Taxpayers financed an official letter from Congressman Dave Reichert on Tuesday so he could tell constituents "of my efforts to support...

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Taxpayers financed an official letter from Congressman Dave Reichert on Tuesday so he could tell constituents “of my efforts to support local law enforcement.”

That was just one of thousands of taxpayer-funded letters Reichert has sent as next week’s election approaches. It’s not campaign mail. It’s official congressional business. And it’s allowed, even though there is a ban on mass mailing of congressional mail 90 days before an election. The law-enforcement letter, like those about Darfur, breast cancer and other issues, went to no more than 499 constituents of the 8th Congressional District. According to House rules, 500 pieces of mail constitute a “mass mailing.” Less than that and the pre-election ban doesn’t apply.

Reichert’s chief of staff, Mike Shields, said 130 different letters have been mailed since June, when the pre-primary mass-mailing ban went into effect. Because the primary and general elections are so close together in Washington, the blackout period carries through to the general election.

Shields said not all the mailings went to 499 people. Sometimes the mail goes to a random selection of 499 constituents; other times it goes to people identified as interested in a specific issue.

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Anyone in Congress can send these sorts of letters, and I’m sure others do, too. Reichert already is a big mailer by congressional standards. He’s the seventh-largest user of the franking privilege in the House, says HillMonitor, a nonpartisan group that tracks congressional votes and spending.

“We can’t send out mass mailings anymore, but we are going to continue to communicate with our constituents on issues,” Shields said.

The letters must “pertain to official business” and cannot be campaign-related, said Salley Collins, the press secretary for the Committee on House Administration, which oversees congressional mail.

The letter about law enforcement touts community-policing programs. In it, Reichert writes that he was “a former law enforcement officer for 33 years.”

Reichert, who in his re-election battle with Democrat Darcy Burner has tried to distance himself from President Bush, also burnishes his independent credentials. He mentions his amendment to increase the community-policing budget.

“The amendment was opposed by the leaders in my party and I was urged not to go to the floor and fight my own party but I felt strongly that I had to stand up for my beliefs regardless of the consequences,” Reichert wrote.

It’s tough to see what pressing official business prompted some of the mailings. One dated Oct. 23 talks about a hearing Reichert chaired on July 26.

A letter about breast-cancer statistics announced National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. No doubt a very important issue, and well worth Reichert’s call to use the month to reflect on those lost to the disease and to promote awareness to prevent it in others. There wasn’t much time, though. The letter was dated Oct. 30, the day before the month was over.

David Postman is The Seattle Times’ chief political reporter. His column appears Fridays. Reach him at 360-236-8267 or at dpostman@seattletimes.com