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Spin Control

RNC “Census” mailing investigated, criticized

Fundraising letters sent to Eastern Washington voters from the national Republican Party are receiving a review by the U.S. Postal Service and bipartisan criticism from members of Congress who view them as a deceptive and potentially illegal infringement on the U.S. Census.
Two Democratic House members wrote the postmaster general, calling for an investigation into whether the April 12 mailings violate a law that passed unanimously this year and was signed by President Obama on April 7. The letters, signed by Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, were also sent to residents of several other states.
One Republican congressman says the letters “violate the letter as well as the spirit” of that law and another is proposing yet another law to try to stop the RNC’s long-standing money raising tactic.
The national GOP organization is unfazed. A spokesman insisted Monday the mailings are “in full compliance” with the law and designed to raise money to beat incumbent Democrats. Jahan Wilcox wouldn’t say how many districts around the country were sent mailings: “We don’t get into details on our fund-raising practices.”
As reported Sunday in The Spokesman-Review’s Spin Control, the fund-raising letter comes in a letter marked “Official Document/Do Not Destroy” and bold words above the address say it contains a “Census Document Registered To” the recipient. Lighter type above the Census notation says “This is not a U.S. Government Document”.

That disclaimer, and the fact that the words Census Document are not on the envelope, but on the material inside that shows through a clear plastic window on the envelope, are the committee’s attempt to maneuver around the Prevent Deceptive Census Look-Alike Mailings Act that took effect April 7. The new law makes it illegal for mail solicitations to say on the envelope that they contain census materials, to avoid confusing recipients about real Census forms for the once a decade count of the U.S. population.
Inside the RNC mailing is a three-page “census” or survey of opinions on political issues plus an appeal for money to help Republicans beat Democrats. For those who can’t afford to donate between $25 and $500, it asks for $15 “to help defray the costs of processing my Census Document.”
Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney, N.Y., and William Lacy Clay, Mo., this week asked Postmaster General John Potter to investigate whether the mailings, which were also sent to people in California, Utah, Nevada and Nebraska: “Once again, it appears the RNC is attempting to mislead recipients with fundraising mailings designed to look like census documents, despite bipartisan congressional action to stop just this type of mailing.”
A spokesman for the Postal Inspection Service said its legal office will review the mailing in light of the new law. “Once the review is complete a determination will be made regarding this mailing and any appropriate action,” Peter Rendina said.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Republican who represents Eastern Washington’s 5th District, had no comment Tuesday on the mailings, her spokesman said. But other GOP congressmen were sharply critical.
Rep. Jason Chaffertz of Utah wrote to RNC Chairman Michael Steele the mailings were deceptive and misleading. “Simply put, the RNC should not invoke the official U.S. Census as a means to confuse and deceive recipients of the mailer into opening it, thinking they are complying with their civic duty. This letter was not an ‘official document,’ as it suggested.”
Rep. Darrell Issa of California on Tuesday introduced a new bill that further restricts how the word census may be used on mailings.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.