Two civil rights groups demanded that the Republican National Committee immediately stop soliciting funds for President Trump’s reelection campaign by using mailers that give the impression they are part of the census.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Native American Rights Fund sent the request Thursday after people in Montana received a “congressional district census” from the RNC asking a number of political questions, criticizing Democrats and asking for financial donations. Montana officials warned the mailing was a “look-a-like” document and not from the United States Census Bureau.
The demand comes as civil rights and advocacy groups are concerned that immigrants and minorities, fearful of the Trump administration, won’t respond to the 2020 census. Even though individualized census responses must be kept confidential by law, there is already documented concern among minority groups about responding to the census. The Census Bureau is also gearing up a big campaign to fight misinformation that could confuse people about the census. The decennial survey is used to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars each year and is how electoral districts are drawn.
In their letter, the groups said the provision violated a federal law prohibiting deceptive mailing practices. They also said the mailing would confuse people, particularly those with low English proficiency, and undermine efforts to educate people about the purpose and importance of the decennial census.
“The Census Act requires individuals to fill out Census survey questionnaires completely, or be subject to penalty,” the letter says. The mailing “creates a fear among individuals and communities that they must respond to the official Census, and it is likely that many will view the mailing as just that — because it says it is.”
An RNC official said the mailers were clearly marked as from the Republican National Committee.
There were similar attempts to imitate census mailings during the 1990 census from political groups and businesses, said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a census consultant and former director on the census for the House Census and Population Subcommittee. Congress responded by passing a law that banned imitating U.S. government mail.
“Clearly the census-centric fundraising mailers have the strong potential to cause confusion with the actual census, for which field operations have already started; the language gives the impression of an official government source,” Lowenthal said.
“If I were a state or local elected official in Montana or a member of the state’s congressional delegation, I would be very worried that this sort of glaring effort [is] to exploit heightened awareness of the census,” she said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated which House committee Lowenthal advised.