The Republican National Committee recently sent mailers to voters in Alabama that resembled Census forms, a RNC official confirmed to CNN.
The political fundraising letter, “2019 Congressional District Census,” asked voters to fill out a survey and donate to President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, according to AL.com, which first reported the mailers.
In an accompanying four-page letter that labeled the forms as a “Census Document” that is “extremely important to our nation’s future,” the letter states, “President Trump has requested that a Census of every Congressional District be conducted immediately,” AL.com reported. According to the site, recipients were asked for donations ranging from $25-$1,000.
Also included in the mailer, according to AL.com, were questions like: “Do you think ‘political correctness’ has gotten out of hand in America?” and “Do you approve or disapprove of the Democrats’ never-ending witch hunt to try to impeach President Trump?”
The Alabama state department working on the upcoming 2020 census told CNN the mailers are not official forms and that the agency planned to use the existence of the forms to remind Alabama residents of the census count.
“We are simply reminding Alabamians that while this form resembles the general look of a census form, it is from a political party and is in no way related to the 2020 Census,” Alabama Department of Consumer Affairs spokesperson Michael Presley told CNN.
“Alabama Counts is using this opportunity to remind everyone of the following facts and timeline regarding the 2020 Census,” Presley added.
A federal law enacted in 2010, “Prevent Deceptive Census Look Alike Mailings Act,” bars nongovernmental entities from mailing letters with the term “census.” However, two exceptions to the law include mailers with a disclaimer and ones that have a return address identifying the sender. The RNC official noted that the mailers were clearly marked that they were from the party.
This isn’t the first time fundraising letters resembling census forms have been sent. The tactic has been used by both political parties in the past, according to Adav Noti from the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that focuses on campaign finance laws.
“It’s been going on since the 1990 Census and maybe even earlier,” said Noti, who noted the mailers are part of a larger fundraising practice. “The practitioners say they are very successful, not just (with) the census-like ones, but all the ones that look like legal documents – jury notices and court summonses.”
In September, Montana residents received letters in the mail that prompted the state to issue a warning. The advisory reminded individuals that the US Census Bureau doesn’t solicit donations and that official documents will always be postmarked from the federal department, as first reported by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Similar incidents of alleged fundraisers being sent out as census-related mailers from the Republican Party were reported this past October in New York and Missouri.
Democrats have been called out for similar tactics. According to The Atlantic, Democrats sent out a questionnaire in February, that posed questions on specific issues and asked for money. A similar one was reportedly sent out in 2018, according to Newsday.
The survey, titled “official 2019 Democratic Party survey,” included questions like: Are you bothered by Donald Trump’s “reckless and dangerous foreign policy positions?” and “Which aspects of the Trump presidency do you find most disturbing? (please choose four).” It also included a donation request.
Noti said one possible way to stop the fundraising practice would be to expand the federal law to blanket the letters.
“It would be very simple to write a law: ‘It’s illegal to send mail that replicates or is intended to replicate an official census document.’ But I think the fundraisers have worked out fairly easily… Ultimately the lawmakers are benefiting from these practices and [by] not strengthening the law.”
Presley told CNN that official census forms go out in Alabama starting on March 12, 2020, and reiterated that official US Census Bureau letters and surveys will always be from the US Department of Commerce, the department under which the Census Bureau falls.
“The Census provides helpful information on their website to clearly determine the authenticity of its own Census mailer,” a Census Bureau spokesperson said.
The census is a count of US residents that takes place every 10 years conducted by the Census Bureau. The results of the census determines how federal funds are distributed to localities and helps determine the number of seats states have in the US House of Representatives.