06.30.2010 0

Too Hot Not to Note: Grayson bills taxpayers for DVD of term’s highlights

  • On: 07/30/2010 07:50:02
  • In: Corruption
  • ALG Editor’s Note: In the following featured report from the Orlando Sentinel, Florida Congressman Alan Grayson is using tax dollars to send DVD’s to 100,000 district households featuring his tenure in Congress:

    Grayson bills taxpayers for DVD of term’s highlights

    By Mark K. Matthews and Mark Schlueb

    WASHINGTON — If U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson were a rock star, his latest PR blitz — a DVD sent to tens of thousands of Central Florida residents — would be called Grayson’s Greatest Hits.

    The 90-minute disc features video highlights from his first term in office, including one of him grilling Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and another in which the Orlando Democrat preaches on the need to teach schoolchildren about the U.S. Constitution.

    The DVD comes wrapped inside a mailer covered with promotional slogans: “Congressman Alan Grayson, Hard at Work for You,” “He works hard. He pays attention. He gets things done,” and “Video DVD Inside: Watch Congressman Grayson in Action!”

    In many ways, it’s the perfect campaign video — with one key difference.

    Thanks to perks given to all members of Congress, it’s not Grayson’s campaign but taxpayers who footed the nearly $73,000 bill to produce and mail the DVD to 100,000 homes in Grayson’s district of Lake, Marion, Orange and Osceola counties.

    It’s a stunt that drew howls from Republicans, who complained that Grayson was abusing the congressional privilege of franking that allows lawmakers to send taxpayer-paid newsletters and other mail to residents.

    “This is an outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars, and it goes to show that Alan Grayson is completely out of touch with Central Florida,” said state Rep. Kurt Kelly of Ocala, one of seven Republicans looking to unseat Grayson this fall.

    “This is just ridiculous behavior. What congressman would do this in the face of a huge budget deficit?” he asked.

    Grayson said he doesn’t see the video as self-promotional and that its intent was to show residents how the sausage is made in Washington.

    “Unless you glom onto C-SPAN, you don’t have sense of what congressmen do on a day-to-day basis,” Grayson said. “I told people in my district that I would try to be a watchdog, and I think they have a right to know whether I have kept that promise.”

    When pressed, however, Grayson did acknowledge that his office selected clips that make him look good.

    “I’m an elected official. Do you think it’s my job to put out misinformation or negative information about myself?” he asked.

    The silver disc features clips of Grayson questioning witnesses testifying before the House Financial Services committee, including his well-publicized interrogation of Bernanke. A YouTube version posted on Grayson’s website has drawn more than 216,000 hits.

    And, like the director’s cut of a Hollywood movie release, the DVD is sprinkled with narration from Grayson. Of the 31 separate clips on the DVD, 10 feature Grayson wearing an American flag tie and seated in front of a photo of the U.S. Capitol, telling viewers what they’re about to see or criticizing the Fed, bank bailouts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    “Hello, I’m your congressman, Alan Grayson,” the video begins. “I’ve put together this DVD so you do not have to sit through hours of hearings or read thousands of pages of transcripts to find out what your representative is doing to combat waste, fraud and abuse in government spending.”

    His narration doesn’t shy away from a few pats on the back.

    “Of the 53 freshman members of the House, I was the first one to get a bill passed,” he says. And, “Before coming to Congress, I spent many years prosecuting defense contractors who ripped off the government and put our troops in danger just to pad their wallets. When I came to Congress, I wasted no time in using that experience to combat waste, fraud and abuse in defense spending.”

    Though Grayson isn’t the first lawmaker to use taxpayer money to send a DVD, aides with the House administration committee — which oversees franking requests and approved Grayson’s DVD — could recall only a handful of other examples.

    But bucking the norm has been Grayson’s trademark since 2008, when he beat then-U.S. Rep. Ric Keller, an Orlando Republican also known for sending puffy pieces of franked mail.

    Last year, Grayson spent about $108,000 on franked mail in 2009 — 40 percent more than the $81,623 spent by his fellow Democratic freshman Suzanne Kosmas of New Smyrna Beach. Among Central Florida veteran incumbents, U.S. Rep. John Mica, R- Winter Park, spent $14,000 — and U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, spent $138,801, records show.

    Grayson aides said that the DVD was targeted at senior citizens, who may have trouble using a computer and seeing the long list of YouTube clips that Grayson has put online.

    Spokesman Todd Jurkowski said the office also took pains to find a Central Florida company, Horizon Media Express, to produce the video and insisted the company “rely on American subcontractors [because] many companies will use offshore companies to duplicate DVDs.”

    Since taking office, Grayson has used speeches and hearings to loudly attack everything that he sees as wrong with America — including giant corporations, financial leaders and Republicans.

    He’s best known for a floor speech in which he says the Republican health-care plan was for sick patients to “die quickly,” although Grayson aides were quick to note that the health-care quip was not included on the DVD.

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