Under the Dome reported yesterday on $19,000 in “franked” mail that U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, a Republican from North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District, sent to constituents. The mailings said “she was ‘fighting for seniors’ health care benefits and for ‘preserving Medicare,'” according to the report.

The crux of it is that Ellmers is a hypocrite because she criticized her predecessor, Democrat Bob Etheridge, for doing the same thing:

Last year [Ellmers] thought it was a bad idea, firing off a letter to Etheridge accusing him of using taxpayer money to campaign.

“In every way these mailings resembled typical campaign ads, except they were paid for by taxpayers and not by your campaign,” Ellmers wrote in a letter her campaign made public. “How can you explain writing taxpayers that you are ‘reducing the deficit’ when you are wasting thousands of dollars of their money on political mailings to help you get reelected?”

Thus we see the difficulty inherent in federal lawmakers’ “franking” privileges, which allow them to mail material to constituents on the taxpayer dime. The United States Code has broad guidelines when it comes to what representatives may and may not send. Often times, it amounts to a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) form of campaigning.

And it can very expensive. For example, Rep. David Price, D-4th, spent $103,782 on franked mail in the 4th quarter of 2009 and the 1st quarter of 2010 combined.