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Hagedorn and misuse of congressional mail

Two weeks ago, we said Congressman Jim Hagedorn owes his 1st District constituents more details on the print-and-mail scandal that has embroiled his staff.

We knew at the time that the first-term Republican had racked up the highest spending on taxpayer-paid printing and mailing in Congress and had burned through about half of his office budget in the first quarter of the year.

We knew that some of the printing had been contracted to a firm owned by a part-time Hagedorn staffer. The ownership of another company, one incorporated a little more than a year ago and that received the bulk of the work, was unknown.

This week his campaign revealed that that company, Abernathy West, is owned by the brother of Peter Su, then Hagedorn’s chief of staff. Hagedorn fired Su this summer shortly after the expense of his mailing program became public, with the congressman saying that he had “fully delegated” the logistics of his printing and mailing to Su but accepts his own responsibility to monitor and guide his staff’s activities.

Su responded to this week’s development by providing the Star Tribune with an audio recording of an Aug. 7 telephone conversation with Hagedorn in which the congressman declared that there is no ethical issue with funneling hundreds of thousands in taxpayer money to companies connected to his staff.

The “internal review” paid for by Hagedorn’s campaign says there’s nothing illegal with a congressional staff chief hiring his brother and an underling to do the printing work. We’re not conceding that, but set aside for now the question of legality. That same review concedes that Hagedorn’s office paid “significantly” higher rates than other companies charge.

We know the congressman has been dealing with significant health issues. We would give more credence to his delegation explanation had he not been deeply involved in the details of the content of the mailings and had he not told his former top aide that he sees no ethical issues with the spending.

Sum it up: Hagedorn pumped up the volume of his mailings and overpaid, at least in comparison to his congressional peers. Some $460,000 of taxpayer funds were funneled to companies at less than arm’s length. Legal or not, at his direct knowledge or not, the mailing operation was exploited for personal profit.

Congressional office budgets, and the franking program that pays for congressional mail, are not intended to be a means of enriching legislative staff. The district deserves better of its congressman.

— The Free Press of Mankato

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