Rep Jeff Flake: Why should politicians use taxpayer funds to get their name to pop up in Google searches?

Reposted from the Wall Street Journal.

By Congressman Jeff Flake

Some would say it’s Grinch-like that members of Congress cannot send any mail pieces from their offices wishing constituents a “Merry Christmas.” But read a little deeper into this issue, and chances are you’ll be siding with the bah-humbug crowd.

Members of Congress can, of course, extend any holiday wishes they desire on a personal basis: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Kwanzaa or even, with a nod to George Costanza, Happy Festivus. Members of Congress just can’t use taxpayer dollars to send these season’s greetings if extending such greetings “is the primary purpose of the communication.”

This is a good thing. Do you really need to pay for Congressman X’s awkward family photo featuring a dozen grandchildren and the family dog in matching sweaters with the U.S. Capitol photoshopped into the background?

While we’re on the subject of taxpayer-funded salutations, you may be interested to know that Congress is moving beyond the standard campaign-esque glossy mailers. Elected officials have begun touting their feats of strength on the right-hand column of your Facebook page and Google searches—and you’re paying for it!

Since members seeking to pay for these Internet advertisements with taxpayer-funded office budgets are required to file such advertisements with the House Franking Office, my staff and I examined a few of them. What we found may surprise you—or, given Congress’s 9% approval rating, perhaps not.

“Congressman X is Fighting the Madness,” screams one Facebook ad, “Fighting Plans to End Medicare, Government Shutdown, Giveaways to Big Oil.” “Rep. X is working to lower gas prices by increasing American energy production. Find out more and like my page today!” says another. “Congressman X is Committed to Creating Jobs, Driving Down Spending and Shrinking the Size of the Federal Government.” Well, apparently not all spending.

Each click on these ads costs taxpayers additional money, as each click-through drives up a member’s ad bill.

Members of Congress can also use taxpayer funds to make sure their name pops up when someone does a Google search. As a general example, clicking on the member’s name that was primed to pop up with a Google search for the phrase “raising debt ceiling” would cost taxpayers approximately $4.70 per click. Ouch.

Then there are the political hijinks that members of Congress can play using taxpayer dollars. A member trying to lure conservation voters can use taxpayer funds to buy ads on conservation-themed websites. A member with an eye on a governor’s mansion can use taxpayer money to purchase ads that will pop up when a person in the member’s state searches for “governor” on Google.

So what do all of these ads cost taxpayers every year? The truth is, we don’t yet know. The current practice of the House is to shield the actual cost of these ads from public view. And this practice probably won’t change any time soon: Both parties engage in this ad buying, so both parties tend to look the other way when it comes to policing the practice.

Sitting members of Congress have abundant opportunities for earned media and press secretaries to ensure that our accomplishments, such as they are, are trumpeted far and wide. Social media have become a useful tool to promote ideas and policies, and many such media are free—or at least don’t cost the public anything. Why, then, should members be able to use taxpayer funds to purchase additional name ID for themselves?

Mr. Flake, a Republican, is a congressman from Arizona.


  1. No kidding. Try Hillary CLinton… she’s got that search trick down to science.

  2. Why should politicians (like Jeff Flake) use taxpayer funds to import cheap foreign labor?

    “United States. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) wrote guest worker legislation that drew heavily on Griswold’s
    paper, and President Bush unveiled a proposal based on the Flake bill in early 2004.”

    • The issue seems to be is not that this publicity dissemination exists, and that everyone is using it, but that who should pay for it. The elected officials should be paying out of their raised funds, not billing to the taxpayer.

  3. Congressman X (McFlake) screams “FOUL” about government money that has been allocated and subject for review pursuant to the franking privilege by invoking half-truths to support his façade as a fiscal malcontent.

    Current U.S. House Representative Jeff Flake, a candidate for U.S. Senate, Arizona 2012 loves the doublespeak. “OUCH” is right: McFlake said, “Members of Congress can also use taxpayer funds to make sure their name pops up when someone does a Google search. As a general example, clicking on the member’s name that was primed to pop up with a Google search for the phrase “raising debt ceiling” would cost taxpayers approximately $4.70 per click. Ouch.”

    Flake failed to convey two facts here and misrepresent a third one. First, Flake infers that the “raising debt ceiling” is in part caused by no oversight leading to overspending of funds by a Congressman running said ads as Flake has identified. Second, Flake failed to establish that appropriations are available and equal for every Congressman to use for said means of communications, Flake included. Third, Flake is basically stating he doesn’t believe in the FREE MARKET.

    Funds available are equal among Congressmen, if one chooses to pay $4.70 per hit on a Google Ad which is subtracted from the total amount available for such – SO WHAT!

    Google Ads are designed to allow the USER to decide just how important their message is. Put it this way using $100.00: Flake chooses to put an ad up that costs $0.05 per hit with certain key words and functions. I choose to put up an ad that costs $4.70 with certain key words and functions. When either of us runs out of money, the Ads stop. If you choose your key words wisely and give it enough time the 5 cent ad will out perform the higher priced one.

    That said which ad runs up the debt ceiling more?

    Don’t eat the yellow snowflakes!

    • CD6 Businessman says

      Actually Flake gives back all the money his office saves to the Treasury each year. So Flake choosing not to spend $4.70 per hit means that money goes back to the Treasury. In the future that would hopefully mean it goes back to the taxpayer.

      You really don’t see the problem with elected officials using funds to promote themselves? That is OUR money they are using. Use campaign funds for that crap.

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