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'Census mailer' bill passes with GOP support

By Ed O'Keefe

A bill that bans mailings deliberately designed to look like material from the U.S. Census Bureau unanimously cleared a House committee Tuesday with Republican support -- even though a recent GOP fundraising appeal inspired the legislation.

“With millions of forms arriving in mailboxes shortly, it’s important for us to take action to ensure as much participation as possible,” the bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), said during debate on her bill by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Returning a Census form every ten years is essential to fair and equitable distribution of government resources, so we must do everything possible to protect the integrity of the results." The bill would not prohibit the use of the word “Census” in mailings, but independent mail pieces must make clear that they are not associated with the Census Bureau or the U.S. government.

The Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee have mailed at least two fundraising appeals in recent months that prominently feature the word "Census" and "Official Document" on the document and envelope. The U.S. Postal Service ruled the mailings were legal because the documents did not explicitly use the words "U.S. Census Bureau" or the agency's official seal.

But Democrats, senior citizen and civil rights groups denounced the tactic, arguing it could confuse elderly Americans awaiting the arrival of the government's official decennial census survey. The Census Bureau will mail the forms later this month.

Two of the oversight panel's top Republicans, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), also sponsored the measure -- a notable move since both have generally adopted a more partisan approach to their committee work.

"This has been a common practice that has occurred every ten years, and it is time that it stopped," Issa said during debate. "I believe that only by us, working on a bipartisan basis, to make it very clear that our postal inspectors have not just a right to question this but an obligation to question and remove deceptive or potentially deceptive advertisements or solicitations, because this clearly could lead to a lower census count."

In an interview after the vote, Chaffetz said he voted on principle.

“When my party acts out of line, I’ll call them to the carpet as well," Chaffetz said. "I think that was over the line, I don’t think they should have done it, and I hope they don’t do it in the future.”

Asked if he had expressed his concerns directly to House Minority Leader John Boehner and other NRCC leaders, (R-Ohio), Chaffez said: “I said it in committee a couple of weeks ago, I’ll say it again -- not that they ask me."

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 4, 2010; 2:36 PM ET
Categories:  Census, Congress  
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Congrats to both Chaffetz and Issa.

Posted by: j2hess | March 4, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if the wording in this bill will make those mailings illegal or not...based on what I am reading I am guessing no.

Posted by: djp98374 | March 4, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: member5 | March 4, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

As a Republican who has received those mailings, I say hooray for those supporting the ban. After opening one of those documents which look like an opinion poll of sorts and scanning to the end where they then ask for money to "count" you, I always threw them into the trash where they belonged. I despise that sort of duplicitous matter who sends it.

Posted by: Lilycat1 | March 5, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

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