Every 10 years, the United States conducts a national Census - an attempt to count every person in America. Getting an accurate, comprehensive Census count is a crucially important aspect of American domestic policy, because it determines so many things: state budgets, representation in congress, school funding, and much more.
But you may end up filling out an “illegal attempt to mislead the American people” instead of the real Census, according to Carolyn Maloney, the head of the Census Caucus in the House of Representatives. That’s because the RNC is mailing out documents that look just like a Census form - but are actually Republican fundraising surveys.
According to the RNC, the “mailers are clearly marked that they are from the Republican National Committee.” Critics of the practice - which is called “FRUGing,” or “Fundraising under the guise of research,” disagree.
Chris Kiser, whose tweets about the survey recently went viral, told Snopes that his mother was confused and believed the survey was mandatory - and that the $15 “processing fee” was required as well. The surveys say “OFFICIAL DOCUMENT, DO NOT DESTROY” and “2019 Congressional District Census” on the envelope.
Inside, the forms state: “President Trump has requested that a Census of every Congressional district be conducted immediately.” The surveys do, however, contain very strong pro-Trump and pro-Republican language. Repeatedly they mention supporting Trump’s re-election and that they are sent from the Republican party - not the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Rochester Post Bulletin reports that this language is designed to target vulnerable people. “These mailings target people who are more vulnerable to manipulation… [they target] the elderly, who might not even be able to read the small print but can see the big-type warnings about deadlines and mandatory processing fees.”
This practice isn’t new. Congress even passed a law in 2010 outlawing the practice, which both major political parties have used in the past. Despite the outcry, it appears that these deceptive mailers are still legal.
Emilie Saunders, director of communications for the Montana Department of Commerce, argues that the main issue is misinformation: "Getting accurate information out is so critical. We don't want folks to think that because they respond to this mailer back in May or in September that they already responded to the census when it arrives next year."
The 2020 Census is crucially important, and lawmakers as well as numerous news outlets are urging their constituents to pay attention and make sure that when the Census happens in 2020, they are filling out a legitimate Census document from the U.S. Census Bureau.