The members of Congress get free postage and in the past they’ve created newsletter-like mailings to tout their accomplishments. These days, they’ve dropped the illusion of news and are treating the mailers more like what they really are — pre-campaign literature.

In the age of 24/7 cable news, congressional Web sites, the YouTube congressional channel, Facebook, and Twitter, it’s still 1857 in Washington. Members of Congress say the “franking privilege” is necessary to “keep in touch” with constituents.

Mine arrived last night from my representative — Michele Bachmann — touting her opposition to the economic stimulus package. Its claims were unsubstantiated and unattributed.

Her mailing isn’t unusual for members of Congress. One representative — U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett, R-New Jersey, spent more than $200,000 on the privilege in the first three quarters of 2008.

In the 2007-2008 Congressional session, a Republican proposed eliminating the free mailing. He got only one co-sponsor and the bill was sent to a committee where it died without a hearing.

An alternative bill — H.R. 2788 — would’ve required lawmakers to indicate how much money went into the production and mailing. Only two Republicans signed on as co-sponsors and it, too, was sent to a House committee to die.

Good luck trying to find out how much your congressperson is spending on the privilege. The House keeps printed copies of disclosure documents, but they’re only available in Washington; they’re not posted online.

Does your congressperson use the privilege? Do you read the newsletters? What have you learned from them?