Maloney bill to ban look-alike census mailings passes House committee

Mar 4, 2010
Press Release
WASHINGTON, DC – A bill to prevent direct mailings that are deliberately designed to look similar to official U.S. Census mailings-- sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)-- was unanimously reported out of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform today and sent to the House floor.

“I thank Chairman Towns and Subcommittee Chairs Clay and Lynch for their leadership on this bill, and I’m grateful to Ranking Member Issa and Rep. Chaffetz for their co-sponsorship,” Rep. Maloney said.

 “With millions of forms arriving in mailboxes shortly it’s important for us to take action to ensure as much participation as possible,” Maloney said. “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. Non-governmental mailings labeled with phrases like ‘Congressional District Census,’ ‘Official Document,’ and ‘Do Not Destroy’ that are not sent by the Census Bureau risk confusing people into believing that they have completed their official census form, lowering the census response rate. That’s just unacceptable.

“Every 1 percent decrease in the mail response rate costs approximately $85 million for the additional expense of sending census workers back to the homes of those who do not respond to the official census mailing,” Maloney said. “Congress has appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars to the Census Bureau to advertise and encourage completion and return of census forms. Private mailers are piggy-backing on that marketing outreach for their own purposes, at great cost to all Americans.”

The legislation, H.R.4621, the Prevent Deceptive Census Look-Alike Mailings Act, would require any mailing with an envelope marked “Census” to clearly indicate the sender and return address.  It would also trigger an existing requirement in federal law to include a disclaimer that the mailing is not from, or affiliated with, the federal government.  The bill would not prohibit the use of the word “Census” on a mailing, but the mailer must make clear that it is NOT sent by the United States Census.

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Background.  Last December, Rep. Maloney and Chairman Clay wrote to the U.S. Postal Service about direct mailings sent by the Republican National Committee signed by RNC Chair Michael Steele which were labeled “Census Document Registered To” above the address of the recipient and “DO NOT DESTROY/OFFICAL DOCUMENT” without any return address. Ten years ago, similarly-labeled mailings by the Southwest Legal Foundation were ruled unacceptable by the Postal Service.  In January 2009, the USPS ruled that there was “no basis for action” on the RNC mailing. Similar census-style mailings have been reported more recently. 

Link to Maloney-Clay December 14, 2009 letter to Postal Service Inspector General here.  (PDF)

Link to look-alike mailer 1 here. (also part of letter to Postal Service, above) (PDF)

Link to look-alike mailer 2 here. (PDF)

Link to HR 4621 bill text here.  (PDF)

Link to Maloney’s statement before the committee here. (Word doc)