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Mailer draws Postal Service review

GOP survey may violate census protection law

Fundraising letters to Eastern Washington voters from the national Republican Party are being investigated by the Postal Service and criticized by members of Congress who view them as an 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 signed by President Barack Obama on April 7. The fundraising letters, signed by Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, were sent to residents of several other states.

One Republican congressman says the mailings “violate the letter as well as the spirit” of that law. Another proposed one more law to try to stop the RNC’s long-standing money-raising tactic.

The national GOP organization is unfazed. A spokesman said Monday the mailings are “in full compliance” with the law. Jahan Wilcox wouldn’t say how many districts around the country were sent mailings: “We don’t get into details on our fundraising practices.”

As reported Sunday in The Spokesman-Review’s Spin Control, the fundraising letter comes in an envelope 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 itself, but show through a clear plastic window on the envelope, are the committee’s attempt to comply with 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 unless the sender takes steps to avoid misleading recipients.

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.” The mailings were also sent to people in California, Utah, Nevada and Nebraska, press reports indicate.

Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney, N.Y., and William Lacy Clay, Mo., this week asked Postmaster General John Potter to investigate the mailings.

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 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, R-Calif., on Tuesday introduced a new bill that further restricts how the word “census” may be used on mailings.

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