Even After Law Aimed At Banning It, RNC Still Sending Misleading ‘Census’ Mailer

April 26, 2010 5:38 a.m.

The Republican National Committee is continuing to send out a misleading fundraising mailer labeled “Census Document,” just weeks after Congress passed a law aimed at banning such mailers.

In response, the Democratic member of Congress behind the new law slammed the RNC for “trying to make a buck on the Census.” But Michael Steele and co. are claiming the law doesn’t cover their mailer.An RNC mailer obtained by TPMmuckraker bears the words “Census Document” and, in all caps, “DO NOT DESTROY/OFFICIAL DOCUMENT,” on the outside of the envelope. In smaller letters, it says: “This is not a U.S. government document.” The new law requires, among other things, that such mailers state the name and address of the sender on the outside of the envelope — something the RNC’s missive doesn’t appear to do. Inside, a letter from RNC chair Michael Steele, dated April 12, asks recipients to fill out a questionnaire about their political views, and solicits donations of as much as $500 or more. (See the mailer here.)

Last month, in response to virtually identical RNC mailers, members of both parties cried foul, raising the concern that the mailers could reduce the response rate for the actual Census — which was mailed to Americans last month — by confusing some voters. “Nothing could be more wrong,” declared Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) — not a lawmaker known for a commitment to bipartisanship. Congress quickly passed a law — the House vote was 416-0 — requiring that mailers marked “census” state the name and address of the sender on the outside of the envelope, and contain an unambiguous disclaimer making clear that the mailer is not affiliated with the government.

Based on a PDF image, the mailer obtained by TPMmuckraker does not appear to state the sender’s name and address on the outside. And the words “DO NOT DESTROY/OFFICIAL DOCUMENT” would appear to make the disclaimer that it’s not a government document less than unambiguous.

After her office was forwarded a copy of the mailer, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who sponsored the bill passed last month, noted that the mailer “does not appear to meet” the requirements of the new law — and slammed the RNC.

“What is with these guys?,” she said. “We pass a law in record time, with unanimous bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, to reduce confusion about the real Census– knowing that 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!”

She added: “I don’t understand why the RNC has so much trouble following the law given the level of bi-partisan support to protect the Census.”

But RNC spokesman Doug Heye told TPMmuckraker: “We simply looked at the new law, saw that it did not apply to our mailer and continued with the mail pieces.” Heye did not elaborate on the RNC’s view that the new law did not apply to its mailers.

Ultimately, that judgment will likely be one for the U.S. Postal Service to make. But whatever happens, there’s no question that the mailer violates the spirit of the law. It’s no secret that the RNC, perhaps thanks to its chairman’s erratic performance, is facing competition in attracting money from GOP donors. But it’s noteworthy, nonetheless, that it’s so wedded to one deceptive fundraising tactic that it’s willing to double down even after Congress has attempted to ban it.

Late Update: The chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party has filed a complaint with the U.S. Postal Service against what appears to be the same mailer, charging that it violates the new law.

Late Late Update: The DNC is slamming the “disturbing” mailer.

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