Tax Rebate Waste?

When it comes to trumpeting limited government spending, U.S. Representative John Culberson has few peers. The first-term Republican from West Houston doesn't just endorse tax cuts -- he wants to abolish the income tax altogether. He ran on a tax-busting platform and vigorously supported the massive cuts pushed through by President George W. Bush.

So constituents probably weren't surprised recently when Culberson flyers -- some 190,000 of them -- began turning up in district mailboxes. He wanted to announce the good news that they would be getting tax rebates.

"As promised, Congressman John Culberson worked to pass this historic tax cut to return the tax surplus to taxpayers and help revive the national economy," the flyer says. "These hard-earned dollars belong to us, not the government..."

But constituents who read the fine print could see that this bit of political grandstanding against government spending was "prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense."

Culberson characterizes the mailing -- which cost $36,000 and includes color pictures of happy families and a mock Treasury check -- as a "straightforward notification to my constituents of the long overdue tax relief that they'll begin to receive this summer."

Of course, residents of his district, as well as most of the nation, are already being notified. The IRS spent $34 million in tax funds to send notices of the forthcoming checks, a move that incensed some Democrats, who opposed the notices' prominent mentions of Bush and Congress.

The IRS mailings generated further grumbles when it was discovered that more than 500,000 contained inaccurate information. Culberson sidestepped the question of whether his mailing was redundant.

"This is one of a select few mailings that I will be doing to my district on the president's highest and first priority...It's entirely appropriate," he says.

The self-styled "Jeffersonian Republican" last year filled the seat vacated by longtime U.S. Representative Bill Archer. Like Archer, Culberson has proudly noted that his affluent district takes in fewer federal dollars per person than any other in the nation.

His laissez-faire proclivities have earned him kudos from free-market conservatives. But Sue Schechter, the Harris County Democratic Party chair, wonders if spending taxpayer money to inform citizens about a tax cut is consistent with the congressman's image.

"It's incredibly hypocritical for a fiscal conservative to spend tax money sending these out," she says.

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