In a congressional debate hosted by Hawaii News Now Oct. 19, Democratic candidate Colleen Hanabusa challenged her Republican opponent, Charles Djou, on his record of fiscal conservatism.

Hanabusa said: “I asked you about how much you’ve spent of taxpayers’ money in sending out all of these brochures that you said you sent for one purpose, which was to tell people where you are. And, by the way, we checked, your phone number hasn’t changed since Patricia Saiki’s day. So, what’s the answer Charles? You must know how much of taxpayers’ money you spent to do four glossy brochures plus two robocalls…” (Hanabusa’s comment begins at 27:10)

Moments later, Hanabusa claimed that Djou had sent the four brochures and made the robocalls in the first “23 days” of his tenure.

Is Hanabusa’s claim accurate?

The Djou camp sees no fault with the figure.

“Charles did send out mailers,” said Djou spokesman Daniel Son. “They were to tell people how to get in touch with him, A, and B, what services his congressional office both in D.C. and Honolulu provided, as well as letting them know of upcoming talk-stories.”

Son said the robocalls were “telephone town halls,” where Djou would call his constituents and take questions or concerns. Son emphasized that the mailers and calls were an effort by Djou to perform his civic service.

“This is actually his primary job as a member of Congress to not only reach out to his constituents and see what is on their minds, what they’re thinking, what they care about but also letting them know how they can use him and use his office,” Son said. “That’s ultimately what he’s in office for, is to serve.”

When Civil Beat asked Son about the timeframe Hanabusa offered – the 28 days – Son said, “That sounds right.”

In what may officially be the least contested Fact Check in Civil Beat’s history, Hanabusa’s claim regarding mailers and robocalls sent by the Djou campaign was categorically correct.

What’s more interesting, though, is the cost question Hanabusa raises.

The practice of using taxpayer money to send out information is a perk enjoyed by any Congressional representative. It is called “Franking”, where members of the House or Senate are given an “official mail allowance,” – generously provided by the taxpayer – to communicate with their constituents.

Franking is traditional in American politics, dating back to the First Continental Congress in 1775. The allowance for franked mail depends on the number of addresses in each member’s district and has decreased sharply over the past two decades.

There are blackout periods for franking, such as just before an election period, to avoid misuse of the privilege. Certain topics are also prohibited when dealing with franked mail, such as personal or biographical information, partisan references or solicitation of funds.

So was Djou’s use of franked mail in the first 28 days of his office inappropriate, as Hanabusa implies by pushing for a price?

It doesn’t seem so, although you have to wonder why somebody would need to be reminded how to reach his congressman four times in a month. If Djou wanted to maximize his franking privilege, he needed to send out the mailings before the blackout date.

Unfortunately, Civil Beat was not able to acquire the exact amount spent by the Djou campaign for his first month. Franking figures are available to the public, and posted on the Statement of Disbursements website operated by the Congress, but only quarterly reports are available.

While we can’t tell you exactly how much the four brochures and two robocalls cost individually, we can say that between Apr. 1 and June 30, 2010, Djou spent a total of $156,203.96 for “mass mailings and communications.”

And while the number may at first glance appear extravagant, his costs seem to fall in line with other members of Congress. It is true that more than a quarter of the representatives spent nothing on franking, but the majority appear to have fallen within a $20,000 to $215,000 range. Djou paints himself as a fiscal conservative, but such liberals as Barney Frank and Dennis Kucinich spent nothing.

Hawaii’s other congressional representative, Democrat Mazie Hirono, spent $91,304.54 between Apr.1 and June 30.