Let me quote my favorite writer—me, of course—to set this one up. From March 17, 2010
It was [Chairman of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele] who approved some sleazy direct mail hack’s clever idea to send potential GOP donors counterfeit census forms. Arriving in thick envelopes with “Do Not Destroy. Official Document” on the front (“See, it’s not a lie! It IS an official document, right? Just from a different official—you, Mr. Steele! Get it? …), and the imposing legend “Census Document Registered To: [ the name of the recipient]” stamped there as well (“It really is kind of a a census document, capiche, Mister Steele? So they can’t complain later—it’s just not the one they think it is! But they’ll open it every time! I love this mailing!”), the package included a four-page form complete with an eight figure “Census Tracking Code.” (“Nice touch, eh Mister Steele? Joey here thought that one up. It will really have them believing this, the suckers!”) But the questions would quickly begin striking anyone not half asleep as rather odd for the Census, with queries like,
“Do you traditionally vote in all elections?”
“Do you generally identify yourself as a: Conservative Republican, Moderate Republican, Liberal Republican, Independent Voter who leans Republican or Other?”
“How much does it concern you that the Democrats have total control of the federal government?”
“Do you think the record trillion-dollar deficit the Democrats are creating with their out-of-control spending is going to have disastrous consequences for our nation?”
Even the sleepy, drunk or stupid, however, should have figured out the scam when they read, “When finished answering your Census, please return it along with your generous contribution in the enclosed postage-paid envelope.”
Gotcha! So clever! So well-executed! Soooooo dishonest, deceitful, and wrong….Not only did the mailing aim to deceive, it also confused, and the Census Bureau expressed worries that the fraudulent mailings would undermine response rates for the official census forms, causing citizens to ignore or not fill out the real forms when they arrived later. Lower mail response rates will increase Census costs, because the Bureau must send census-takers to every home that does not respond.
The good news is that the incident reminded House members what it was like to agree on something, and they passed a unanimous, bi-partisan measure banning fake census fundraising appeals, because the fact that such mailings were obviously and putridly unethical wasn’t enough any more. Not with Michael Steel in charge of the Republican fundraising. His influence is strong, after all: doing his best Steele impression after the House vote, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay said, “The NRCC remains opposed to misleading mailings,” which is 1) a lie 2) an insulting lie 3) an embarrassingly obvious lie. It is opposed to them although it just sent out an intentionally misleading mailing of epic dimensions. The statement means one of these three things: “We are being controlled by Satan!”, “We are completely insane!”, or “We are lying our heads off!” One guess, and the first two don’t count.
But wait! There’s more!
The federal legislation, passed in the House of Representatives by a unanimous vote, to respond to this form of census mail fraud prohibited the use of the word “census” on any mailing that was actually a solicitation for funds:
Section (b) of H.R. 4621, the Prevent Deceptive Census Look Alike Mailings Act:
Matter Soliciting Information or Contribution of Funds—Section 3001(i) of title 39, United States Code, is amended—
(1) by inserting, in the matter preceding paragraph (1), `; or which bears the term `census’ on the envelope or outside cover or wrapper’ after `such matter by the Federal Government’
So shortly after this legislation took effect, the Republican National Committee prepared and mailed out new fundraising mailings also representing themselves to the casual observer as “census documents,” but instead of including the word “census” on the envelope or document cover, it was visible through a clear glassine window that revealed the words on the paper inside the envelope, thus exploiting a loophole in the law. By the time all of this was sorted out and the new fake census mailing pulled, Republicans has persuaded enough dupes to send money that the scam could be pronounced a success.
Now comes the news that the Republican National Committee is sending out another census scam as the next census looms. It comes with the same misleading envelope…
[Look! It uses the same glassine window trick!] and pretends to be a census document, though not very well…
The Twitter user who reported his mother being sent this nonsense—scammers prey on the elderly and vulnerable—said that he called the RNC and was told that the “census” was ordered by President Trump…
and that his mother risked legal action if she didn’t comply. (No, I wouldn’t be surprised based on some of my wife’s discussions with the RNC)
No, this one you can’t blame on Trump. This is just signature significance for the ethical orientation of the entire national Republican Party and its political fundraising consultants.
21 thoughts on “Boy, The GOP Really, Really Likes Census Scams!”
Yep. Got one last week. Tore it to shreds. Put it in recycling.
As I’ve explicitly and impatiently told the RNC, stuff it. Just because I gave Romney money doesn’t mean I’ll give any other R money.
This sort of unethical, deceptive practice is why.
I would have forwarded it to the chief postal inspector. Wouldn’t do any good alone, but if everyone did it, it might a tiny stink.
Alternatively, I might forward it to my congressman, especially if Republican, asking what his opinion of the RNC mailing was. At least that way I’d get and official-looking “humina, humina, humina” in response.
Not only is this particularly skeezy, but it reads like something made by a high school junior;
“Do you believe the national media has a strong bias against all things Donald Trump and Republican, and fails to tell America’s voters the real facts about Republican policies, principles, goals and accomplishments?”
I mean… The answer is yes, but I can’t think of a more ham-handed way to make the point.
Who wants to lay odds on whether Fox News finds this story newsworthy?
Recognizing it for what it was, I simply shit-canned it.
I understand why people see this as sleazy but to say people sent money in because they were duped is unsupported. All one has to do is read the questions and see it it is pro- fill in the party. You can (should – provided you were not born yesterday) assume there will be an appeal for a donation.
Let me be very clear. Congress passed a law with a hole in it a 777 could fly through. I thought the lawyers that write the text of these laws are trained in writing. All that law needed to say is that the word census cannot be visible to tbe recipient prior to opening. Or, if you dont want any misunderstanding simply say the word census may not be used anywhere in the mailing.
I get these types of fundraising letters from a variety of groups; police, firefighers, veterans etc. All appeal to some authority to compel action.
So it looks like a government document, many mailings attempt to look authoritative. We often lament the general lack of awareness among the populace. Yesterday we had a quiz on cultural icons. Perhaps instead of knowing who Ernie Pyle was we should demand an equivalent understanding of the various ways people are conned. How can people still fall victim to scams such as. tech support from windows calling about my infected computer or my favorite ” hey grampa” ____ fill in the con___. I get these all the time and when I have time I screw with them and waste their time. Sometimes I even get yhem to cuss me out. At what point do we stop having to tell people about not giving private info to people that call. Who taught these gullible people that they had to acquiese to the demands of an unseen and unvetted government “official”. I can tell you, real government officials.
Nothing in the text of these mailings would lead anyone to believe that these are actual Department of Commerce mailings.
I have gotten these mailings and I simply write on the “official document” that I will only support candidates of my choice as many members of Congress are too mired in the swamp. I send it back in their postage paid envelope.
Sure, these mailings are bullshit but so too are the excuses why people see them as an official demand from government when a simple read of the documents would reveal them as anything but.
All true. Nonetheless, they are designed to mislead.
I understand your point. In our culture we need a fully functioning BS meter.
Every advertisement and solicitation attempts to create a mental message which is often far removed from reality. Fear of loss is the go to strategy in marketing. If I tell people my product will deliver 1000 dollars in benefits over a year some may buy but if I tell them competitors are realizing 1000 in savings over that same period they are more likely to buy because they fear competitors may get a leg up on them or fear of missing out on savings drives them.
I suppose what I am driving at is we have so much data about human behavior we have become masters of human manipulation. How that knowledge is used is why we should worry about these rather juvenile attempts at fundraising.
Comment of the Day, BTW. You are third in the queue.
Even worse. The misleading documents such as these mean that you must spend extra time scrutinizing your mail to figure out the real ‘official documents’ from the fake ones. You can but hope that you don’t trash something you really should have taken action on.
If one were being cynical, one might think that the loophole in the census law was deliberate. Nah, our noble congressmen wouldn’t do something like that, would they?
Official documents contain the official government return address.
Official documents do not contain acronyns in the return address such as NRCC. The adress will appear as Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service, District Court of _________.
If the return address contains an acronym it is not an official document. Acronyms are used to create a false sense of authority.
Don’t waste time looking at the documents to see if it is an official one just look at the return address.
Thanks. I had not thought of that, but it’s a simple way to weed out impostors.
Similar to the advice I give my sisters about emails from banks and such — if it doesn’t address you by name (Dear Robert), it is almost certainly a scam. Real banks already know their customers names.
It is easy for scammers to get your name. That is not a good way to discern good versus evil.
Financial institutions NEVER ask for personal information. They do not need you to validate your account info.
Never call phone numbers or click on links in emails. If the bank wants to contact you they will send you a letter. Emails may not qualify as delivered information in a legal sense because ISP’s have no legal obligation to deliver anything to you as does the postal service.
>>It is easy for scammers to get your name. That is not a good way to discern good versus evil.
Well, my point is that if they don’t use your name — it is almost certainly a scam.
Your are probably correct, but they don’t seem to put names in those phony bank emails, at least not in my experience. Scammers have been improving their techniques over the years, making them harder to detect — you don’t see as many emails that are obviously written by a non-English speaker, for example.
Agreed. Your post is excellent. I received one last week and, oddly enough, Jack’s prior post on this type of scammage came to mind. I tossed it in the trash, right next to another document that said “Official Document – Open Immediately”, saying something about the Census Bureau. Now, I find that it was legitimate and I might face prosecution for tossing the census form in the trash. Damn. Well, it’s been a good run.
I couldn’t agree more, Chris. Anyone who would write a check out to the RNC because they think that the U.S. Census Bureau told them to would likely be too stupid to understand the concept of money.
Still deceitful, sleazy, and unethical, but the only “fooling” that’s happening is in tricking people into opening the envelope.
I worked for the NRCC in the 1970s and the organization’s leaders then would never have approved such deceptive mailings. I have contacted today’s bunch and the RNC repeatedly for the last two years regarding the lack of honesty in their mailings – and have gotten no reply, just more mailings. Like Chris stated, I return the blank documents in their postage paid envelope, complete with a “cut it out” notice and no donation. Besides, I hate the leading questions of most political surveys regardless of party…i.e. “Do you support our wonderfully noble work trying to defeat the evil-doers on the other side?” (Once, I sent such a survey back with the questions reworded to show real concern for a voter’s views rather than an orchestrated pat-on-the-back for the party. Didn’t get a reply then either.) Sigh. I recommend cutting out the middle-man and giving directly to candidates of integrity.
Good luck finding a “candidate of integrity”.
I don’t know what’s worse, this slimy attempt to scam voters or the Democrats’ “vote or else” letters in 2014 that said something to the effect of “who you voted for is confidential, but whether you voted is a public record. We’re going to be checking those records, and if you didn’t vote, we’re going to ask why.”
Either way, yecch!
“A fool and his money were lucky to get together in the first place.”
If you fall for this sort of scam, you might not be competent to handle your own affairs. If I do not understand what I am reading, I ask for help from someone who does know.
My father recently died. I could not spell ‘probate’ and I knew it. I got help: I asked for a referral to a probate lawyer from a friend who would know; and got the knowledge I needed. This is competent: knowing when to ask for help. “A man has gotta know his limitations.”
As for the NRCC sending this stuff: they are a part of the Swamp, and act accordingly. The DNC does worse, but that is no excuse. This is just an example of the Elites (aka ‘your Lords and Masters’) acting like Elites, regardless of party. They even made a law (‘See! We Did Something!’) that was very easy to get around. (They do not intend to make or live under the laws they impose upon the serfs.)
Sending them their own mail back in their paid for envelopes is fun, but there is so much money involved that, like the Microsoft scammers mentioned in this post, they still make money on the backs of those who obviously can’t handle their own affairs.