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Owens just missed "worst check-writer" list; see A2.Already under fire for overdrafts at the House bank, Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, is now also criticized for heavy use of another perk: "free" mailings at taxpayer expense.

A National Taxpayer Union study released Monday said Owens ranked No. 9 among the House's 435 members in 1991 in how much mail he "franked," or sent at taxpayer expense by having his signature appear where a stamp is normally placed.The value of that postage was $181,667 - or 87 cents' worth of mail for each address in his district, which was twice as much per address as that sent by Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, and four times as much as that sent by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah.

It also slightly exceeded Owens' $179,790 postal allowance for 1991. Owens was one of only 11 members who exceeded such allowances. House members, though, may by rules transfer up to $25,000 if needed for such mail from other office accounts.

Utah's other members of Congress ranked relatively low in franking privilege use: Orton was No. 210 in the House; Hansen was No. 372; Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was No. 80 in the 100-member Senate; and retiring Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, tied for last, sending no franked mass mailings in 1991.

National Taxpayer Union Chairman James Davidson attacked franked mail as a perk that incumbents use to build name recognition for re-election. "With the 1992 elections around the corner, incumbents went on a franking frenzy," he said, noting House members sent $30.4 million worth of franked mail in 1991.

He added that the average opponent who ran against House incumbents in the 1990 elections managed to spend only $108,506 - far less than many incumbents spent just on the frank.

"Clearly, even with reforms,

Franking frenzy?

Postage Postage Cost Per

Member Cost Allowance Address Rank

House average $ 99,919 $203,574 42 cents

Wayne Owens $181,667 $179,790 87 cents 9

Bill Orton $ 79,774 $159,902 43 cents 210

Jim Hansen $ 38,560 $175,050 19 cents 372

*Senate information is for "mass mailings" of one piece off mail to more than 500 people, not for all uses of franked mail.

Source: National Taypayer's Union