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New Tricks for Those Republican ‘Census’ Mailers

After the Republican National Committee used a fake census form to try to raise money, Congress passed a law aimed at eliminating such tactics. But the RNC has found a way around it, and the mailings continue.

 This post has been corrected (3:40 p.m.)

The last few days, an increasing number of people have been sending us complaints about those pesky "census" mailers we wrote about – the ones that the Republican National Committee had been sending out.

We were under the impression that the Prevent Deceptive Census Look Alike Mailings Act took care of that issue when it passed both houses of Congress unanimously last month. Apparently not. That law, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., requires that any mailer that uses the word "census" on the envelope also include the sender’s name and address along with a disclaimer that says the survey is "not affiliated with the federal government."

But the RNC got around the new law by removing the word "census" from the envelope itself, and instead putting it on a document inside the envelope that could still be seen through the envelope’s clear plastic window, according to TPMmuckraker.

This brought a backlash from a number of lawmakers, including Republicans. Rep. Maloney and Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., sent a letter to the postmaster general urging him to investigate the RNC mailer. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, wrote a letter to Michael Steele, the RNC chairman, asking him to "seriously reconsider the use of such deceptive and misleading tactics."

But Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif, went one step further: He drafted a new piece of legislation to close the loophole.

"We thought we had ended this," Issa said on the floor of the House as the bill was being discussed this morning. "We are making it clear here today that we will plug any perceived loopholes … whether it’s the Republican National Committee or the Democratic National Committee or [anybody else], don’t use the census. Don’t even thinking about using the census, because it’s wrong."

The bill expands the prior law to mandate the disclosure requirement for any mailer where the word "census" is visible from the outside. It unanimously passed the House this morning, and is now on to the Senate.

Correction, Apr. 28, 2010: The original post mistakenly said a letter sent to Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was authored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). The letter was actually written by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

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