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Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, and national Republicans were battling Wednesday over who is and isn't being "frank" about free congressional mass mailings.

The National Republican Congressional Committee issued a press release calling Owens a hypocrite for saying publicly that he opposes abuse of Congress' free mailing, or "franking," privilege - but voting recently against reducing funds for franked mail.Owens responded that if that makes him a hypocrite, then Republicans are hypocrites too - because even though they may vote to cut funding for mass mail, they still are sending plenty of newsletters and town-meeting notices too.

Ed Rollins, co-chairman of the NRCC, which helps organize and financially aid Republican House campaigns, started the slug-fest by complaining that on Sept. 25, Owens voted to keep $45 million in the congressional account for free mailings instead of giving it to the war on drugs.

After that vote, Owens issued a statement saying in part that he still considered "abuse of the franking privilege to be unacceptable and have voted to eliminate it" previously, and would vote for similar future bills if crafted carefully.

Rollins said, "This is a case where Wayne Owens is telling his constituents what they want to hear, but doing exactly the opposite in Washington."

He added, "This is only the latest of several votes where Wayne Owens has promoted the frank. Three times last year he voted against cutting the frank by $20 million, $10 million and $5 million, all on the same day."

Voting records examined by the Deseret News showed 10 votes in the past two years dealing with the franking privilege. Owens voted to maintain or expand the frank in eight, voted to reduce it in one and was absent on one vote.

In contrast, Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, voted to cut the franking privilege in all 10 instances and Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, voted to cut it five times and was absent for the other five votes.

Owens said, "I have to smile at the hypocrisy charge because the Republicans who cause the NRCC to make such charges continue to use the frank while smugly voting to cut it down."

Spokesmen for all three Utah members of the House said they continue to send out newsletters and town-meeting notices.

While House clerk reports do not total up exactly how much franked mail each member sent, the NRCC said it obtained Owens' total by adding up his printing orders contained in those reports. It said he sent 4 million pieces of "junk mail" to voters in the past 15 months.

Rollins said, "Four million pieces of mail, that's seven and a half letters, meeting cards and newsletters for every man, woman and child in Owens' district. If the average Salt Lake resident were going to stick a 25-cent stamp on 4 million pieces of mail it would cost him $1 million. Of course, it doesn't cost Wayne Owens a penny, because the mailing expenses are covered by the taxpayer."

Owens said he doubts the accuracy of the NRCC's figures, and called it "a politically useful estimate." His press secretary, Art Kingdom, said he believes Owens sent out five newsletters last year and has sent out three this year. He also sent out town-meeting notices every three months. NRCC spokesman Dan Leonard said Owens is the only Democrat being attacked by the NRCC because he is the only one to make "hypocritical public statements" about the frank vote.

However, the portion of the statement by Owens that created the furor was never printed in the media until now, although other portions were. Rick Guldan, press secretary to Hansen, said the NRCC obtained a copy of Owens' full statement from his office, but Hansen did not initiate the NRCC attack.

About that situation, Owens said, "If Jim Hansen did help the NRCC attack me, it wouldn't be the first time."