Dems Have a Majority … Of Press-Releases

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Richard A. Bloom)
National Journal
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Billy House
March 7, 2013, 12:11 p.m.

Demo­crats gen­er­ally do it more of­ten, par­tic­u­larly East Coast­ers. But Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Ileana Ros-Le­htin­en of Flor­ida does it more of­ten than any­one.

House mem­bers is­sued more than 6,000 press re­leases dur­ing the first two months of this con­gres­sion­al ses­sion — over 100 a day — with Demo­crats put­ting out 31 per­cent more press state­ments than their GOP coun­ter­parts. Per­haps this re­flects the fact that the party not in power has to hustle more to get its mes­sage out. But oth­er reas­ons could be at play, too.

Demo­crats “may be­lieve they have more friends in the me­dia,” sug­gests Eric Os­ter­mei­er, a re­search as­so­ci­ate at the Cen­ter for the Study of Polit­ics and Gov­ernance, loc­ated at the Uni­versity of Min­nesota’s Humphrey School of Pub­lic Af­fairs.

Os­ter­mei­er pub­lished find­ings in his blog, Smart Polit­ics, show­ing how many re­leases were is­sued on law­makers’ of­fi­cial House web­sites from Jan. 3 (the first day of the 113th Con­gress) through March 3; he also ranked the law­makers who is­sued the most.

The rank­ings do not in­clude re­leases pos­ted by party lead­ers sep­ar­ately from their lead­er­ship web­sites — but he has those num­bers, too.

Ac­cord­ing to Os­ter­mei­er’s counts, Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal­if., pos­ted the most press re­leases in her ca­pa­city as minor­ity lead­er, 82, with Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er, D-Md., is­su­ing 54. They were fol­lowed by Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor, R-Va., with 43, and Speak­er John Boehner, R-Ohio, with 30.

Pelosi placed second only to Ros-Le­htin­en in terms of the num­ber of press re­leases pos­ted on non-lead­er­ship of­fice web­sites. Cuban-born Ros-Le­htin­en, who is in her 13th term and rep­res­ents a Miami-Dade-based dis­trict, is­sued 94 press re­leases, com­pared with Pelosi’s 69.

Ros-Le­htin­en is one of the few House mem­bers who sim­ul­tan­eously re­leased state­ments in a lan­guage oth­er than Eng­lish. But even dis­count­ing what are es­sen­tially du­plic­ate state­ments, Os­ter­mei­er found that Ros-Le­htin­en would rank third among all House mem­bers — be­hind Pelosi and Ed­ward Mar­key, D-Mass., who is a U.S. Sen­ate spe­cial-elec­tion can­did­ate — with 55.

“Through our press re­leases, my of­fice high­lights my pride in rep­res­ent­ing a dis­trict that is a mi­cro­cosm of Lat­in Amer­ica,” Ros-Le­htin­en ex­plained in a state­ment re­leased Thursday through her of­fice. “This melt­ing pot of na­tion­al­it­ies has many needs, and thus my press of­fice works very hard churn­ing out re­leases to in­form the pub­lic of all that my con­gres­sion­al staff ac­com­plishes on be­half of our com­munity.”

She ad­ded, “We also send out many re­leases on my loc­al activ­it­ies be­cause I am a ho­met­own gal, and I want folks to know that I am act­ive in my dis­trict and very reach­able for loc­al press.”

Among the cur­rent 433 House mem­bers, 11 of the 15 most pro­lif­ic is­suers of press re­leases are Demo­crats.

As a group, Demo­crats have already is­sued nearly 400 more re­leases dur­ing the 113th Con­gress than Re­pub­lic­ans, which is es­pe­cially im­press­ive con­sid­er­ing they have 32 few­er mem­bers than the GOP in the cham­ber.. The 200 Demo­crats in of­fice have is­sued an av­er­age of 16.7 press re­leases per mem­ber (3,342 total), com­pared with 12.7 for their 232 GOP coun­ter­parts (2,952 total).

There are cer­tainly oth­er me­di­ums for law­makers to use, in­clud­ing na­tion­al tele­vi­sion and so­cial me­dia. But Os­ter­mei­er the­or­izes that Demo­crats, out of power and un­able to con­trol the agenda in the lower le­gis­lat­ive cham­ber, are util­iz­ing the press re­lease as a primary tool.

The mes­sages cov­er a vari­ety of top­ics. For ex­ample, two law­makers in the top 10 are Con­necti­c­ut Demo­crats John Lar­son and Eliza­beth Esty. Their state has been the fo­cus of at­ten­tion be­cause of su­per­storm Sandy and the gun vi­ol­ence in New­town, and many of their press re­leases re­flect that.

But oth­er re­leases of­ten dwell on what law­makers want con­stitu­ents to see as ac­com­plish­ments. For in­stance, Os­ter­mei­er men­tions in his blog that Re­pub­lic­an Mar­sha Black­burn of Ten­ness­ee boas­ted about her rank­ing as the most con­ser­vat­ive wo­man in the House in Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s 2012 vote rat­ings.

Some have long com­plained that the me­dia sup­posedly give great­er at­ten­tion to the activ­it­ies of politi­cians, ath­letes, and oth­ers on the East Coast. But if the press-re­lease rank­ings are any in­dic­a­tion, East Coast law­makers may be work­ing harder to get at­ten­tion. Of the top 14, only Pelosi, Rep Tim Huel­skamp, R-Kan., and fresh­man Demo­crat­ic Reps. Tammy Duck­worth of Illinois and Michelle Lu­jan Grisham of New Mex­ico are from states not on the At­lantic coast.