U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, has $1,325,000 to work with this year. According to spokeswoman Jennifer Hazelton, that’s 6.4 percent lower than the $1.4 million office budget last year, and the 2011 Members’ Representational Allowance is 5 percent down from 2010.
“Tom has been one of the ones leading the charge on that,” Hazelton said. “Since he’s been on the Appropriations Committee, they’ve cut the available money by 11.4 percent.”
The amount of an MRA is calculated using standard staffing and operations figures plus a cost factor for other expenses, based on the make-up of the district. Within those parameters, representatives can allocate their budget as they see fit.
“It’s a hard-and-fast allowance, but every district is different,” Hazelton said. “Who’s in it, the terrain, the distance from Washington D.C. ... It all has to be taken into account when you’re determining the best way to serve your constituents.”
A Statement of Disbursements of the House of Representatives, published quarterly, shows how each member is using the money.
During the first two quarters of 2012 Graves spent a total of $632,715, compared to $569,773 for the same period last year. The approximately
$60,000 increase is almost equal to the rise in franked mail and printing costs, although the budget shifts were more complex.
Hazelton noted that there are blackout periods in an election year when members are not allowed to send out taxpayer-funded mailings to their constituents. That leaves fewer days, so the expenses show up clumped together in the quarterly reports.
The following is a look at Graves’ MRA spending in the first halves of 2011 and 2012:
Franked mail costs totaled $15,374 through June 30, 2012, compared to $1,631 in 2011.
Printing and reproductions ran $55,406 compared to $2,035 last year.
Travel expenses for Graves and his staff — mileage, food, hotels, plane fare and other incidentals — were roughly the same: $38,359 this year and $36,679 last year.
Rent and utilities dropped to $49,277 in 2012 from $58,109 in 2011.
Hazelton said some of the expenses appear in different quarters, depending on when the bills are paid.
That lag-time also is apparent in the detail section of the personnel category — the largest part of the budget.
Graves spent $453,613 through June 30 this year on staffing, compared to $446,346 for the same period in 2011. His employees did get raises, although he made some staffing changes as well. Total workers: 15 full-time, two part-time and one shared with another member of Congress.
The biggest change was swapping out a district director and a professional consultant for a New Media Coordinator. Hazelton said Graves and Chief of Staff Timothy Baker had planned for a while to hire someone to handle social media outreach. The coordinator works under her.
“Facebook, Twitter, videos ... The office recognizes those forms are becoming more and more prominent as ways to better communicate with constituents,” she said.
Of the full-time employees, four are top administrators. There also are two staff assistants, two legislative assistants, two field representatives, two constituent services representatives, a legislative correspondent, the new media coordinator and a scheduler.
Baker’s budgeted quarterly payment rose to $35,000 in June, from $34,222 last year. Hazelton’s went to $25,000 from $24,444. Allocations for Legislative Director Jason Lawrence went to $20,000 from $18,778 and, for Constituent Services Director Tracey A. Bartley, to $12,538 from $12,259 for the same quarter last year.