug Lamborn became a member of Congress in 2007, it's been a common criticism that the Colorado Springs Republican could qualify as the elusive figure in Where's Waldo?

Now, according to a database of congressional spending for the first three quarters of calendar year 2009, the numbers seem to support that. Lamborn spent the least on travel, $33,781, of any member of Colorado's delegation in the U.S. House.

Travel expenses cover Congress members' visits to and from and throughout their districts and in Washington, D.C., plus staff travel. Although his low expenses suggest he visits his district less than most, his spokesperson Catherine Mortensen says Lamborn is home a lot.

"When Congress is out of session, Congressman Lamborn is on the first available plane home almost every weekend," she says in an e-mail response to questions. "Colorado Springs is his home and where he wants to be when not voting in Washington."

There are other reasons why Lamborn's travel bill is low, Mortensen says. He flies coach, takes public transportation when he can (such as the Metro train in D.C.) and doesn't allow staff to lease vehicles at government expense. Although Mortensen contends Lamborn is in his district "most weekends," she says he keeps a low profile and makes few announced public appearances, his handful of town meetings about health care reform last summer notwithstanding.

On the other end of the scale, Rep. John Salazar, a Costilla County rancher, did a lot of traveling. His tab came to $94,412. "Every other (Colorado) member flies to Denver and goes home," Salazar's spokesman Eric Wortman says. "Rep. Salazar has to fly to Denver and then to Alamosa and then drive for an hour. His district is larger than all the other congressional districts in Colorado combined."

Salazar serves District 3, which extends from Pueblo, Otero and Las Animas counties to the western state line and north to Moffat, Routt and Jackson counties, which abut Wyoming.

Wortman says not only does Salazar pay more to get to and from his home, but he travels the entire district several times a year. "From his ranch to Grand Junction is a several-hour drive," Wortman says. It's also some dough in reimbursement, because Congress members collect 41 cents per mile.

Lamborn's frugality doesn't extend to his sending mail to constituents at taxpayers' expense. He spent the second highest amount in the delegation on franked mail, shelling out $50,005. Of that, he spent $33,274 in the third quarter alone. Only Democrat Ed Perlmutter of the 7th District, which serves Adams County, spent more in the first three quarters — $86,124.

Lamborn's fourth quarter franking bill, which won't be reported until next quarter, could be substantial, because he mass-mailed a brochure and at least two letters in recent months. The brochure outlines a dismal view of the economy, noting job losses and growing national debt, and urges constituents to "take action" by calling the White House or the Senate, with phone numbers provided. But Lamborn fails to list his own phone number on the brochure. Mortensen says the brochure contains Lamborn's Web site address "prominently" on its front. "By going to that Web site, it is simple and obvious how to contact the Congressman and his staff through e-mail, fax, telephone and regular mail," she says.

Lamborn's letters, dated Dec. 9, were aimed at specific interest groups — one blasting the Democrats' health care bill as providing "less care for seniors," and the other ripping Democrats for forcing small businesses to provide health insurance coverage for employees. Members are barred from using franked mail for campaign purposes and can't use it at all 90 days before a primary or general election.

Lamborn's mail spending isn't likely to top his personal best in 2007 when he spent $135,000 on constituent mail during his first year in office, more than any other Colorado member. Since then, Lamborn has won re-election and so far has no opponent for 2010.

Overall, the state's two Republicans — Lamborn and Mike Coffman — spent less than their Democratic colleagues running their offices from January through September, the expense data show. Lamborn spent $955,299, while Coffman, from the 6th District covering suburban Denver, spent $941,816.

The delegation's senior member, Rep. Diane DeGette, of the 1st District in Denver, spent the most on staff, $758,285, while newcomer Betsy Markey in the 4th District, reported the lowest, $506,577.

"Staff salaries account for a large portion of our budget," DeGette's deputy chief of staff Kristofer Eisenla says in an e-mail, "because many of our staff have been with the Congresswoman since she was first elected or a substantial time." A lawmaker since 1997, DeGette is part of the House Democratic leadership serving as chief deputy whip and vice chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which requires a "very seasoned and senior" staff, he says. DeGette's franked mail came to only $2,631, the least of the state's delegation, because she relies on electronic newsletters, e-mail correspondence and her Web site, Eisenla says, not to mention free media coverage as the representative in the state's largest media market.

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