The Republican National Committee had its “worst election-year cash flow this decade” in 2009. RNC Chairman Michael Steele started the year with about $22 million cash on hand and ended the year with less than $9 million in the bank. Fortunately for him, the GOP may make up the lost ground with an innovative
scam fundraising tool: fake census forms.
The fundraising letter comes in the form of a “survey,” a frequently used device for partisan fundraising, but this one has a twist: Calling itself the “Congressional District Census,” the letter comes in an envelope starkly printed with the words, “DO NOT DESTROY OFFICIAL DOCUMENT” and describes itself, on the outside of the envelope, as a “census document.”
“Strengthening our party for the 2010 elections is going to take a massive grass-roots effort all across America,” Steele writes in a letter that blends official-sounding language, partisan calls to arms, and requests for between $25 and $500. “That is why I have authorized a census to be conducted for every congressional district in the country.”
Representative Dave Loebsack recently warned constituents in Iowa’s second district about the RNC’s appeal: “This fundraising letter even calls itself a ‘Census survey’ and asks people to pay for the cost of processing the census form.” Iowa Independent posted a link to a scanned version of the mailing in this piece by Lynda Waddington. She notes, “The mailing includes a ‘census tracking code’ as well as a deadline to respond.”
Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York introduced legislation this week to “prevent deceptive census lookalike mailings.” Earlier, she and Representative William Clay of Missouri wrote the U.S. Postmaster General, charging the RNC was breaking federal law by sending out an “attempt to mislead recipients.” Even if Maloney’s bill moved forward, it would come too late to stop this fundraising drive.
Apparently the RNC’s mailing is legal, according to the postal service, because “it doesn’t use the full name of the U.S. Census Bureau or the seal of any government agency.” But Ben Smith writes at Politico,
Even some who have been involved with the program, however, acknowledged that it walks the line.
“Of course, duping people is the point. … That’s one of the reasons why it works so well,” said one Republican operative familiar with the program, who said it’s among the RNC’s most lucrative fundraising initiatives. “They will likely mail millions this year [with] incredible targeting.”