It’s one thing for a political party to send out a fund-raising mailer designed to look like an official Census Bureau document, in the apparent hope of bamboozling some confused recipients into opening it. After all, who among us hasn’t done that at some point?
But it takes some chutzpah to double down on the tactic, even after the Census Bureau itself, as well as members of Congress from your own party, have complained about it — and to do it in the same year that the actual Census is being conducted.
That’s what Michael Steele and the Republican National Committee are doing. Check out this mailer, dated February 8, and obtained by TPMmuckraker.
“PROCESS IMMEDIATELY — 2010 CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT CENSUS ENCLOSED,” reads the official-looking envelope, which also says “DO NOT DESTROY — OFFICIAL DOCUMENT.”
Inside the envelope, a letter from Steele tells recipients: “I have authorized a Census [note the upper-case ‘C’] to be conducted of every Congressional District in the country. Enclosed is your official 2010 CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT CENSUS registered CODE …. in your name as a representative of your area.”
Further down, Steele cuts to the chase. “And when you send back your completed Census,” he writes, “I urge you to also demonstrate your commitment to the Republican Party by including a generous donation of $25, $50, $100, $250 — or even $500.”
Following the letter is a survey, which asks for responses to questions like: “Do you trust the Democrats to take all steps necessary to keep our nation secure in this age where terrorists could strike our country at any moment.”
In response, an RNC spokesman told TPMmuckraker in an emailed statement: “The document clearly indicates that it is an RNC mailer. The purpose of this document is to gather Republican opinion from across the country, while also raising funds vital for electoral success in November.”
An earlier version of the mailer that appeared last fall drew intense criticism from members of Congress of both parties, and current and former Census Bureau officials.
“My biggest concern,” said Dennis Johnson, who runs the bureau’s Kansas City, “is that it might be confusing to some residents who get this and then get the real one in a couple of months.”
A former Census Bureau director, appointed by President George H. W. Bush, blasted that mailer as “blatantly attempting to interfere with the United States’ 2010 Census of the Population.”
Two Democrats on the House subcommittee that oversees the Census wrote to the Postmaster General about the mailer. “We believe that the RNC mailings are an attempt to mislead recipients and appear to us to be violations of federal law,” wrote Reps. Carolyn Maloney (NY) and William Lacy Clay (MO). Even Rep. Patrick McHenry (NC) — a Republican with a reputation for intense partisanship — has raised concerns. “Congressman McHenry is very concerned about the integrity of the census and would discourage any organization from distributing information that intentionally or not is easily confused with official U.S. Census materials,” his spokeswoman told Politico.
Despite the bipartisan outrage, the RNC apparently had no qualms about doubling down on the strategy.