GOP sends mailings that look like census forms

GOP mailing looks like a census form
Census officials say they've been getting reports across the country this week about a Republican Party mailing that looks much like a census form. It is arriving in mailboxes just weeks before the actual 2010 census.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Some Minnesota residents have received surveys in the mail called the "2010 Congressional District Census," which asks for demographic information, opinions on issues, and checks made payable to the Republican National Committee.

The forms appear to have been sent out by the Republican National Committee. But the mailing is raising questions about whether people could confuse it with the real census forms all U.S. residents will receive this year.

The RNC is defending the survey, saying there's no reason recipients should be confused.

"The document clearly indicates that it is an RNC mailer. The purpose of this document is to gather Republican opinion from across the country and raise a little money," RNC spokesman LeRoy Coleman said in a written statement.

It isn't the first time the mailings have shown up -- last year the Better Business Bureau warned of a similar survey the Republican National Committee was mailing to people in some regions of the country. The consumer group said at the time that the surveys used misleading language.

All residents will receive forms in March from the U.S. Census Bureau for the 2010 census.

"I don't care if they solicit funds or ask people's opinions. They just can't say 'census.'"

Dennis Johnson, regional director for the U.S. Census in Minnesota and several other states, said the forms from the RNC had been sent to at least one other state earlier this month.

"There are some organizations that try to take advantage of the extra publicity surrounding the census," Johnson said.

While Johnson said that raises concerns, he said U.S. Census officials plan a major public awareness campaign in the next few months to make sure people know what the real census form looks like.

"We hope that there will be a clear distinction between the official census -- the 2010 Census -- versus any other efforts by other organizations," he said. "We don't want someone sending in this particular form thinking that they've responded to the census, and maybe not responding to the official census form."

Some Democrats are criticizing the RNC, saying party officials deliberately made the congressional "census" look like a mandatory questionnaire.

"I don't care at all if they solicit funds, or ask people's opinions. They just can't say 'census.' Not at this time of year. Not when we're doing the census," said Kathy Lantry, a St. Paul City Council member.

The "2010 Congressional District Census" says it is an official document and has an official-looking tracking number and digital fingerprint.

It asks 36 questions about the respondent's opinions on many topics. It also asks for the respondent's age range and recent voting activity.

The last section of the survey is called "census certification and reply" and asks the respondent to donate money to the party.

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