Congress

Missouri lawmaker seeks probe of GOP’s census look-alike mailings

RNC ‘district census’ fundraising solicitations raise concerns of potential confusion over 2020 count

Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., shown in the Capitol in May, has said the Republican mailings are an attempt to "deceive and confuse" people. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Mailings the Republican National Committee sent to Montana and Missouri residents have riled officials there, prompting one House Democrat to call for an investigation into fundraising solicitations he says are designed to confuse people about the decennial census.

Styled as the “2019 Congressional District Census,” the mailing includes a questionnaire and letter from RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel soliciting a donation of up to $1,000. But the mailings are likely to confuse residents before the start of next year’s census, argued Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay of Missouri.

[Census falling further behind in hiring outreach staff]

“This is a shameful attempt to deceive and confuse my constituents for purely partisan purposes,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

Clay called for the U.S. Postal Service to investigate the mailings and said he will hold town halls in his St. Louis-area district to counter misinformation. He and other Democrats have increasingly looked outside the halls of Congress to prepare for next year’s census as they mistrust the Trump administration’s handling of the count.

A representative for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The mailing asks for the recipient’s views on President Donald Trump, a general political outlook and issue priorities before soliciting a donation. If recipients can’t make a donation, they are asked to make a $15 contribution to help process the “Census Document.” The letter from McDaniel also argues in favor of Trump’s reelection.

“Your completing and returning your 2019 Census Document is central to our ability to devise a winning Republican strategy in your area as we prepare for President Trump’s re-election year,” McDaniel writes.

[House Democrats look beyond funding in census preparations]

On Friday, the Montana Department of Commerce sent out a warning about the mailings, noting that the look-alikes had been sent to several Montana counties in both May and September.

“The official Census is easy to complete, secure, and does not cost money. An accurate and complete Census count for Montana is too important to take lightly,” Montana Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, a Democrat, said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Federal Election Commission said the agency does not comment on the legality of specific mailers but said campaign material must include information about who sent the solicitation. It also can include information about donation limitations.

The rules don’t go further than that, however, and “don’t address specifically the political content of a solicitation or communication,” the spokesman said.

The survey includes a disclaimer that it has been sent by the RNC and information about restrictions on donations from corporations and foreign nationals.

Earlier this year, Clay, along with Democratic Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney of New York and Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, asked the postmaster general to investigate another set of “census-like” mailers sent in May.

An RNC official said the letters contain a disclaimer noting whom they are from.

“The mailers receive an overwhelming positive response and we continue to send each year because it performs so well,” the official said.

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