Some Eastern Washington voters diligent about returning their U.S. Census form may have been surprised last week when what seemed like another Census form arrived in the mail.
An official looking letter – its envelope, after all reads DO NOT DESTROY/OFFICIAL DOCUMENT – says it is carrying a “Census Document” registered to the addressee, with one of those cool line codes that just reek of officialdom.
The document inside isn’t from the Census Bureau. But it is someone you might’ve heard of: Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.
The nation’s top GOP official took time out from his busy schedule of trying not to get fired to get input from “a select few” in Washington’s 5th Congressional District. How select isn’t clear, but chances are not very. The copy forwarded to me came from a friend’s spouse who is in no way a Republican. Nonetheless, the information sought is described as absolutely critical to building what Steele’s calls “a state of the art grassroots organization” to win races up and down the ballot.
To do that, Steele sent out a “2010 Congressional District Census”, which masquerades as an in-depth survey, but is really just a way to raise money. A sample of the questions:
“How much does it concern you that the Democrats have total control of the federal government?”
“Do you believe the huge, costly Democrat-passed stimulus bill has been
effective in creating jobs or stimulating America’s economy?”
“Do you believe the Obama Administration is right in dramatically scaling back our nation’s military?”
“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
After finishing some three pages of questions, the survey taker is
asked to send the RNC money to help win state and local races, with
suggested amounts ranging from $25 to $500. It also has an option for
the less fortunate to check: “I cannot send a donation at that level
right now. But I am enclosing $15 to help defray the cost of processing
my Census Document.”
(The RNC is apparently so short on cash, having made wise investments
like picking up the tab at an LA bondage club, it can’t process its own
surveys. Note to Mr. Steele: you don’t really need a phony survey to
figure out how to set up an organization that wins races in Eastern
Washington. One already exists. Ask U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers
and the many state senators, representatives and county elected
officials, the majority of whom are – ta-da! – Republican.)
This could be written off as just a standard, if somewhat feeble,
attempt to raise blood pressure and money from rock-ribbed Republicans
who did get the mailer, if not for one thing.
Congress recently passed a law outlawing mailings that masquerade as
Census forms. They did it to protect the real Census, which is going on
right now under a constitutional mandate. The House of Representatives
and the Senate both passed the bill unanimously – that’s right, in one
of the most partisan years in memory, no one from either party voted no
– and President Obama signed the bill on April 7. This mailing was sent
out on April 12.
“What is with these guys?” asked Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who
sponsored the bill that passed in record time. “Every census form that
isn’t returned costs taxpayers money and hurts accuracy. But there goes
the RNC again, right back to trying to make a buck on the Census!
Clearly they are not acting in the spirit of the new law.”
With the exception of one sentence, it is almost word-for-word the same
as the RNC mailing last fall that prompted the law in the first place.
The one sentence? A disclaimer that “this is not a U.S. Government
document” above the Deliver Exclusively To:/Census Document Registered
To:” lines on the envelope.
That may not be enough to get around the law, a spokesperson for
Maloney said. The law requires a return address from the sender to
avoid any confusion, and there’s no address for the RNC anywhere on the
Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the RNC, insisted the party is “in full
compliance with the law” because the post office would have rejected a
mailer that wasn’t. The RNC sends out many mailers, and he didn’t have
the one sent to Eastern Washington’s 5th District immediately
available, but he was very clear about what they are all about: “The
purpose of this mailer is to raise money so we will have the resources
available to defeat Democrats, like Patty Murray this fall.”