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'Census' mailer is a GOP fundraising appeal; Dems use similar tactics

A version of the survey sent in Montana

A version of the survey sent in Montana by the Republican National Committee that mimics the look of federal census forms, with the goal of soliciting money for President Trump's reelection campaign. Credit: Montana Department of Commerce

ALBANY — A new mailer labeled "2019 Congressional District Census" that asks voters if they plan to vote for President Donald Trump is actually a Republican-sponsored fundraising appeal.

The mailing, which has been seen nationally as well as in the 1st Congressional District on Long Island, at first glance appears to be census-related. But it also clearly states it is “commissioned by the Republican Party” and says its findings will be used by GOP leaders and the White House.

The political term for such mailings is FRUGing, short for “fundraising under the guise of research,” and Democrats have done it, too. The tactic serves to rile up sympathetic voters then hit them up for an impulsive campaign contribution, according to the Encyclopedia of Survey Research Methods.

Last year, the Democratic National Committee sent a questionnaire seeking donations that included some hot-button questions such as, “Which aspects of the Trump presidency do you find most disturbing? (please choose four);” and asked if the recipient is bothered by Trump’s “reckless and dangerous foreign policy positions.”

In the latest mailing, the GOP tells the recipient their “participation is urgently needed.”

The document asks, for example:

“Do you plan on supporting Donald Trump in the 2020 Presidential election?”

“Do you think ‘political correctness’ has gotten out of hand in America?”

“Do you think the Democrat Party as a whole is promoting a Big-Government Socialist agenda for America?”

The document asks for a donation to “help pay for the costs of processing Census Document.” The suggested donation begins at $15.

“This is the first time I’ve seen this, or anything like this,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and longtime Emmy-winning national political commentator. “If you read it carefully, it’s clear that it is a GOP product, but of course, many people don’t read carefully.”

Professor Meena Bose, director of Hofstra University’s Center for the Study of the American Presidency, said she doesn’t recall seeing a mailer quite like the Republican flyer.

“The questions seem designed to produce a certain response,” she said, “and the appearance of an official government document containing these questions is troubling.”

The Republican National Committee said the mailings are nothing new.

“Mailers are clearly marked that they are from the Republican National Committee,” said Mandi Merritt, regional communications director of the RNC. “The mailers receive an overwhelming positive response and we continue to send them each year because it performs so well.”

The state Democratic and Republican committees had no immediate comment.

One of the questions in the GOP survey touched on the U.S. Census: “Do you approve or disapprove of adding a question to the U.S. Census regarding citizenship?”

In July, Trump backed down from his effort to insert a question into the official 2020 U.S. Census forms that asks a recipient about their citizenship status. Democrats and civil libertarians challenged his effort saying it would scare immigrants from participating and result in an undercount of racial and ethnic minorities. Census numbers are used in part to allocate federal aid to communities.

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