INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Throughout his career in elected office, Indiana Senate candidate Todd
Rokita has used apocalyptic language to warn of “out-of-control” government
spending, which he once described as “choking our economy and stealing
election season rolls around, the Republican congressman has been more than
willing to shell out public dollars to tout his efforts in office, according
to an analysis of public records by The Associated Press.
Over the past 12
years, Rokita has spent roughly $3 million in public money on media
campaigns, mailers and other forms of mass communication, usually ramping up
the spending before appearing on a ballot, the AP’s review found. That
figure reflects spending by Rokita that occurred both when he was Indiana’s
secretary of state and during his time in Congress.
money on unsolicited mass communications, such as postage-free mail pieces
and radio ads, is called “franking” - a practice as old as Congress itself.
Still, the propriety of spending such money on what largely amounts to an ad
for an office holder has long been questioned, leading to efforts to curtail
the practice in recent decades.
footed the bill for several radio spots Rokita has aired ahead of the May 8
GOP Senate primary.
“Hi, Todd Rokita
here,” he intones in one $27,000 ad buy promoting a veterans resource fair
that was held Thursday in Kokomo. “As your U.S. representative in Congress,
it’s my job to serve as a resource to connect you with your local and
spokeswoman, Hilton Beckham, says Rokita’s use of franking has helped him
inform constituents “about issues and services his office provides to help
job seekers, veterans, and seniors navigate the maze of federal
There’s just one
problem. Among the half-dozen stations that were part of that $27,000 ad buy
was an Ohio one that doesn’t reach anywhere near his district - a violation
of House rules. It does, however, beam into the Fort Wayne area, where he is
lesser known. Rokita’s campaign said the ad was booked by accident, after
someone confused the Ohio station’s call letters with another one closer to
Rokita is locked in
a tight three-way competition with fellow Rep. Luke Messer and wealthy
businessman Mike Braun for a chance to unseat Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly.
Congress in 2011, Rokita has spent a minimum of $1.1 million in taxpayer
money on mailers, radio ads and other forms of communication, the AP’s
That’s 10 times
more than Donnelly spent in the same period as a congressman and then
senator. It far surpasses the $304,000 Messer, one of Rokita’s primary
opponents, has spent on such expenses since joining Congress in 2013.
In fact, Rokita’s
spending on mass communications dwarfs that every other member of Indiana’s
federal delegation. Often it has placed him among the top spenders on
franked communications, record show.
Members of the U.S.
House averaged $50,000 annually on franked from 1997 to 2008, according to a
2015 report by the Congressional Research Service. Rokita has averaged
around $166,000 a year during his time in Congress, even as the use of
franking has declined.
reputation for self-promotion predates his time in federal office. While
still secretary of state, his use of nearly $1.9 million in public money on
such expenses so angered fellow Republicans in the Legislature that they
passed a 2010 law aimed at curtailing his appearances in TV and radio ads.
At the time, they
argued the ads were less about keeping the public informed and more about
building Rokita’s name identification to further his political ambitions.
It also stands in
stark contrast to the rhetoric he has used when attacking other forms of
public spending, including the social safety net.
“With every vote I
take in Congress, I am working to cut spending, whether it’s millions or
trillions,” Rokita said in a 2011 news release. “Every dollar we save today
is one less our children and grandchildren will have to repay.”
The amount Rokita
spent on taxpayer funded communications that year: $261,000.
In the summer of
2016, Rokita unsuccessfully pursued the GOP nod for governor after then-Gov.
Mike Pence joined the Republican presidential ticket. In short succession,
he dropped off the ballot for Congress, intensely lobbied the Indiana
Republican Party for the gubernatorial nod, and later jumped back on the
congressional ballot after those efforts failed.
skyrocketed during that time, jumping from several thousand dollars in the
months before, to $241,000 during the final six months of that year, records
show. That placed Rokita among the top five spenders in Congress at the
time, records show.
That has given his
rivals plenty of ammunition in a primary where the Republican candidates are
trying to outdo each other for the distinction of being the most
Todd Rokita is just doing what he’s done throughout his entire career in
politics: using the taxpayer dollars of Hoosiers to promote himself and
promote his political career,” said Josh Kelley, a spokesman for Braun, the
businessman in the race. “Todd (Rokita) sees the Senate as simply the next
opportunity for a taxpayer funded promotion.”