RNC's Census Fundraiser Mailing OK, USPS Rules

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The U.S. Postal Service ruled this week that a mailing sent by the Republican National Committee did not violate the new Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act.

The fundraising piece, which has been sent out several times during the past few weeks, includes the words "Republican Census Document Enclosed" on the outer envelope and contains questions such as "Do you favor abolishing our current tax system?" At the bottom of the cover page is "Not printed at taxpayers' expense. Paid for by the RNC."

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, ranking minority member of the House government reform census subcommittee, asked the USPS to look at the mailing earlier in the week. The new deceptive mail act, which went into effect April 12, prevents deception caused by government look-alike mailings and requires disclaimers on any mailings that might be interpreted as implying a connection to the federal government.

U.S. Postal Inspector Daniel Mihalko said the mailing "does not qualify as a government look-alike mailing." If the USPS had ruled against the committee, it could have issued civil penalties calculated on a sliding scale:

• $25,000 for each mailing of less than 50,000 pieces.

• $50,000 for each mailing of 50,000 to 100,000 pieces.

• An additional $5,000 for each additional 10,000 pieces, not to exceed $1 million.

The act -- though under the sole jurisdiction of the USPS -- can always be challenged by the Federal Trade Commission or state attorneys general under their general consumer-protection statutes.

This spring, the USPS said a mailing by the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a conservative public interest law firm in Atlanta, violated the deceptive mailing act, S. 335. The words "Important 2000 Census Material Enclosed" were printed on the mailing's outer envelope. Inside was a letter from foundation president Matthew J. Glavin soliciting money for the group's campaign against the bureau and its sampling plans.

USPS inspector attorney Thomas V. Sottile wrote Glavin a letter that said Glavin should cease and desist from using any references that imply a federal government connection in any parts of his present or future mailings. Because the provisions weren't enforced until April 12, however, Glavin did not violate the act, and he discontinued the mailing before the deadline.

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