A 2010 mailing from the Republican National Committee with the words “Census Document” was so controversial that Congress passed a law making such tactics illegal. In early 2011, the RNC was apparently planning to do it again.
That’s according to the Direct Marketing Association, which said in a recent ethics report obtained by TPM that the RNC, under its current chairman, was “likely” to mail out an “identical mail piece” to the one that got them into trouble. The RNC denies such a plan was ever under consideration during the new regime.
DMA’s Corporate and Social Responsibility Department investigated the RNC issue last year, contacting several officials over a number of months, according to its 2011 compliance review report period (which covers Feb. 2010 to Nov. 2011).
The investigation began because the flier in question had several violations of DMA’s Guidelines for Honesty & Clarity and Solicitations in the Guise of Governmental Notifications. For one, it was “unclear that the documents are not going to be returned to the government,” it was “unclear that the solicitation is NOT from or affiliated with the US government” and there was a “lack of clarity around the voluntary nature of payment.”
The RNC isn’t a member of the DMA, the organization self-regulates the industry. Their last communication from the RNC said that the current staff, in place after current chairman Reince Priebus took over for former Chairman Michael Steele, was “not responsible for the past mailing” but would not confirm whether the mail piece would be sent out in its current form again.
A RNC spokeswoman told TPM that the organization has “abided by the law that prohibits the word ‘census’ from being visible in the envelope window since it was passed nearly two years ago.”
But Senny Boone, the senior vice president of Corporate and Social Responsibility at the DMA, told TPM that they found out about early plans to mail out “census” fliers in the spring of 2011. Priebus was elected in January 2011.
“As you can imagine in the marketing community, information can be ascertained about future mailing plans,” Boone told TPM. “We learned through our sources that there would be a very similar mail piece put in the mail stream.”
Boone said they have not so far received any reports that the RNC went through with their plans to send out the controversial “census” mailers. But because the RNC has failed to respond to the DMA, the organization would immediately forward any future reports of problematic mailings to the government instead of first trying to deal with them through their self-regulation system.