A “serious-looking, quite thick” envelope from the Republican National Committee titled the 2020 Congressional District Census has made its way to Blount County mailboxes — causing some locals to fear the fundraising mail could deter people from participating in the federal census next month.

A Maryville man, who wished to remain anonymous, provided a copy of the mailer to The Daily Times.

“This looked like the real deal, right down to the enclosed form,” he said. “This should not be confused with the forthcoming federal U.S. Census form.”

Inside the envelope a four-page letter from RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel precedes a questionnaire containing five sections: political profile, general issues, domestic issues, national defense and certification and reply.

The political profile section asks the recipient’s political affiliation, level of support for President Donald Trump and preferred news media source.

In the second section, the recipient is then asked to gauge his or her approval of certain issues such as the “never-ending witch hunt to try to destroy President Trump” and the interference of foreign countries in the upcoming presidential election.

A series of questions about domestic issues and national defense constitutes the third and fourth sections of the questionnaire before the recipient is asked to donate money to the RNC.

Whether or not the recipient chooses to make a donation is irrelevant as the questionnaire states that a $15 fee is required to “help pay for the cost of processing (the) Census Document.”

When asked what this fee was used for exactly, a representative from the RNC’s phone answering service said she didn’t know.

“Honestly, I’m not sure’” she said. “I don’t know if it’s a backwards way to get a donation or what.”

Other than this call, the RNC did not respond to several communication attempts by The Daily Times.

The usage of political surveys as a means to fundraise is not new, and it is not limited to the RNC.

In 2018, the Democratic National Committee sent out a similar survey asking questions such as, “Which aspects of the Trump presidency do you find most disturbing?”

However a fundraising survey with the word “census” in the title has been giving people pause.

Three members of Congress — Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Lacy Clay (D-MO) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) — wrote a letter in May 2019 asking U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to investigate the mailer.

“We believe that the RNC mailing is a cynical attempt to use the good name of the census for partisan political purposes, misleads recipients, and is a clear violation of federal law intended to preserve the integrity of official government business,” the letter stated.

Despite this letter, the mailers landed in Blount County this month, and some — including the recipient from Maryville — consider the mailers to be particularly off-putting given that the decennial census begins in March.

“To me, this is an outrageous marketing tool that should definitely not have been sent so close to the actual census being taken,” he said. “It will look to many like the actual U.S. Census form, and they may fill it out thinking this is required of them.”

Follow @sshreports on Twitter for more from county government reporter Shelby Harris.

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