WHEELING - Rep. David B. McKinley says he will move his congressional office out of the Federal Building in downtown Wheeling by the end of this year.
The move comes as the U.S. Government Services Administration has informed him rent will double in the building beginning in 2013 from its current rate of $1,400 per month.
"We're looking for another location," McKinley, R-Wheeling, said. "As much as I like the space, I don't think we should spend money that way. We're running a business, and we have to be judicious with how we spend money. ... We'll find a place - safe and well-lit with a lot of parking."
He noted he won't locate the office in a building he owns.
McKinley's Democratic challenger in the Nov. 6 general election, Sue Thorn, has been critical of how McKinley spends his congressional budget. Thorn points to high-gloss mailings he has sent constituents since he took office, and she believes McKinley's mailings to be campaign related.
McKinley doesn't dispute Thorn's claim he spent $263,000 on full-color brochures detailing his work in Congress. But he said the brochures are intended to educate taxpayers, and are a justifiable expenditure as he prioritizes his office spending. He has a staff of 15, a Washington office, and district offices in Wheeling, Morgantown and Parkersburg.
McKinley said members of Congress each year receive a "Members Reimbursement Account" from which they pay staff salaries, travel, office expenses and rent for district offices. He noted his MRA budget was about $1.2 million this year, and that last year he returned nearly $70,000 unspent to the federal treasury.
"We have to make a determination on what our priorities are," McKinley said. "Salaries? Furniture? Internet advertising?"
He decided "informing the public" was a priority based on what he learned from telephone town halls he has had in the district. Constituents would frequently call his office wanting more information on issues after these calls.
And members of Congress do not have free mailing or "franking privileges," he continued. Instead, members are required to send samples of their mailing to a bi-partisan Franking Committee, which determines whether the literature is "campaign oriented" and unacceptable to be paid for through taxpayer dollars. McKinley's mailings were approved by the Franking Committee.
"We're just trying to make sure people in the district have current information," he said. "It can't be used for campaigning, otherwise the Franking Committee would disapprove of the mailing we put out."
But Thorn said spending taxpayer money on constituent mailings during election years "is wrong."
"As a candidate in 2010, my opponent railed against taxpayer-funded, campaign-style mailings, or franked mail, calling them an abuse of our tax dollars," she said. "Today, he's spent more than $300,000 sending 1st District residents thousands of unsolicited, glossy fliers and brochures, and he ranks as the fourth-highest spender on these mailings in the U.S. House of Representatives."
Congress must be accountable to the people they represent, Thorn continued.
"That's why as a member of Congress, I'll vote in line with the interests of the middle class, not the top 1 percent and wealthy CEOs. I'm not a career politician, and I won't betray my beliefs to win an election. My priorities include rebuilding the middle class through creating good jobs and supporting our seniors and veterans. I will work to represent the 1st District of West Virginia, and my votes will reflect that. That won't change whether it's an election year or not."