Frank / Franking Privilege
A member’s facsimile signature, which is used on envelopes in lieu of stamps, for the member’s official outgoing mail. The “franking privilege” is the right to send mail postage-free.
The congressional franking privilege, which dates from 1775, allows Members of Congress to transmit mail matter under their signature without postage. Congress, through legislative branch appropriations, reimburses the U.S. Postal Service for the franked mail it handles. Use of the frank is regulated by federal law, House and Senate rules, and committee regulations. Reform efforts during the past have reduced overall franking expenditures in both election and non-election years.
Franking privileges—the ability to send mail by one’s signature rather than by postage—date back to the seventeenth-century English House of Commons. The American Continental Congress adopted the practice in 1775 and the First Congress wrote it into law in 1789. In addition to senators and representatives, the president, cabinet secretaries, and certain executive branch officials also were granted the frank. In those days, every newspaper publisher could send one paper postage free to every other newspaper in the country.
Official mail, sometimes referred to as “franked mail,” allows Members of Congress to transmit mail matter under their signature, or “frank,” without prepayment for postage. Members’ ability to send franked mail facilitates official communication between elected officials and their constituents. Although franked mail does not require prepayment of postage, Congress pays the U.S. Postal Service for the cost of franked mail in annual appropriations bills.
Members’ use and the content of official mail is regulated by several sources, including federal law and chamber rules and regulations. Official communications sent as franked mail may include such items as letters in response to constituent requests for information, newsletters regarding legislation and Member votes, press releases about official Member activities, copies of the Congressional Record and government reports, and notices about upcoming town meetings organized by Members, among others.
Also see Congressional Pay and Perks – The Franking Privilege; § 4.50, Franking Privilege, in Congressional Deskbook.
- 2 U.S. Code § 501 – House Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards (LII)
- 39 U.S. Code § 3210 – Franked mail transmitted by the Vice President, Members of Congress, and congressional officials (LII)
- Franking – Wikipedia
- Franking – Senate Committee on Ethics
- E050 Official Mail (Franked) – U.S. Postal Service
- “Questions of Privilege in the House,” CRS Report 98-411 (6-page PDF)
- “Congressional Salaries and Allowances,” CRS Report RL30064 (18-page PDF)
- “Selected Privileges and Courtesies Extended to Former Senators,” CRS Report 98-963 (7-page PDF)
- “Closing a Congressional Office: Overview and Guide to House and Senate Practices,” CRS Report RL34553 (14-page PDF)
- “Congressional Franking Privilege: Background and Recent Legislation,” CRS Report RS22771 (12-page PDF)
- “Franking Privilege: Mass Mailings and Mass Communications in the House, 1997-2015,” CRS Report RL34458 (17-page PDF)
- “Franking Privilege: Historical Development and Options for Change,” CRS Report RL34274 (29-page PDF)
- “Congressional Franked Mail: Overview,” CRS In Focus IF10489 (5-page PDF)
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