To show the power of the frank - congressmen's ability to send mail at taxpayer expense - Utah native Richard Richards, former National Republican Party Chairman, remembers a seminar in 1963 when he was an aide to then-newly elected Rep. Laurence J. Burton, R-Utah.

"I can't remember who said it, but he was giving advise to freshmen and said, `There's absolutely no excuse for losing an election as long as you properly abuse your franking privilege."Congressmen bristle at the suggestion they abuse the frank today, even though their opponents often claim they do.

While congressional records about free mailings often do not reveal much about individual members' habits, they appear to show that Utah congressmen are a little less zealous than others to use their right to mail for free.

But they also show congressmen in general may indeed be abusing the frank - or at least taking full advantage of it - to help get re-elected.

It's getting bad enough, and expensive enough, that some key congressmen are calling for reform.

A recent study by the Congressional Research Service showed that Congress spent more than $1 billion on franked mail since 1972 with sharp increases in mailings during election years.

This year, 58 million pieces of mail stacked up at the House's folding room at the Sept. 9 deadline for mass mailings of franked mail before the election. House Doorkeeper James T. Molloy told the House Administration Committee that he was forced to keep 67 extra employees he had hired to handle the election-year rush until Oct. 15, costing $500,000 more than planned.

That prompted Rep. Bill Frenzel, R-Minn., ranking minority member of that committee, to quote what he said are the three rules of re-election. "Use the frank. Use the frank. Use the frank. It would be funny if it wasn't taxpayers money and degrading to the whole institution."

Frenzel said one New York congressman recently sent a mailing to 180,000 constituents to announce a new bench at a bus stop.

But Frenzel is just one of several congressmen calling for the House to review such problems with the frank and possible reform.

One reform House leaders may consider is publishing how much each House member spends on mass mailings. The Senate has published such information since 1985, but the House merely reports how much the entire House spends on mailings - which happened to be $34 million the first quarter this fiscal year.

The latest available Senate list clearly shows who that body's biggest mailers are - and shows that Utah's two senators are among those who use the frank the least for mass mailings.

The latest Secretary of the Senate report shows that Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, sent 245,131 pieces of franked mass mail to constituents at a cost of $34,481 during the first half of the last fiscal year. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, sent 747,750 pieces of mail costing $94,282.

In contrast, the Senate's biggest mailer, Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, D-N.Y., sent 4.9 million pieces of mail at a cost of $519,824.

Those totals are only for "mass mailings" of material sent to more than 500 people. It doesn't include press releases, letters of congratulation or other mail sent to fewer than 500 people at a time.

Both Garn and Hatch do not send newsletters to constituents, but send other forms of mass mailings - such as letters targeted to specific groups on items of interest to them, such as to doctors about health issues.

Press secretaries for both senators said they used to send newsletters, but found them of little use and discontinued them.

Hatch and Garn both send letters of congratulation using the frank. In the Senate, such letters are allowed to praise someone for recent high school graduation (which House rules do not allow), becoming an Eagle Scout, being a hero or receiving any other "public" distinction.

Hatch also sends out franked postcards telling constituents of upcoming town meetings. Garn does not hold town meetings, so he sent out no such postcards, said his press secretary, Laurie Snow.

Finding out exactly what Utah House members have sent is not as easy. Because the House does not publish lists of how much individual members send, information must come from congressmen themselves - if they choose to release it.

Unlike Utah's senators, all of Utah's congressmen - Hansen, Republican Rep. Howard Nielson and Democratic Rep. Wayne Owens - send out franked newsletters, but in differing numbers.

Nielson sent out two newsletters this year, although he said the first was intended to be sent at the end of last year. He plans to send another after the election.

"I try to hold down the number of newsletters I send in an election year because I feel it is unfair to challengers to use the frank and send out a lot of them," Nielson said.

His colleagues apparently don't follow suit. Owens sent out four newsletters, according to his press secretary, Art Kingdom.

Staffers for Hansen said they didn't know how many they sent out. Despite several requests by the Deseret News over several weeks, Hansen's office never came up with that information.

Congressmen may send up to six newsletters per year that are addressed simply to "postal patron." If newsletters have names and addresses attached, there is no limit on how many newsletters may be sent.

Many rules are designed to keep newsletters from being overt re-election campaign literature. They may not explicitly solicit constituents to vote for the incumbent; they cannot refer to campaigns; they cannot prominently use the label Democrat or Republican; and have tight rules about the number of photos of the congressmen each newsletter may contain and how large the pictures may be.

The three Utah congressmen also all send out postcards about town meetings, franked letters of congratulation and other allowed franked mail. All mail specifically dealing with campaigns, such as campaign press releases, cannot be franked.

But Nielson still agrees that the frank is being used to the advantage of incumbents. "That's one reason I've opposed some provisions of election reform that would publicly fund congressional campaigns, but allow incumbents and challengers to spend the same amount.

"Spending the same amount would put challengers at a distinct disadvantage because of all the free mailings and other advantages that incumbents could use to keep his name before the voters," Nielsen said.

Kingdom, Owens' press secretary, defended newsletters somewhat. "They have some legitimate purposes. For example, we always include a questionnaire about current topics, and we get thousands of replies. It helps us know what constituents think."

But he concedes that their main purpose among most congressmen is to let the voters know what the member has been doing in Congress and to increase name identification. "Everybody does it," said Kingdom frankly.