Rick Brattin criticized by 4th Congressional District rivals over official mail pieces

State senator sent 74,000 pieces of mail just before cutoff in advance of Aug. 2 primary

By: - July 15, 2022 8:00 am

State Sen. Rick Brattin, standing, chats with Tom Mendenhall while campaigning for the 4th District Republican congressional nomination in April at Boone County Lincoln Days in Columbia. (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent)

A set of official mailings from Sen. Rick Brattin, arriving in boxes in western Missouri this week, have upset his Republican opponents in the 4th Congressional District who object to their resemblance to campaign pieces.

Brattin sent more than 74,000 large-format cards in three separate mailings to residents of Barton, Bates, Cass, Henry and Vernon counties. Each has photos of Brattin and emphasize his conservative positions on education, election laws and immigration. 

“State Sen. Rick Brattin fought for the strongest election laws in the country,” one states next to a photo of Brattin from Senate floor debate, superimposed in a way that has his finger pointing at the words “election integrity” in all capital letters surrounded by a red box.

The mail pieces were designed by the state Senate Communications office and approved by Senate administration for distribution as information accurately depicting Brattin’s actions as a legislator, Senate Administrator Patrick Baker said. 

“It has to be factual, void of partisan criticism and not inflammatory,” Baker said.

Under the Senate’s rules, a member in a competitive election must have all mass mailings delivered to the post office for distribution no later than 20 days before the election, Baker said. That rule has been in effect since at least 1992, he said. 

This mail piece sent by Sen. Rick Brattin to his constituents is sparking criticism from opponents in the 4th Congressional District primary for its resemblance to campaign material. (Image submitted).

For the Aug. 2 primary, the last day to get mail out was Wednesday, Baker said.

Just because the mailers follow the rules senators set for themselves doesn’t mean the mailers aren’t wrong,  said Mark Alford, a former Kansas City news anchor who is one of Brattin’s opponents in the 4th District primary.

“A lot of things are legal, but they are not prudent, wise or filled with integrity,” he said. “Here is a sitting state senator who has done little or nothing for the citizens, taking their money for what is clearly a campaign piece, to get a Washington job that he has a blind ambition to fill.”

Brattin dismissed the criticism as “typical political games” intended to smear him.

“You are always going to get the chatter in the background because I am able to actually communicate with constituents,” Brattin said.

Brattin, who won his Senate seat in 2020, is one of seven candidates who have filed for the GOP nomination in the district. They seek to replace U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, who is a candidate for U.S. Senate. 

Brattin’s 31st state Senate district in 2020 covered the five counties targeted by the mailers but has been redrawn to just three – Cass, Bates and Johnson counties.

His district is entirely within the 23-county 4th Congressional District and his home county, Cass, has the largest share of the Republican primary vote. Brattin was in the Missouri House for eight years, winning election in 2010, then was elected Cass County auditor in 2018 before winning his Senate seat.

Taylor Burks, a former Boone County clerk, said the mailer was a “classic career politician move.”

Brattin is running in his seventh election in 12 years, Burks noted.

“Using taxpayers dollars for something that is nominally legal is why voters are turned off on career politicians,” Burks said. “I know a lot of people, a lot of constituents in the 4th, who have raised concerns about that and I would agree with that.”

Each senator is allotted $20,000 for postage in their annual office budget. At the beginning of May, as the legislative session was ending, Brattin had $19,915 available for the remainder of the year.

Baker was unable to immediately provide the exact cost of the mailing and Brattin said it was “substantially lower” than his budget allowed.

The Senate is sensitive to the charges that it is promoting the political ambitions of its members, Baker said. That is why material produced by the Senate administrative staff must be approved, he said.

“There is a balance between contacting your constituents and not using state services for an election,” he said.

Direct mail is a major tool of modern campaigns. While it can cost hundreds of thousands to buy enough repetitions so a television ad is seen by the target audience, a message sent by mail can be sure to arrive at thousands of homes in the same market for a fraction of the cost.

Brattin, Burks, Alford and Stockton rancher Kalena Bruce are airing television ads in the race.

Bruce, through a spokesman, declined to comment on the mailers.

Members of Congress can communicate through the mail at no cost by using what is called the franking privilege. However, Congressional rules prohibit mass mailings within 90 days of an election.

“The best rule seems to be maybe if you are running for re-election, follow the congressional model and use 90 days,” Burks siad.

Alford said the mailers are a “taxpayer ripoff” by Brattin, who is seeking a new office in the middle of a four year term for the second consecutive election.

“The ironic thing is he is using their money to get to another office and he hasn’t fulfilled the duties of the office he holds,” Alford said.

The mailings are not unusual, Brattin said, and are similar to previous communications and those sent by other senators.

“I let them know what I am doing in my official capacity as their state Senator,” Brattin said. “That is an expectation of the people who elected me.”

This article has been updated to correct the number of cards mailed by Sen. Brattin.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.