Congress' calendars aren't exactly free

January 11, 1994|By Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

WASHINGTON -- Many people walked to their mailboxes last week and pulled out a beautiful color calendar, courtesy of Congress.

They thought it was free.

Think again.

Almost $750,000 in taxpayers' money was used to purchase the 1 million calendars from the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.

And members of Congress spent even more to imprint their best wishes and mail the calendars.

Despite taxpayers' concern over frivolous expenses, members of Congress apparently feel obligated to continue the traditional giveaways.

Only a fraction of constituents receive a calendar.

But those who do usually call the next year to request another.

"People just love it," said Brian Geiger, press secretary for Rep. Harry Johnston, D-Fla. "They get very upset if they have received one every year and for some reason it doesn't show up."

The Florida congressman was sending out 2,000 calendars last week.

Congress has been buying the calendars for 25 years, and annual attempts have been made to cut the money from the budget.

But no one has ever succeeded -- and no one even tried this year, said Dallas Dendy, assistant to the clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.

While any extras irritate taxpayers in tight budget times, the cost of the calendars is tiny in the context of a $1.5 trillion annual federal budget.

Congress pays 74 cents for each calendar.

The calendars are distributed to members, who use office budgets to imprint them with their names and, sometimes, a holiday greeting. They can mail them for free -- a privilege known as the congressional frank.

The U.S. Capitol Historical Society donates part of the money back to the Capitol to restore murals and to commission and install works of art.

"If we didn't have the income from that calendar, we would not be able to have that art in the Capitol," said Cornelius Heine, executive director of the society.

Those not lucky enough to get a "free" calendar can order their own from the historical society.

Send a check or money order for $8.90 -- $4.95 for the calendar, the rest for postage and handling -- to the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, 200 Maryland Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002.

And hurry. There are only a half-million left.

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