The Republican National Committee appears to be sending out fundraising mailers disguised as census forms. A letter given to The Stranger reads "2018 Congressional District Census" at the top and features a tracking code.
"President Trump has requested that a Census of every Congressional District be conducted immediately," the letter reads. "Enclosed is your official 2018 CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT CENSUS DOCUMENT."
I don't have the survey Republicans sent along with the letter, but in a Medium post writer Micki Kohl says they received a letter and survey that exactly matches the GOP's "Census Survey," which they provide on their website. The third page of the letter also contains questions for a push poll that exactly reflect questions on the GOP's Census Survey.
The survey asks how the respondent identifies politically, what "age category" they are, and where they get their news.
The letter and survey look nothing like an actual census form, but it contains official-sounding language about an obligation to fill out a census ordered by the President, and also a plea for the reader to send a donation ranging from $25 to $1,000 along with the completed survey.
The worry is that some might fill out the "census" thinking that they're responding to the actual census, and then not respond to the real headcount in 2020. These letters also frame the census as a partisan document, which may also discourage some from filling out the real census.
To make things extra confusing: this year the Census Bureau conducted a census test in three random places in the country. One of the three places they covered was, weirdly, Pierce County, WA, which borders the 3rd District to the north. People in the 3rd may have heard of some kind of census activity happening in the area, and so might be even more tempted to fill this thing out.
The Census Bureau's Los Angeles regional office did not respond to a message by deadline, nor did a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee. I will update this post with statements from both if I hear back.
This kind of deceptive advertising aligns with the recent Republican effort to add a citizenship question to the census, which is seen as a strategy to depress responses in order to secure more favorable maps for the GOP during redistricting. But this is nothing new. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have criticized these kinds of mailers before. In a piece for Politico in 2010, a regional Census Bureau chief expressed worry about these types of letters confusing people, but a spokesperson for the Republican downplayed any criticism.
Like Senator Ted Cruz's tricky "summons" mailer, this kind of letter is legal because the words "commissioned by the Republican Party" appear at the top. That language satisfies the Federal Election Commission's disclaimer laws.