What Is Franking Privilege? - Definition & Example

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Mercado

I completed my BA in Criminal Justice in 2015. Currently working on my MS in Homeland Security Management.

Franking privilege pardons Congress members from paying postage on mail. Explore the definition, example, and background of franking privilege and learn about who has franking privilege. Updated: 01/12/2022

Franking Privilege: Definition

Franking privilege allows for members of Congress and their staff to send mail to their constituents or supporters without having to pay postage. This allows for Congress to be able to communicate more effectively with their supporters. Congress will then pay back the Post Office with money from the legislative branch. Government regulations are in place to ensure proper use of this privilege.

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  • 0:04 Franking Privilege: Definition
  • 0:30 Franking Privilege: Background
  • 3:30 Who Has Franking Privilege?
  • 4:28 Example of Franking Privilege
  • 5:26 Lesson Summary
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Franking Privilege: Background

Franking privilege first occurred in 1660 in Great Britain. It was then carried over to the United States. In 1775, the First Continental Congress passed legislation that allowed free postage for members of Congress. Franking privilege has gone through many regulations since it first passed in 1775. Here are some of the reforms.

1873-1895

Franking privilege was banned from 1873 to 1895. When it was re-established in 1895, restrictions were put onto the privilege. Congress members could send mail, under one ounce to their constituents, government officials, or any person as long as it was official business.

1895-1971

Several more changes were made over these years, but in 1971, the Post Office decided they would no longer monitor the franking system, not wanting to pass judgment on Congress members. This led to a series of lawsuits accusing congressmen of abusing the privilege.

1973-1977

Tougher regulations were put in place from 1973 to 1977. In 1973, regulation was passed to prevent mass mailing 500 similar pieces of mail within 28 days of a primary or general election, if the congressman was a candidate. The Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards was created through this regulation with the purpose of monitoring franking among Congress members. After an administrative review was conducted, the Senate followed the recommendations suggested in the review by changing the mass mailing ban from 28 days to 60 days, banning private funding for franking material, and making it a requirement to make postal patron mailings public knowledge.

1986-Present

In 1986, an allowance for franking privilege was established, along with public disclosure of individual member's mailing costs. In 1990, the House created separate allowances for the members and also made it mandatory that mail costs were made public. Under this regulation, the postmaster general was required to monitor franking, inform members of their monthly usage of their franking privilege, and block any franked mail that exceeded the amount allowed to members. In 1994, it was established that mass mailing costs could not surpass $50,000 per session in Congress. In 1995, the Member's Representational Allowance (MRA) was created to allow overlap in funding in member's finances. In 1999, the House changed regulations so that funds from the MRA could be used without limitation in any category of spending. In 1996, the mass mailing deadline was amended again, from 60 days to 90 days.

Who Has Franking Privilege?

Here are some examples of people who possess franking privilege:

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