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ABQJOURNAL WEST: USPS Clarifies Political Mail Policy

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Thursday, August 14, 2008
USPS Clarifies Political Mail Policy
By Jeff Proctor
Journal Staff Writer
   Political mail is political mail, according to a newly clarified U.S. Postal Service policy, regardless of whether the race is partisan in nature.
   That should clear up concerns raised by U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., after an Albuquerque school board member experienced problems in getting his campaign material delivered before a 2007 election and was refused a refund for postage.
   “The Postal Service will be clarifying its policies to make clear that nonpartisan political campaign mailings must receive the same treatment as partisan political campaign mailings,” postal officials wrote to Wilson in a letter dated Friday.
   That's a change of heart for the Postal Service, which for 16 months denied Albuquerque Public Schools board member Robert Lucero a refund for the $628.05 Lucero spent on 3,732 campaign fliers that were delivered after the Feb. 6, 2007 election, despite having been dropped off at the post office five days before.
   Wilson had aided Lucero, who won the election, in his dealings with the postal service by trying to help him get a refund and an explanation for why he hadn't received one.
   The reason for the denial:
   According to an investigation conducted by the USPS Office of Inspector General, or OIG: “political mailings” are those sent out by a “political candidate.” To qualify as such, the candidates must affiliate with a political party. And they must not use their home address on mailings they send out, the report said.
   APS is a nonpartisan election. Lucero used his home address, as do many other candidates in New Mexico and nationwide.
   Albuquerque postal district officials later apologized to Lucero for the “experience that (he) had in this situation” and refunded his $628.05 on July 22.
   Wilson was not satisfied with postal officials' reasoning.
   In a letter to U.S. Postmaster General John E. Potter dated July 18, she wrote: “I believe this report might establish a troubling precedent that affects not only the outcome of this case, but how candidate mail throughout the country is treated when that candidate is running for a nonpartisan office or uses their home address as a 'headquarters.'”
   Wilson argued that nonpartisan races are still political races and that it is quite common for a candidate's campaign committee to be registered using the candidate's personal residence.
   “I look forward to your interpretation of the OIG report and how its conclusions will affect people who want to serve their communities by running for an elected office, partisan or nonpartisan,” Wilson's letter concluded.
   Friday's letter from postal officials apparently answered the congresswoman's questions.
   “I welcome the post office's decision and it looks as though this unfortunate situation in New Mexico will help people running for nonpartisan offices nationwide,” Wilson told the Journal on Wednesday via e-mail. “I look forward to working with the post office in the future to continually improve the service they provide to all New Mexicans.”
   In addition to clearing up the partisan/nonpartisan question, the letter says postal officials will be educating post office staff nationwide about how political mailings are to be handled.
   “All political campaign mail must be processed in a timely manner,” the letter says.
   Moreover, the Postal Service has been communicating with elections officials across the country to make its mailing policies clear, USPS spokesman Stephen Seewoester said.
   “In addition, the Postal Service has reached out to all 5,000 election officials in the country to offer training, a personal review of all mail related to sending and returning ballots, and provide information about our online resource center,” Seewoester said in an e-mail response to Journal questions.
   Lucero said the letter does feel like a bit of vindication.
   However, he said Wednesday, “It's a shame that so many people had problems with the post office and that it had to get to this level. And the real vindication will come through time — when no one else has these kinds of problems in New Mexico.”

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