Carolyn Maloney wants to go postal on groups like the Republican National Committee if they send out more fake Census forms -- the chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee rolled a bill out Thursday that would suspend their mailing permits.
Political operations depend on direct mail to get targeted messages to specific audiences, and spend millions every year doing so, often resorting to creative tactics and packaging to get people to open them.
But critics hammered the RNC earlier this year after it sent out realistic-looking Census mailers designed to get people to take a survey.
The letters were labeled "2020 Congressional District Census" and came in envelopes that said "Do Not Destroy. Official Document." Critics said they were designed to confuse people, and perhaps get them to ignore the real Census forms that are being sent out this month.
It's not the first time the RNC has tried the move. They pulled a similar move last fall in Montana. And they did it before the 2010 Census, as well, prompting Maloney to pass a law then that Republican Census backers also supported.
That bill made it illegal for non-governmental groups to put the word "Census" on the outside of the envelope, and carried substantial fines.
Now Maloney wants to close the loophole the RNC used in putting "Census" inside.
“It’s unfortunate that we must introduce yet another bill to prohibit the Republican Party from skirting the bipartisan laws banning fake census mailers,” said Maloney, who has made the Census one of her specialties since entering in Congress.
“I urge my Republican colleagues to join me to block deceptive mailers that could harm the accuracy of the census and hurt our communities for the next decade," she said. "We simply cannot afford to get this wrong. If people aren’t counted, then they are not represented.”
The bill, called the Census Form Integrity Act, would bar non-government entities from using the word “census” with other deceptive language in solicitations. They also could not use phrases that say the mailer is "official" or suggest a response is mandatory. Messages that adopt an official-looking design must also include a "clear disclaimer" saying it is not from the federal government.
The measure includes the same fines as the 2010 law, but adds that "any mailing permit used by the non-governmental entity that mailed such matter shall be revoked for a period, to be determined by the Postmaster General, of up to 1 year."
Even more than fines that could run above $1 million for mass mailings, being silenced on the direct-mail front would be a major blow to a political operation.
Maloney did not immediately attract GOP backers as she did in 2010, when fellow Oversight Committee members Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz signed on. Neither are in Congress now.
Maloney was joined by California Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo, who offered a companion measure called the Honest Census Communications Act that would make it illegal to transmit in any form false information about answering the Census.
The two bills reflect Democrats' concerns that the Trump administration is trying to suppress the decennial count in hopes of boosting the white and Republican-leaning districts.
Many had already raised alarms over the administration's attempt to add a citizenship question to the Census despite warnings from bureau experts that such a question would suppress the count of Latinos. The Supreme Court ruled the attempt unconstitutional, but Census advocates warned it raised fears in minority communities that were already alarmed by a White House that's targeted the immigrant population.
Phony Census mailers could undercut efforts by what are known as community partners -- local groups and known members of the community -- who have been enlisted to reassure hard-to-reach and suspicious populations.
The Census data is used not only to draw to congressional districts and reapportion them among states with shrinking or growing populations, but to dole out some $1.5 trillion in federal spending every year from more than 300 federal programs.
Undercounts wind up costing towns and states billions.