Breaking Down the Franking Blackout Rules
With many offices heading into blackouts in December, it’s a great time to review what your office can and can’t do during a blackout. Here’s a quick summary of the Franking Blackout Rules and how they affect your office.
No: Mass Mailings
Under Franking rules, Members are not allowed to send out mass mailers in the 90 days leading up to a general or primary election in which they are a candidate. "Mass mailing" means an unsolicited mailing sent to 500 or more people, such as newsletters, surveys, newspaper inserts, or meeting notices.
No: Mass Communication
The mass mailing rule also applies to any type of media used for mass communication, such as auto-calls, advertisements via TV/newspaper/radio/internet, and video/audio communication that costs money in production, distribution, or broadcast. (Note: This would include digital advertising and telelphone town halls, unless the audience is limited to 499 people.)
Yes: Sending 499s
Since Franking rules prohibit the sending of mass mailers during blackouts, it’s common practice to send communication in smaller batches of 499 recipients or less. This means your office can send unsolicited outreach as long as the content of each 499 is substantially different from other mailings sent in that same legislative year (January 3-January 2). Many types of targeted outreach can be turned into a 499, including enewsletters, text messages, and even telephone town halls.
Yes: Talking to Subscribers
The exception to the mass mailing rule is subscribers. Your office is allowed to send mass outreach to people in your district who have opted in to receive communication from you, whether it’s via email, text, etc. That’s why it’s important to build your subscriber list before blackouts.
Yes: Updating Social Media & Website
Members are allowed to update their social media accounts and website during a blackout.
Yes: Conducting Official Business
There are exceptions to blackout rules when offices must send unsolicited mass outreach to conduct official business. Examples of this include:
- Responding to constituent communication
- Sending press releases to media outlets
- Advertising the Congressional art competition "An Artistic Discovery"
- Promoting U.S. Military Academy Days
- Advertising job and internship postings