RNC agrees to stop using ‘census’ in mailers, online ads

Mar 13, 2020
In The News

The Republican National Committee said Thursday that it would stop using the word “census” on mail solicitations and digital advertising, a practice Democratic lawmakers have called deceptive, especially during a decennial census year.

In a letter dated March 12, the RNC’s chief counsel, J. Justin Riemer, denied that the use of the term “census” was unlawful or misleading but agreed not to continue using it.

“The clear and conspicuous disclaimer plainly indicates that the mailing is ‘Paid for by the Republican National Committee,’ (and) includes all other language required by law.”

However, it said the RNC would “use words other than ‘census’ in future RNC mailings and digital advertising.”

The RNC has sent out surveys or solicitations with the word “census” in the title since at least 2014. One dated Feb. 12, 2020, and titled “Official 2020 Congressional District Census,” asked recipients to weigh in on issues from President Trump’s impeachment to the role of the media to adding a citizenship question to the census.

In a letter last week to RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) and three other Democratic lawmakers called upon the organization to stop sending out such mailers, referring to a law passed after similar material was sent out around the 2010 census.

“The RNC should not invoke the official U.S. Census as a means to confuse and deceive recipients of the mailer into opening it, thinking they are complying with their civic duty,” the letter said.

Oversight committee members had previously pressed Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham to investigate the RNC mailers.

Maloney’s letter also referred to Trump campaign ads posted on Facebook that mimicked the census; Facebook removed the ads after an outcry, saying they violated their policy against misleading census references. Facebook had vowed in December to remove content that misleads people about the U.S. census; the Census Bureau is also working with Google and Twitter to block false census material.

The RNC letter was dated the same day Maloney and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) introduced two bills prohibiting deceptive census mailings.

Postcards from the Census Bureau were sent to all households in the country this week, inviting recipients to respond to the decennial census online, by phone or by mail. Data from the 2020 Census will determine $1.5 trillion annually in federal funding, along with congressional apportionment and redistricting.

“I’m pleased the Republican Party agreed to stop producing and distributing fake Census communications that could harm the accuracy of the 2020 Census,” Maloney said Friday. “I hope the RNC will follow through with its commitment and take all the necessary steps to avoid further interference with the census.”