My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Posts Tagged ‘GOP’

ProPublica: How Democrats Fooled California’s Redistricting Commission

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Note: This piece was originally published by ProPublica and has been republished with their consent and encouragement.

by Olga Pierce and Jeff Larson ProPublica, Dec. 21, 2011, 3:38 p.m.

This spring, a group of California Democrats gathered at a modern, airy office building just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. The meeting was House members only 2014 no aides allowed 2014 and the mission was seemingly impossible.

In previous years, the party had used its perennial control of California’s state Legislature to draw district maps that protected Democratic incumbents. But in 2010, California voters put redistricting in the hands of a citizens’ commission where decisions would be guided by public testimony and open debate.

The question facing House Democrats as they met to contemplate the state’s new realities was delicate: How could they influence an avowedly nonpartisan process? Alexis Marks, a House aide who invited members to the meeting, warned the representatives that secrecy was paramount. “Never say anything AT ALL about redistricting 2014 no speculation, no predictions, NOTHING,” Marks wrote in an email. “Anything can come back to haunt you.”

In the weeks that followed, party leaders came up with a plan. Working with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee 2014 a national arm of the party that provides money and support to Democratic candidates 2014 members were told to begin “strategizing about potential future district lines,” according to another email.

The citizens’ commission had pledged to create districts based on testimony from the communities themselves, not from parties or statewide political players. To get around that, Democrats surreptitiously enlisted local voters, elected officials, labor unions and community groups to testify in support of configurations that coincided with the party’s interests.

When they appeared before the commission, those groups identified themselves as ordinary Californians and did not disclose their ties to the party. One woman who purported to represent the Asian community of the San Gabriel Valley was actually a lobbyist who grew up in rural Idaho, and lives in Sacramento.

In one instance, party operatives invented a local group to advocate for the Democrats’ map.

California’s Democratic representatives got much of what they wanted from the 2010 redistricting cycle, especially in the northern part of the state. “Every member of the Northern California Democratic Caucus has a ticket back to DC,” said one enthusiastic memo written as the process was winding down. “This is a huge accomplishment that should be celebrated by advocates throughout the region.”

Statewide, Democrats had been expected to gain at most a seat or two as a result of redistricting. But an internal party projection says that the Democrats will likely pick up six or seven seats in a state where the party’s voter registrations have grown only marginally.

“Very little of this is due to demographic shifts,” said Professor Doug Johnson at the Rose Institute in Los Angeles. Republican areas actually had higher growth than Democratic ones. “By the numbers, Republicans should have held at least the same number of seats, but they lost.”

As part of a national look at redistricting, ProPublica reconstructed the Democrats’ stealth success in California, drawing on internal memos, emails, interviews with participants and map analysis. What emerges is a portrait of skilled political professionals armed with modern mapping software and detailed voter information who managed to replicate the results of the smoked-filled rooms of old.

The losers in this once-a-decade reshaping of the electoral map, experts say, were the state’s voters. The intent of the citizens’ commission was to directly link a lawmaker’s political fate to the will of his or her constituents. But as ProPublica’s review makes clear, Democratic incumbents are once again insulated from the will of the electorate.

Democrats acknowledge that they faced a challenge in getting the districts they wanted in densely populated, ethnically diverse Southern California. The citizen commission initially proposed districts that would have endangered the political futures of several Democratic incumbents. Fighting back, some Democrats gathered in Washington and discussed alternatives. These sessions were sometimes heated.

“There was horse-trading throughout the process,” said one senior Democratic aide.

The revised districts were then presented to the commission by plausible-sounding witnesses who had personal ties to Democrats but did not disclose them.

Commissioners declined to discuss the details of specific districts, citing ongoing litigation. But several said in interviews that while they were aware of some attempts to mislead them, they felt they had defused the most egregious attempts.

“When you’ve got so many people reporting to you or making comments to you, some of them are going to be political shills,” said commissioner Stanley Forbes, a farmer and bookstore owner. “We just had to do the best we could in determining what was for real and what wasn’t.”

Democrats acknowledge the meetings described in the emails, but said the gatherings “centered on” informing members about the process. In a statement to ProPublica, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, head of California’s delegation, said that members, “as citizens of the state of California, were well within their rights to make comments and ensure that voices from communities of interest within their neighborhoods were heard by the Commission.”

“The final product voted on by the Commission was entirely out of the hands of the Members,” said Lofgren. “They, like any other Californian, were able to comment but had no control over the process.”

“At no time did the Delegation draw up a statewide map,” Lofgren said. (Read Lofgren’s full statement.)

California’s Republicans were hardly a factor. The national GOP stayed largely on the sidelines, and individual Republicans had limited success influencing the commission.

“Republicans didn’t really do anything,” said Johnson. “They were late to the party, and essentially non-entities in the redistricting process.”

Fed-up voters create a commission

The once-a-decade redistricting process is supposed to ensure that every citizen’s vote counts equally.

In reality, politicians and parties working to advance their own interests often draw lines that make an individual’s vote count less. They create districts dominated by one party or political viewpoint, protecting some candidates (typically incumbents) while dooming others. They can empower a community by grouping its voters in a single district, or disenfranchise it by zigging the lines just so.

Over the decades, few party bosses were better at protecting incumbents than California’s Democrats. No Democratic incumbent has lost a Congressional election in the nation’s most populous state since 2000.

As they drew the lines each decade, California’s party bosses worked in secret. But the oddly shaped districts that emerged from those sessions were visible for all to see. Bruce Cain, a legendary mapmaker who now heads the University of California’s Washington center, once drew an improbable-looking state assembly district that could not be traversed by car. (It crossed several impassable mountains.)

Cain proudly told the story of the district, which was set up for one of the governor’s friends. Cain said he justified the odd shape by saying it pulled together the state’s largest population of endangered condors. “It wasn’t legitimate on any level,” Cain recalled.

The 2010 ballot initiative giving the citizen commission authority over Congressional districts was sold to voters as a game changer. Not surprisingly, it was strenuously opposed by California’s Democrats, who continue to control the Statehouse.

No fewer than 35 Democratic politicians 2014 including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi 2014 and their allies spent a total of $7 million to campaign against the proposition. The effort included mailings from faux community groups that derided the commission’s $1 million annual budget as “bureaucratic waste.” Despite this effort, Californians voted 61 percent to 39 percent to wrest federal redistricting from the hands of state lawmakers.

Immediately, Democrats began organizing to influence the citizen commission. There were numerous opportunities.

According to civics textbooks, the aim of redistricting is to group “communities of interest” so that residents in a city, neighborhood or ethnic group wield political power by voting together. The commission took an expansive view of this concept, ultimately defining a “community of interest” as anything from a neighborhood to workers on the same commute, or even areas sharing “intense beach recreation.”

This gave savvy players an opening to draw up maps that benefited one party or incumbent and then find 2014 or concoct 2014 “communities of interest” that justified them.

Democrats set out to do exactly that.

On March 16, members of the California delegation gathered at Democratic Party offices to discuss how to handle redistricting. They agreed that congressmen from the various regions of California 2014 North, South and Central 2014 would meet separately to “create a plan of action,” according to an email recounting the day’s events by Alexis Marks, the House aide. Among the first tasks, Marks wrote, was determining “how to best organize communities of interest.”

Democrats were already working “BEHIND THE SCENES” to “get info out” about candidates for the job of commission lawyer who were viewed as unfriendly. “I’ll keep you in the loop, but do not broadcast,” Marks wrote.

“The CA delegation has been broken down into regions that will be discussing redistricting at the member level,” read another party email from late March. “Members will be asked to present ideas on both issues” 2014 communities of interest and district lines 2014 “and will be asked to come to some consensus about how to adopt a regional strategy for redistricting.”

Over the next several weeks, California Democrats huddled with Mark Gersh, the party’s top mapmaking guru. Officially, Gersh works with the Foundation for the Future, a nonprofit whose declared goal is “to help Democrats get organized for the fight of the decade; the fight that will determine Democratic fortunes in your state and in Washington, D.C. for years to come: Redistricting!”

The foundation is well funded for this fight. Its supporters include longtime supporters of the Democratic Party: the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees as well as the American Association for Justice (previously known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America). The foundation was launched in 2006 when Nancy Pelosi’s office worked with both groups to start it.

Neither Gersh nor participants would describe in detail what was discussed at the meetings. But from Marks’ emails and other sources, it is clear that California’s Democrats sat down together to discuss mutually agreeable districts that would protect incumbents.

The value of coordinating efforts to influence the commission cannot be overstated. If each Democrat battled separately for the best district, it was likely that one Congress member’s gain would harm countless colleagues. Creating Congressional districts is a lot like a Rubik’s cube: Each change reshapes the entire puzzle. The Democrats’ plan was to deliver synchronized testimony that would herd the commission toward the desired outcomes. If it worked perfectly, the commissioners might not even know they had been influenced.

Over the summer, Marks sent out more than 100 emails about redistricting, according to multiple recipients of the messages. According to House records, Marks earned $112,537 in 2010 in her post as deputy director of the California Democratic delegation. That makes her a federal employee. But although many of the messages were sent during the work day, a spokesman insisted Marks did so in her after-hours role as a political staffer for Democrats. They were sent from a Gmail account. Lofgren’s office did not make Marks available for comment, citing policy that staffers do not speak on the record. Instead, they pointed to Rep. Lofgren’s statement.

Federal employees are not allowed to do campaign work on government time, or use government resources, according to House ethics rules.

The emails alerted staff and legislators when the commission was scheduled to discuss their districts and they encouraged them to have allies testify to “community of interest” lines that supported their maps.

Marks told members they would be asked to raise money for a legal challenge if things didn’t work out. The delegation, she said, was working with Marc Elias, who heads an organization called the National Democratic Redistricting Trust. (The trust shares a website with The Foundation for The Future.)

Last year the trust persuaded the Federal Election Commission to allow members to raise money for redistricting lawsuits without disclosing how the money was spent, how much was raised, and who had given it.

The commission blinds itself

Back in California, the commission was getting organized. Its first task was to pick commissioners. The ballot initiative excluded virtually anyone who had any previous political experience. Run for office? Worked as a staffer or consultant to a political campaign? Given more than $2,000 to a candidate in any year? “Cohabitated” for more than 30 days in the past year with anyone in the previous categories? You’re barred.

More than 36,000 people applied. The state auditor’s office winnowed the applicants to a group of 60 finalists. Each party was allowed to strike 12 applicants without explanation. Then, the state used Bingo-style bouncing balls in a cage to pick eight commissioners 2014 three Republicans, three Democrats and two people whose registration read “decline to state” (California-speak for independent). The randomly selected commissioners then chose six from the remaining finalists to complete the panel.

The result was a commission that included, among others, a farmer, a homemaker, a sports doctor and an architect. Previous redistrictings had been executed by political pros with intimate knowledge of California’s sprawling political geography. The commissioners had little of that expertise 2014 and one of their first acts was to deprive themselves of the data that might have helped them spot partisan manipulation.

The law creating the commission barred it from considering incumbents’ addresses, and instructed it not to draw districts for partisan reasons.

The commissioners decided to go further, agreeing not to even look at data that would tell them how prospective maps affected the fortunes of Democrats or Republicans. This left the commissioners effectively blind to the sort of influence the Democrats were planning.

One of the mapping consultants working for the commission warned that it would be difficult to competently draft district lines without party data. She was overruled.

The lack of political data was “liberating,” said Forbes, the commissioner. “We had no one to please except ourselves, based on our best judgment.”

“I think,” he said, “we did a pretty good job.”

The commission’s judgments on how to draw lines, Forbes and others said, was based on the testimony from citizens about communities of interest.

“We were provided quite a number of maps from various organizations,” said another commissioner, attorney Jodie Filkins-Webber. If the groups were basing their maps on political data to favor one party, “they certainly did not tell us that.”

“Districts could have been drawn based on voter registration,” Filkins-Webber said, “but we would never have known it.”

The commission received a torrent of advice 2014 a total of 30,000 separate pieces of testimony and documents. Records suggest the commission never developed an effective method for organizing it all. The testimony was kept in a jumble of handwritten notes and computer files. The commissioners were often left to recall testimony by memory.

The difficulties in digesting and weighing the reams of often-conflicting testimony enhanced the value of people or groups who came bearing draft maps.

“Other people offered testimony; we offered solutions,” said Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a powerful business group outside Los Angeles that persuaded the commission to adopt its Congressional map for the San Fernando Valley.

How Democrats locked down Northern California

Redistricting is a chess game for people with superb spatial perception. Sometimes, anchoring a single line on a map can make everything fall into place.

According to an internal memo, Democrats recognized early on that they could protect nearly every incumbent in Northern California if they won a few key battles. First, they had to make sure no district crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.Then, they had to draw a new seat that pulled sufficient numbers of Democrats from Contra Costa County into a district that included Republicans from the San Joaquin Valley.

The man with the most to lose was Rep. Jerry McNerney, who represented an octopus-shaped district that had scooped in Democrats from the areas east of San Francisco. McNerney’s prospects seemed particularly dismal. Early in the year, he made The Washington Post’s national list of top 10 likely redistricting victims.

Republicans moved first, attempting to create a district that would keep San Joaquin County whole and pick up conservative territory to the south. But then a previously unknown group calling itself OneSanJoaquin entered the fray.

OneSanJoaquin described itself as a nonprofit, but records show it is not registered as such in any state. It has no identifiable leadership but it does have a Facebook page, called OneSanJoaquin, created by the Google account OneSanJoaquin.

The page was posted in early April, just as the commission began taking testimony. Its entries urged county residents to download maps and deliver pre-packaged testimony.

On the surface, the OneSanJoaquin page seemed to be serving Republicans’ interests. But Democrats were one move ahead and understood that a united valley would inevitably lead to a Democratic-leaning district. (Republicans apparently did not understand that federal voting rights requirements ruled out their proposed district, since it would have interfered with the Latino district to the south. That misconception was encouraged by the maps on the OneSanJoaquin page, which were drawn to make this look possible.)

In fact, the only way to make a district with “one San Joaquin” was to pull in the Democrats in eastern Contra Costa 2014 the far reaches of San Francisco’s Bay-area liberals.

The author of OneSanJoaquin’s maps was not identified on the Facebook page, but ProPublica has learned it was Paul Mitchell, a redistricting consultant hired by McNerney.

Transcripts show that more than a dozen people delivered or sent the canned testimony to the commission, which accepted it without question. There’s no sign that commissioners were aware some of the letters had been downloaded from the mysterious OneSanJoaquin page.

After the commission finished, McNerney announced he was moving to the newly created San Joaquin district to run for re-election. It was a huge improvement for him. In 2010, he barely won his district, beating his opponent by just one point. If the 2010 election were re-run in his new district, he would have won by seven points, according to the Democrats’ internal analysis. (McNerney’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)

Summing up the story, an internal Democratic memo said the GOP had been decisively out-maneuvered “Their hope was to create a Republican Congressional seat,” the memo said. “Their plan backfired.”

“McNerney ends up with safer district than before,” Mitchell’s firm tweeted, after McNerney announced his candidacy in his new district. “Wow! How did he do that?”

An under-funded commission

While players attempting to influence the process were well funded, the commission struggled with a lack of time and money. They responded, in part, by reducing citizens’ opportunities for input.

The budget for the whole map drawing undertaking was just over $1 million. At first, the commission had its public hearings transcribed 2014 then the money ran out and they stopped.

The commissioners received $300 per day as compensation and were eligible for reimbursement of travel and out of pocket expenses. Most kept their day jobs at the same time they tried to juggle their roles as commissioners.

It was a grueling schedule, with 35 public hearings taking place over just three months. “I had three days off between” April and August, said Commissioner Filkins-Webber, who maintained her legal practice while serving. “I was working basically on average18 hours a day.”

The commissioners also had to deal with public anger. The Tea Party in California decided to use the hearings as a forum to protest the Voting Rights Act, for instance, and at one hearing got so rowdy that police intervened.

Experts hired by the commission to actually draw the maps were also overworked and underpaid. Half a dozen times the meeting transcripts contain references to map drawers working overnight to prepare maps.

Overwhelmed by the task at hand, the commission decided to essentially shut down public participation halfway through the process. After the first round of drafts, which were widely criticized and abandoned, the commission stopped releasing formal drafts. More importantly, commissioners stopped holding hearings, which meant the next draft was prepared without public input.

The commission moved its meetings to Sacramento, not far from where party bosses had once gathered in secret to set the lines. The commission’s meetings were webcast to the public. But only those with the resources and time could participate.

“You have to ask yourself, who has the money to send people up to Sacramento like that,” said Eugene Lee, voting rights project director at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, which was active in organizing grassroots participation in the redistricting process.

“We didn’t have the money to do that. No way.”

The commission released no further drafts. In July, it made public a “draft final.” Voters had two weeks to submit comments before it became final. Most of those comments came from insiders who had been closely watching the Sacramento meetings.

Southern California Democrats also win

For those who could stay engaged, the Sacramento phase of the commission’s work proved rewarding. One politician who benefited was Southern California Congresswoman Judy Chu.

When it appeared that Chu would get an unfavorable district late in the game, a group with ties to the congresswoman went before the commission in Sacramento and convinced the commissioners to draw a favorable map that included her political stronghold, a town called Rosemead. Chu enjoyed broad support in Rosemead, where she was first elected to the school board in 1992 and later served in the state assembly.

The group, which called itself the Asian American Education Institute, worked with Paul Mitchell, the same consultant who helped engineer the triumph of Northern California Democrats.

Records show that crucial last-minute testimony in favor of Chu’s district was delivered by Jennifer Wada, who told commissioners she was representing the institute and the overall Asian-American community. Wada did not mention that she lives and works as a registered lobbyist in Sacramento, 400 miles from the district, or that she grew up in rural Idaho, where most of her family still lives. Wada says she was hired by the institute to “convey their concerns about Asian and Pacific Islander representation” to the commission.

The second witness was Chris Chaffee, who said he was a consultant for the institute and an employee of Redistricting Partners, Mitchell’s firm.

Commissioners accepted this map without asking a basic question: Who, exactly, was the Asian American Education Institute representing?

The group’s tax records show it had no full-time employees. Its website is barebones, and clicking on the “get active” button on the home page leads nowhere, simply returning users to the home page.

There’s another interesting feature of the Web site: the domain name is registered to a man named Bill Wong, a political consultant who has worked on multiple Chu campaigns, as well as her husband’s successful bid for Judy Chu’s old state assembly seat. Chu paid Wong $5,725 for consulting work in 2010, FEC records show. Her husband, Mike Eng, donated $4,500 to the Asian American Education Institute in 2010 and 2011.

The institute, said Wong, “argued to keep communities of interest together. Since Rep. Chu has been a strong advocate for Asian communities, it would make sense for her to represent them.” Wong added that he “discussed redistricting with a number of Asian-American legislators.”

An email obtained by ProPublica shows Amelia Wang, Chu’s chief of staff, telling Chu and Bill Wong about testimony submitted by another Asian group, Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans for Fair Redistricting, which also intervened at the last minute to offer similar maps. In case that didn’t do the trick, Mitchell himself went before the commission, urging the commissioners to accept the maps submitted by the institute (his employer) and the coalition.

And that’s what the commission did, incorporating proposed lines for both groups and drawing a map that included Rosemead in Chu’s new district.

Wang told ProPublica that Chu’s office and the institute “did communicate about keeping communities of interest together, including Rosemead. However, Rep. Chu did not hire Bill Wong for redistricting or to testify on her behalf before the commission.”

“Rep. Chu has represented a united Rosemead city since 2001,” said Wang, “it would have been a tragic mistake to divide it.”

Though the process turned out well for Chu, it didn’t work out so well for the town of South El Monte.

To make room for Rosemead in Chu’s district, South El Monte 2014 85 percent Latino 2014 got bumped into another district across the mountains that is much less Latino, and much more affluent.

The town’s mayor, Luis Aguinaga, say the new lines “don’t make sense.” South El Monte is now split off from sister communities in the San Gabriel Valley 2014 including North El Monte and El Monte.

“We’re always on the same side, always fighting for the same issues,” Aguinaga said. “On this side of the San Gabriel Valley we have a voice. If we’re apart it will be much harder to be heard.”

Other communities lost, too.

Outside Los Angeles, residents of what’s known as Little Saigon begged the commission to undo what they saw as decades of discrimination and put the U.S.’s largest Vietnamese community together in one district. Instead, the community was split in two 2014 a result of testimony by supporters of Rep. Loretta Sanchez, including a former staffer and one of her wedding guests, to get her a safe district. A large section of Little Saigon ended up in a district with Long Beach, a town that is 1 percent Vietnamese.

“Residents who live in Little Saigon share the same needs, but if they’re in two different districts they may not be represented,” said Tri Ta, a City Council member from the area.

“This district is characterized by the Port of Long Beach,” the commission writes in its final report, “one of the world’s busiest seaports and the area’s largest employer.”

“It does not make sense to put the area known as Little Saigon in a district with Long Beach,” Ta said. “The two areas are distinctively different.”

“Congresswoman Sanchez believed strongly throughout the redistricting process that the population growth of the Latino community should be accurately reflected in the newly drawn congressional districts,” said Adrienne Elrod, Sanchez’s Chief of Staff, in a statement, “She’s glad that members of the Orange County community shared her views, and as a result, was pleased to see them take an active role.”

Paul Mitchell, the consultant whose work had such a large impact on the commission’s decisions, said voters benefited from the work done by him and others deeply involved in the process. The commissioners, he said, “knew some of the testimony was being fabricated by outside groups. But what were they to do? They couldn’t create a screen of all testimony and ferret out all the biases.”

The work he did on behalf of his diverse group of clients, he said, “created better maps 2014 regardless of if they came with the additional benefit of helping some local city, union, or incumbent that was the client,” Mitchell said.

“My only regret is that we didn’t do more.”

Corrections: This story originally stated that the Asian population of Long Beach was less than 1 percent. It has been corrected to say that the Vietnamese population of Long Beach is 1 percent. The story also previously stated that Rep. Judy Chu previously served as a state senator. In fact, she served in the state assembly. This story originally stated the commission worked for free, with a small stipend for expenses. It has been corrected to say, the commissioners received $300 per day as compensation and were eligible for reimbursement of travel and out of pocket expenses.

 

How will big GOP wins at the state level affect redistricting?

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

The media is still focusing on the big GOP wins in the House of Representatives. Only a few commentators have noticed the huge gains that Republicans have made at the state level. Here’s some analysis from the Wall Street Journal:

Gains in eight states—including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin— gave the GOP control of the governor’s office and both legislative chambers. Republicans will be in charge there when drawing new congressional maps, something every legislature must do following each 10-year federal census. Minnesota could join the list depending on the outcome of a governor’s race that was still too close to call as of Wednesday evening.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans now hold the largest share of state legislative seats—53%—since 1928. The party added at least 680 seats Tuesday, the largest gain by either party since 1966, the bipartisan group said.

The authority to carve out districts helps create safe congressional seats for the party in charge. Only a handful of states put the redistricting process in the hands of an independent commission.

“We should be able to pick up at least two-dozen seats,” said Frank Donatelli, the chairman of GOPAC, a political-action committee formed in 1979 to fight for state-level Republicans. “We are in better shape than at any time since the 1960s.”

Democrats didn’t gain control of an additional chamber in any state.

RNC Fundraising Mailer…Looks shady to me.

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Take a look at it HERE

Come on Michael Steele and the Republican National Committee, get with it!

Michael Steele and the GOP – Are you kidding me? Republicans continue ‘census mailings’ despite law

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Michael Steele and the national GOP are a bunch of ignorant individuals who are completely out of touch with their party’s mainstream. Even after Congress showed strong bipartisan support for a measure to ban deceptive census mailings (now a law signed by President Obama), these idiots continue to act illegally — and they are openly defending their actions. They should be prosecuted. Eric Holder and the Justice Department, I hope you’re reading this. H/t to Ed O’Keefe for the following…and I hope that Jon Stewart creates a segment mocking this BS on The Daily Show in the near future:

The Republican National Committee believes that a new round of mailings which use the word “Census” does not violate a new law banning such deliveries.

Democrats and news organizations in Nebraska, Utah and Washington state have called out the new Republican mailings as illegal and detrimental to 2010 Census efforts.

The mailings appear to violate a law signed by President Obama on April 7 that passed with bipartisan support in both chambers. The law requires mailings with an envelope marked “Census” to state clearly the sender’s return address and provide a disclaimer that the mailing is not from the federal government.

But the RNC will keep sending such mailings regardless of the new law, according to committee spokesman Doug Heye.

“In reviewing the new law, our legal department determined such mailings are not covered. Therefore, they will continue,” Heye said in an e-mail. He would not elaborate on the legal determination.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who authored the bill, sounded incensed.

“What is with these guys?” she said in a statement. “Congress passes a law in record time, with unanimous bipartisan support in both houses, to reduce confusion about the real Census. But there they go again, trying to make a partisan buck on the Census!”

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has been asked by Nebraska Democrats to weigh in on the matter. Under the old law, postal inspectors deemed such mailings legal.

Rep. McHenry promotes 2010 Census for the GOP

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Ranking Republican on the House of Reps. Committee for the 2010 Census Patrick McHenry has rightfully been criticizing members of his own party in recent weeks for their attempts to thwart progress on the decennial headcount. The St. Petersburg Times’ PoliFact blog has looked into McHenry’s claims and fact-checked them:

By Robert Farley

By now, most people have gotten the 2010 census in the mail. And for the first time, the U.S. Census has provided a way for the public to keep track of return rates — by state, city and zip codes.

With billions of federal dollars and political leverage at stake, most politicians are urging all residents to participate and be counted.

This year, however, some Republican leaders have raised questions about whether the census’s questions expand too far beyond the intent of the Constitution, and whether the government can be trusted to keep personal information private.

That has Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-NC., worried. As the ranking Republican on the House subcommittee that oversees the census, he’s concerned that skepticism about the census being fanned by “blatant misinformation” coming from “otherwise well-meaning conservatives” within his own party (Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, have been the most vocal census critics) will discourage Republicans from fully filling out their forms. And that’s bad for Republicans, McHenry said.

“Few things will make Nancy Pelosi happier than large numbers of conservatives failing to respond to the census,” McHenry wrote in an op-ed for the conservative Red State. “If we do not respond, we will not be counted, and if we are not counted, then we effectively will not exist. That would reduce conservatives’ power in elections, allow Democrats to draw more favorable congressional boundaries and help put more tax-hiking politicians in office.”

We took a look at several of McHenry’s claims about the census in the Red State article, as well as in a press release he issued.

The first relates to the very premise guiding McHenry’s concerns, that “Early census returns are showing that conservatives have been measurably less likely than liberals to return their census forms.” We found that claim was based on the thinnest of underpinnings, and is largely unsupported. It earned a False rating.

Next, we looked at two claims that seek to allay Republican fears that the census is too prying and cumbersome.

The first is that “the most private question on this year’s form asks for an individual’s race and that question has been asked by every census since the 1790 census conducted under then-President George Washington.” We examined the census questionnaires all the way back to 1790, and found that they provide interesting insight into changing attitudes about race over the course of U.S. history. While every census dealt with race issues, it hasn’t always been a matter of “check your race here.” In the first census in 1790, for example, the census asked about the number of free white males and females; the number of “other free persons” and the number of slaves. We rated this one Mostly True.

We also looked at McHenry’s claim that, “This census is also the shortest and least intrusive count in modern history.” The 2010 census has just 10 questions. That’s two more than the short form in 2000, but in 2000, one out of six households would get a long form, which had 53 questions. There is no short form this year — everyone gets the 10-question version. So it’s arguable which of those is shorter. No other census in modern history comes close to being as short as 10 questions. And so we rated this one Mostly True.

As a bonus, we draw your attention to one more census claim, courtesy of our friends at PolitiFact Texas. It’s a claim from U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, that a census audit found more than 370,000 Texans were missed by the 2000 census, costing $1 billion in federal aid. They found that Reyes’ claim relies on an outdated report based on numbers the Census Bureau has said were flawed. It earned our worst rating, Pants on Fire!

Is this really Fox News? Or an April Fools joke?

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the following opinion piece by Liz Peek of Fox News, but perhaps on the heels of Karl Rove’s 2010 Census PSA, the Republicans are finally doing the right thing…even if they are still highly critical of the process and making many unsubstantiated accusations about the White House’s influence in this headcount:

Republicans Have It Wrong, Census Forms Need to Be Filled Out Early and Often!

By Liz Peek

- FOXNews.com

I recently filled out my Census form and sent it in. It took about ten minutes, as advertised; four or five to actually write in the required information, and another several minutes to talk myself out of cheating.

Glenn Beck and Representative Michele Bachmann have it entirely wrong. Rather than bristle at the Census’ supposed invasion of privacy (you have to provide more info to join Costco, for heaven’s sake) they should be encouraging Republicans to respond…over and over again.

Instead of correctly marking down that two people live at my address, I wanted to write in fourteen. Why this sudden urge to fib? I’m afraid that others – many others — will cheat, and that I will lose out unless I do so, too. The more people who respond from my neighborhood, the more federal monies will flow in our direction. Over $400 billion in government funds is at stake. More important is that the Census totals determine how many Representatives your state sends to Congress. That means if you and the people who live next door are undercounted, you will also be underrepresented. That’s just plain stupid.

Why am I worried about widespread fraud? The 2010 Census is unusual in that the Obama administration has patched together a veritable army of people intent on increasing the count of those minorities historically considered to be “undercounted.” More astonishing, the Census Bureau was awarded an extra one billion dollars in Stimulus funds expressly to “hire additional personnel for partners and outreach efforts to minority communities and hard-to-reach populations.” One billion dollars! That’s a lot of outreach.

Not only will hundreds of thousands of Census workers fan out in coming weeks to press for higher response rates. Assisting them will be some 30,000 community organizations – such as the SEIU — resembling the coalition that helped elect President Obama. These “partners” of the Census Bureau will be mining Hispanic communities, in particular, where there is typically a high number of illegal aliens. These folks understandably shy from any contact with the U.S. government, for fear that filling out forms – any forms – might lead to their deportation. Those who advocate for illegals estimate that more than one million Hispanics were undercounted in the last Census, costing that community millions in support services.

While that is a reasonable purpose, it also invites fiddling with the numbers. Consider that such minority neighborhoods will almost certainly vote Democratic. The higher the numbers counted, the larger the number of Democrats in the House. That’s simple math.

MyTwoCensus Investigation: How many politicians got jobs for their kids or other relatives with the Census Bureau?

Friday, March 26th, 2010

I know that I, along with millions of other people who applied for 2010 Census jobs (Full disclosure: I did this to investigate the hiring process for this blog) never received so much as a call to come in for an interview. Yet, I have now received three tips via e-mail that relatives of politicians (two Democrats and one Republican) have been hired/are employed by the Census Bureau. This is an official call to action for the Inspector General’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office to launch investigations into whether nepotism or other illegal forms of hiring took place during any phase of 2010 Census operations or at the Census Bureau in general:

MyTwoCensus have been tipped off about the following:

1. Austin Esposito, son of Democratic Senator from Missouri Claire McCaskill. Check out some screenshots from his FACEBOOK page. (Come on dude, you should know to up your privacy settings by now. You’re the son of a Senator! I’m surprised little old non-partisan me is the first person to post these rather than GOP operatives or right-wing bloggers!)

Editor’s Note: I am most concerned about the McCaskill/Esposito connection because there have been so many complaints about a lack of 2010 Census jobs in Missouri.

The low down on the Rush Limbaugh-inspired CheckAmerican.org movement…

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

A few days ago, we wrote about CheckAmerican.org, the most recent waves from Conservatives in regards to the 2010 Census. This movement was the brainchild of Rush Limbaugh, the de-facto spiritual head and chief demagogue of the GOP. One Joseph Weathers  took Limbaugh’s gospel to heart (click HERE to listen to Limbaugh announcing his “Check American” policy on the air) and promptly created the CheckAmerican.org site. I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions via e-mail, and this was Mr. Weathers’ response:

We launched our website 4 days ago on Saturday evening, March 13th.  Right now we have about 300 fans on our Facebook page, 100 followers on our Twitter page, and about 540+ visits to the site.

I got the idea when listening to Rush Limbaugh’s show on Thursday afternoon, and as soon as I got home I registered the domain name.  It took about 2 days to get the site designed and developed and ready to launch.

We are also talking to some other political figures and media outlets, but nothing concrete at the moment.

Our goal is to send the message that we as Americans are tired of being classified by racial and ethnic groups, and we just want to be considered as Americans.  I think this post on our Facebook wall sums up well how our supporters feel:

“Invited every single one of my friends. As a mixed family, we will be happy to check “American” and stop being labeled by our color!”

MyTwoCensus Editorial: A Rare Spell Of Bipartisanship Spells Good News For The 2010 Census

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Since Members of  the House of Representatives face re-election every two years, they are constantly campaigning, and always on the lookout for legislation that may be used to attack them. I suspect the fears of populist discontent and anti-Washington sentiment (perhaps combined with just a tinge of moral values) are what led all but two Republican members of the House of Representatives to support legislation that makes March 2010 “2010 Census Awareness Month.” This show of bipartisanship was unexpected yet welcome.

Even former 2010 Census critic Michele Bachmann (R-MN) jumped on board this movement. This is an excellent first step to combatting anti-census sentiment that has swept the nation in the past few months, coinciding with the growth of the Tea Party movement.

The level of GOP discontent with Michael Steele and the Republican National Committee should not be ignored: Yesterday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee unanimously passed a bill, with full GOP support (and even co-sponsored by Republicans Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz) to stop the RNC from sending mailers that misuse the word census.  MyTwoCensus has reported on this issue for months, and we are glad to see GOP officials acknowledging their party leader’s mistakes and holding the RNC accountable for their unethical fundraising methods.

Politico: Republicans sign on to bill targeting RNC mailers

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

H/t to Ben Smith and the folks over at Politico:

Two House Republicans have signed on to legislation that would outlaw fundraising mailings that could be confused with official Census documents.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, was inspired by a Republican National Committee mailing that describes itself on its envelope as an “official document” and a “census document.”

The mailing has drawn bipartisan criticism, but Republican operatives say it’s long been a lucrative fundraising tool for the RNC, which has defended it.

But in what may be a mark of the difficult relationship between the RNC and the Hill, Rep. Darrell Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz have signed onto the legislation, which doesn’t mention the RNC mailer specifically, but would bar the use of the word “census” on the outside of envelopes delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.

Spokespeople for Issa and Chaffetz didn’t respond to inquiries about their co-sponsorship of the legislation, which has 19 total sponsors and is being marked up this morning.

UPDATE: Chaffetz did discuss the issue at a recent hearing: “Let me also say publicly that the Republican National Committee – I’m a Republican – sent out a so-called census across the country. I think that was wrong. I don’t think we should necessarily mandate or put in statute that you shouldn’t use the word ‘census,’ but I think it was deceiving at best. And I wish my party had not done that,” he said. “I would encourage others to not try to piggyback and take advantage of the word ‘census’ at a time that we’re trying to encourage participation. And I thought it was used as an enticement to open an envelope, and I wish they hadn’t done it. But I want to be fair on both sides and stand on principle. So I want to say that.”

House of Representatives Passes “Census Awareness Month” Bill

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

UPDATE: This resolution passed with overwhelming bipartisan support (I swear, I’m not making this up, and I am quite happy at this moment!) – a rarity these days. Ron Paul was the only Nay (No) vote, and Rob Bishop of Utah, still bitter about Utah falling just short of obtaining an extra Congressional seat in 2000 and the Census Bureau’s refusal to count missionaries who are abroad for extended periods of time, voted present. The remaining 409 Members of the House of Representatives who were in attendance today all voted Aye (Yes) to support the resolution. The final amended resolution can be found here: HR1046

Well, we’re already 10% finished with this month, but March 2010 is now Census Awareness Month according to the United States House of Representatives. The resolution, which had 62 sponsors, passed this afternoon. Here’s the text of the resolution – which has since been amended to clear up statistical debates and other issues that didn’t please both parties (new final version coming soon):

111th CONGRESS

2d Session

H. RES. 1096

Encouraging individuals across the United States to participate in the 2010 Census to ensure an accurate and complete count beginning April 1, 2010, and expressing support for designation of March 2010 as Census Awareness Month.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

February 23, 2010

Mr. REYES (for himself, Mr. ORTIZ, Mr. GRIJALVA, Ms. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON of Texas, Ms. ROYBAL-ALLARD, Mr. SERRANO, Mr. GONZALEZ, Mr. HASTINGS of Florida, Mr. AL GREEN of Texas, Mrs. NAPOLITANO, Mr. BACA, Mr. GENE GREEN of Texas, Mr. GUTIERREZ, Ms. LINDA T. SANCHEZ of California, Mr. SIRES, Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN, Mr. BUTTERFIELD, Mr. CLEAVER, Ms. CLARKE, Ms. JACKSON LEE of Texas, Mr. CLAY, Mr. HINOJOSA, Ms. BORDALLO, Mr. SALAZAR, Mr. CUELLAR, Mrs. CHRISTENSEN, Ms. FUDGE, Mr. DAVIS of Illinois, Ms. RICHARDSON, Ms. BERKLEY, Mr. HINCHEY, Mr. CHAFFETZ, Ms. WATSON, Mrs. MALONEY, Mr. THOMPSON of California, Mr. HONDA, Mr. MEEKS of New York, Mr. MORAN of Virginia, Ms. NORTON, Ms. MCCOLLUM, Mr. MCHENRY, Ms. MATSUI, Mr. CONYERS, Mr. THOMPSON of Mississippi, Mr. PAYNE, Mr. BISHOP of Georgia, Ms. CHU, Mr. MEEK of Florida, Mrs. DAVIS of California, Mr. ELLISON, Mr. MCGOVERN, Mr. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART of Florida, Mrs. LOWEY, Mr. RODRIGUEZ, Mr. PALLONE, Mr. CAO, and Ms. WOOLSEY) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform


RESOLUTION

Encouraging individuals across the United States to participate in the 2010 Census to ensure an accurate and complete count beginning April 1, 2010, and expressing support for designation of March 2010 as Census Awareness Month.

Whereas the Constitution requires an actual enumeration of the population every 10 years;

Whereas an accurate census count is vital to the well-being of communities in the United States by helping planners determine where to locate schools, daycare centers, roads and public transportation, hospitals, housing, and other essential facilities;

Whereas businesses in the United States use census data to support new investments and growth;

Whereas census data ensure fair Federal, State, and local representation in the United States and help determine the composition of voting districts at each level;

Whereas census data directly affect how more than $400,000,000,000 in Federal and State funding is allocated to communities for neighborhood improvements, public health, education, transportation, etc.;

Whereas census data help identify changes in a community and are crucial for the distribution of adequate services to a growing population;

Whereas the 2000 Census determined the United States had a total population of 281,421,906 and current estimates project the population has grown to 308,573,696;

Whereas the 2010 Census is fast, safe, and easy to complete, with just 10 questions, and requiring only about 10 minutes;

Whereas the 2010 Census data are strictly confidential and Federal law prevents the information from being shared with any entity;

Whereas the data obtained from the census are protected under United States privacy laws, cannot be disclosed for 72 years, or used against any person by any Government agency or court;

Whereas neighborhoods with large populations of low-income and minority residents are especially at risk of being undercounted in the 2010 Census;

Whereas, in the 2000 Census count, Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asian Americans were most likely to be undercounted;

Whereas it is estimated that over 16,000,000 people were not counted in the 2000 Census resulting in a decreased share of Federal funding for those undercounted communities; and

Whereas the month of March 2010 would be an appropriate month to designate as Census Awareness Month: Now, therefore, be it

    Resolved, That the House of Representatives–
    • (1) encourages individuals across the United States to participate in the 2010 Census to ensure an accurate and complete count beginning April 1, 2010;
    • (2) urges State, local, county, and tribal governments, as well as other organizations to emphasize the importance of the 2010 Census and actively encourages all individuals to participate; and
    • (3) supports the designation of Census Awareness Month.

President Obama: We can’t move forward until you mail it back

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

A pretty innocuous and straightforward message from El Presidente was just released, so hopefully this won’t get politicized. The major downside here is that the geniuses at ad agency Draftfcb haven’t figured out that people should be able to embed video…so unfortunately you will have to click the link below to find this one…Here’s a press release from the Census Bureau :

President Obama Records Message Urging Participation in 2010 Census

Continuing a White House tradition of strong support for the census
dating back to 1790, President Barack Obama recorded a public service
announcement (PSA) encouraging national participation in the 2010 Census.
The 30-second PSA released today by the U.S. Census Bureau asks every
household to take 10 minutes to answer the 10 questions on the 2010 Census
form and to mail it back.

The PSA and a 20-second version are available now at
<http://2010census.gov/> and will be distributed to television and radio
stations by the National Association of Broadcasters’ Spot Center satellite
feed on Friday, Feb. 19. Stations are encouraged to broadcast the PSA
through April following their standard procedures appropriate for a
national public awareness campaign.

U.S. presidents in office during a decennial census have routinely
spoken in support of the census to encourage participation by all residents
in the country. President Dwight Eisenhower said of the 1960 Census:  “The
prompt, complete and accurate answering should be regarded as one of the
requirements of good citizenship.”

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush recorded a PSA about the rights
and freedoms we enjoy. “One of the ways our Constitution preserves our
rights is to require the government to conduct a census every 10 years. It
helps determine how you’re represented in Congress and what kinds of
government services you find in your community. So be a part of this great
democracy. Answer the census. It counts for more than you think.”

In 2000, President Bill Clinton spoke of the vital importance of the
census. “Behind all those numbers are real lives and real life stories. And
when you put them all together you see the patterns emerge. This is a
profoundly important issue if we want to make good decisions about where
we’re going. We first have to know exactly who we are.”

In addition to speeches and public service announcements, all presidents
serving during decennial censuses — from President William Howard Taft
through President Clinton — have issued a presidential proclamation on or
before Census Day, which has been on April 1 from 1930 to the present. The
10 proclamations can be viewed in the attached video along with images of
other presidential efforts supporting the censuses of 1930, 1990 and 2000.

Message from the President of the United States on the 2010 Census
The White House

“Every 10 years, our Constitution requires the federal government to
conduct a census. This helps determine your representation in Congress, as
well as how federal funds are spent on things like schools and roads, and
where businesses decide to put new stores and factories. So when you get
your census form in mid-March, take about 10 minutes to answer 10 questions
– remembering to include everyone in your household. Because we can’t move
forward until you mail it back.”

NYT: New Option for the States on Inmates in the Census/2006 Census Bureau Prison Report

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

From the New York Times (click here for full article):

For decades, predominantly rural and Republican districts have had extra clout in state and local legislative bodies because their large inmate populations were counted as local residents in apportioning representation. Now, the Census Bureau has agreed to give states a tool that could dilute the political power of those districts.

In May 2011, in time for Congressional and legislative reapportionment, the bureau will identify exactly where group quarters like prisons are and how many people occupy them. States would then have the option of counting them in the local population or not.

“This removes a technical problem,” said Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative, an advocacy group that favors alternatives to prison sentences and urges that inmates be counted in their hometowns. “The census is going to say where the prisons are and how many people are in them, which will enable states the practical choice of counting them in the wrong place or not counting them at all.”

Mr. Wagner and other groups had originally asked the bureau to determine the home addresses of inmates and to count them at those addresses, but the 2010 census process was too far along for that change to be considered.

A number of states — including Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New York and Wisconsin — are weighing legislation requiring that prisoners be counted at their last known address — for purposes of reapportionment, a change that would likely favor larger and mostly Democratic cities.

In New York, the change could prove pivotal because of the see-saw fight for control of the State Senate and the fact that the state faces the loss of at least one Congressional seat after the 2010 census.

Update: A reader provided us with a link to a document that shows the Census Bureau’s 2006 position on this issue in the from a comprehensive report. The report concludes the following:

“Counting prisoners at a ‘permanent home of record’ address, rather than at their place of
incarceration, would result in increased cost both to the decennial census program and to
the Federal, State, and local correctional facilities that would be required to participate in
data collection efforts.  Our study raises concerns that this change would result in
decreased accuracy for a possibly large proportion of millions of individuals confined on
Census day.  The completeness of the census count would be compromised for prisoners
that cannot provide a valid address, and we have no method of determining how many
individuals would fall into that category.  Further, a fundamental shift for the enumeration
of correctional facilities would likely have a negative impact on other Group Quarters
enumerations.”

Michael Steele and the GOP Attempt To Hijack The Census: Epic FAIL!

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

MyTwoCensus.com feels that Michael Steele and the National GOP’s use of a mailer (click here to see a PDF version of what was sent to millions of households) that tries to emulate a 2010 Census form is immoral, unethical, and potentially illegal. And it will come back to bite the GOP in their own butts.

Phil Sparks of the left-leaning Census Project wrote:

The mailer has been sent to thousands of households, from Georgia to Minnesota, and tells recipients that “strengthening our party for the (next)… elections will take a massive grassroots effort. As a key facet of our overall campaign strategy, the Republican Party is conducting a Census of Congressional Districts all across America.” The mailer misleads people by saying on the front of the envelope, in bold letters, that the mailer is a Congressional District Census. Above the recipient’s address the mailer says “Census Document Registered To.” There is even a “Census Tracking Code.” notice attached to the mailer…One Republican operative was quoted in the political newspaper Politico as declaring: “of course duping people is the point… that’s one of the reasons it works so well… they will likely mail millions this year.”

The unintended consequence of Steele’s mailer may be that Republican party members think that they have already completed the 2010 Census if they have filled out the aforementioned form and thus not complete the actual document that will be mailed to millions of households in March. Steele has surely risked not only his own integrity, but also an accurate count of Republicans. Steele fails to see that if Republicans don’t complete the 2010 Census this spring, so-called Red States and red-leaning areas won’t receive their proportion of federal funds (or Congressional seats) when the 2010 Census results are announced.

Census News Roundup…

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

The story: FoxNews has claimed that Democrats in Ohio are may rig the 2010 Census.

MyTwoCensus Commentary: We urge readers to proceed with caution, as this article is filled with the kind of “Gotcha!” fluff that has made FoxNews so famous. However, FoxNews continues to serve an important role in keeping Democratic administrations on their toes…so we’ll watch this one for a bit.

The Story: Hatian immigrants moving permanently to Florida en masse could positively affect the Sunshine State’s headcount.

MyTwoCensus Commentary: Yup. This is likely. But how many grieving newly arrived Hatians make time for the 2010 Census as their first priority when upon landing in the US?

The Story:  Apparently, the Census Bureau is having trouble finding workers in West Texas.

MyTwoCensus Commentary: Even if West Texas has a low unemployment rate unlike the rest of the nation, there are still many unemployed and competent people out there. The Census Bureau recruiters in this area should be fired because clearly they are incapable of doing their jobs.

The Story: A 2010 Census meeting in Monroe, Louisiana draws sparse attendance.

MyTwoCensus Commentary: The Census Bureau did a great job getting the MEDIA and POLITICIANS to attend an event, but not the PEOPLE. Clearly there is a disconnect here. Will this be indicative of a low number of people returning their Census forms?

Another fake 2010 Census form, this one a scam…

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Just last week, we reported that the  GOP has been distributing a flier with the word “census” on it that is not related to the 2010 Census but actually a political fundraising advertisement. It seems that Kansas City residents are dealing with a far more sinister form of mailer. The Kansas City Star reports the following:

By TONY RIZZO and JOE LAMBE

Law enforcement agencies Monday were warning the public — especially the deaf community and senior citizens — about two suspicious mailings seeking money and personal information.

Read more: Beware of mailings focusing on senior citizens and the deaf community – KansasCity.com

The FBI is warning senior citizens about an official-looking survey that seeks money and personal financial information.

Although not labeling it a scam, the bureau said the mailing is not connected to the U.S. census or any other federal agency, although it looks similar to a legitimate census document.

The mailing purports to be a “2010 Census of Senior Citizens” and asks recipients to answer survey questions and says the results will be shared with the president of the United States. Questions concern health care and other senior-related issues.

It solicits donations ranging from $15 to $25 so additional surveys can be sent to other senior citizens. It also asks for credit card information if people want to donate.

“It is not the official census, and the census would never ask to send money,” said FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton. “As always, we caution providing any personal and or financial information to unverified entities.”

Patton said the FBI doesn’t know of anyone in the Kansas City area having provided money, but it wants people to be aware.

“If you did not initiate the contact, be very cautious about providing any personally identifying information or financial information,” Patton said.

Also on Monday, Johnson County prosecutors warned that thieves are focusing on deaf persons in letters or an Internet scam.

Read more: Beware of mailings focusing on senior citizens and the deaf community – KansasCity.com

A Cohort Of Census Bureau Officials Stay At The Ritz Carlton…On Your Dime!

Friday, December 11th, 2009

From BergersBeat.com:

At least one local purchaser of distressed commercial real estate tells the columnist that a St. Louis Chrysler plant will be hitting the market any edition. Broker? DESCO says the tipster. . .Which three additional local banks are this close to takeovers?. . .Taking a census at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Clayton, an insider noted that a party of 15 from the U.S. Census Bureau stayed there – not even in the City of St. Louis, where Missouri’s Census of Schools was launched by the bureau’s director Dr. Robert Groves.

Are we going to have to file a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out whether this is true? Hopefully not, as we just inquired about this with the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office. To be fair, the Census Bureau could have negotiated a pretty hefty corporate discount at The Ritz, particularly because it’s doubtful that the place is swirling with customers in this economy. But as one GOP insider said to us, “No wonder their budget’s out of control!”

UPDATE: Dr. Groves did NOT stay at the Ritz. And the other government officials stayed there for $110 per night (government rate). Case closed. (See below for the official Census Bureau response!)

Stephen,

Dr. Groves did not spend the night. He flew into St. Louis for the day to
participate in a Census-in-Schools event with Subcommittee Chairman Lacy
Clay and officials from the City of St. Louis. Three Census Bureau staff
members from Headquarters and nine from the Kansas City Region were in town
to support this event, which required a lot of preparation and received
national and local press coverage. Staff also were involved in operational
and partnership activities involving the Director and Chairman Clay. This
is an area that had a low mail response rate in 2000, so extra efforts by
regional staff are critical to improve the response rate and decrease the
undercount. Census Bureau staff stayed at the Ritz-Carlton because it is
centrally located and offers the government rate of $110 per night.

Burton H. Reist
Assistant to the Associate Director
Communications Directorate

MyTwoCensus Investigation: Concerns About The Political Makeup Of Complete Count Committees

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

After reading a report in the Austin Republican Examiner (featured below), MyTwoCensus is extremely concerned by the fact that Complete Count Committees are not always bi-partisan entities with independent non-political voices also serving in leadership capacities. As there have been concerns about a lack of participation in the 2010 Census by Republicans, a charge being led by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), it is all the more important for Republican voices (in this instance) to be present on Complete Count Committees, so rumors about the goals of the 2010 Census and accusations of bias will not exist. While Travis County, where Austin, Texas is located, consistently votes Democratic (64% for Obama compared to 35% for McCain in 2008), there is no good reason why Republicans are not serving as chairs or on the board of the Austin Complete Count Committee.

MyTwoCensus urges any readers who are aware of other instances in which one political party controls a municipal, local, regional, or state Complete Count Committee to please report these problems to us.

Here’s the original op-ed that prompted this investigation:

Are Democrats hijacking the Austin census?

By Brandon Lighton

Census time is upon us yet again, and thankfully we still have at least one government enterprise that has not yet become explicitly partisan. Oh, wait…

“Mayor Lee Leffingwell and County Judge Sam Biscoe joined members of the citizen driven Complete Count Committee to launch the 2010 Census efforts on Monday, November 30, 2009 at City Hall.

The 2010 Census Complete Count Committee is Chaired by Judge Eric Shepperd, Constable Bruce Elfant and Alejandro Ruelas, Managing Partner, LatinWorks.”

So we have the Democrat mayor of Austin and a Democrat County Judge overseeing this operation. But thats okay, right? We still have the committee membes themselves to maintain the integrity of the census. So let’s take a look at those committee members:

Eric Shepperd – Democrat Judge, County Court at Law, Place 2

Bruce Elfant – Democrat Constable

Alejandro Ruelas – Finally, someone who isn’t a candidate. Someone who can balance out the partisan bias of the other committee members. Oh wait, he’s a Democratic Party donor. Oops.

So we have a Democrat mayor, two Democrat judges, a Democrat constable, and a Democratic Party donor to boot. Sound like a recipe for a fair and accurate census to you?

This is just another step in a long trend of Democrats politicizing the census, starting with the Obama administration’s decision to take over the census itself instead of allowing a nonpartisan group to do it like the other 43 presidents have done. When the 2010 census comes out and Democratic constituencies have miraculously gained ground in Austin, at least try to act surprised.

Interview with Robert Goldenkoff of the Government Accountability Office

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

On Friday, October 9, 2009 I interviewed Robert Goldenkoff, who has worked for more than 20 years at the Government Accountability Office and currently serves as the GAO’s Director of Strategic Issues. One of his many areas of focus is the 2010 Census, which the GAO defined as a high risk operation in a March 2008 report. On Thursday October 8, Mr. Goldenkoff faced questions at a Senate hearing investigating the 2010 Census. In the following interview he discusses the recent fingerprinting problems that he shared with Congress and many other long-term issues with the decennial census.

SRM: What led to the discovery that there could have been criminals hired by the Census Bureau?

RG: We’re looking at all aspects of the Census Bureau’s readiness for the 2010 Census. The decennial census is so huge that we’re focusing a lot of our work on areas where the Census Bureau doesn’t have a lot of experience, where they haven’t done that particular operation before. One of those areas is fingerprinting. In the past, at least for the 2000 Census, they relied only on a name background check. That was why we included fingerprinting as part of our review, because it was a new operation. They’ve been doing the census pretty much the same way  – obviously technology changes – but, the fundamental approach to the 2010 Census is very similar to say the 1970 Census. So if there’s going to be an issue, it’s more likely in something that they’ve never done before.

SRM: Why is your office investigating this rather than the Commerce Department Inspector General’s office? Or were you working together on this?

RG: We are two independent agencies, two different reporting authorities. We do work together, collaborate and coordinate our work just so the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. Sometimes we work in the same areas and other times we work in different areas, depending on facts and circumstances.

SRM: Where did you get the figure that you reported to Congress that 200 criminals could have been hired by the 2010 Census? And can you clarify what “could have been hired” means?

RG: It’s strictly based on the percentages. There were 162,000 people in total hired for address canvassing. 1,800 passed the name background check but their fingerprints revealed that they had criminal records. Of those, 750 were disqualified for census employment, because their criminal records were such that they were ineligible for census employment. All we did was project those same ratios for the 35,700 people who went through the name background check but whose fingerprints could not be read. So it’s strictly a projection. It’s unfortunate that the reporting of this was not always accurate or perhaps sensationalized it. We’re not saying that 200 criminals did work on the census, but we’re saying that based on that projection it’s possible.

SRM: During the summer, I was contacted by a man named David Allburn who runs a company called National Fingerprints, LLC, which can be found at NationalFingerprints.com. His firm placed a bid with the Census Bureau to receive a contract to handle the fingerprinting of employees, because right now prospective employees are fingerprinted by other Census Bureau employees who are not well trained in fingerprinting. David informed me that someone who is an experienced criminal would know that it’s very simple to smudge your fingerprints and make them unreadable by simply pressing your hand too hard on the paper when your fingers are being rolled in the ink. The Census Bureau chose not to use David’s company but rather to conduct the operation on their own without outside help. Of course part of the reason David called me originally because he was upset that his company wasn’t chosen for the contract, but he was also concerned that the 2010 Census operations would be infiltrated by criminals. At first I figured David could be overexaggerating this scenario, but now I know that he was absolutely right. So I’m wondering, do you have any idea why David’s method was rejected?

RG: No idea.

SRM: I’ve also heard from many sources that after people have been hired by the Census Bureau and started to work, their criminal background check reports came in later, and only then, after they already had access to a significant amount of data, were they fired. Why did this happen?

RG: I don’t know. Our point to all of this was not to scare people or anything like that. Our point was to make it clear to the Bureau that they need to have a better policy, or at least have a better policy for those people whose fingerprints can’t be read. With so many people working on the census, even if only a small percentage of fingerprints are flawed, you’re still talking about a substantial number of people.

SRM: Has the Census Bureau done anything to try to fix this flawed system?

RG: It is important to point out though that the Bureau has acknowledged that they have a problem with this and they are taking steps, improving training for example, to improve how the fingerprints are actually captured. Moisture is an issue with the quality of prints. The remaining issue is what to do about people whose fingerprints can’t be read.

SRM: I’m also wondering, can social security numbers be used as an element of background checks? Having sat for the employment exams for the 2010 Census, I know that it is mandatory to provide your social security number at that early stage.

RG: That already might be used, but I’m not sure. But people can change their social security numbers or use fraudulent social security numbers. That’s why it’s not as reliable. As we saw, just  the name background check can’t be the only tool used as criminals can get past that system.

SRM: Who do you hold accountable for these errors?

RG: This is something that the Census Bureau had no experience with. It’s clearly something that the Census Bureau and its parent agency, the Commerce Department, need to deal with. We’re not out to get anyone or point fingers. We want to see a successful census. I think the Census Bureau has acknowledged there’s a problem and they are going to work on it – and we are going to keep tabs on them. There are some smaller field operations coming up, but the big one is non-response follow up in the spring, to follow up with non-respondents. That’s going to be around 600,000 people hired. So we’re going to watch the Bureau’s progress in improving fingerprinting abilities.

SRM: On a related issue, I wrote about how the Census Bureau’s three Data Capture Centers may have similar human resources issues. Because, for example, in Baltimore, the Data Capture Center is run by contractor Lockheed Martin, who subcontracted the hiring efforts to Computer Sciences Corporation, I am wondering if the same rigid hiring standards that Census Bureau employees are subject to apply in these cases? I was told by Stephen Buckner, spokesman for the Census Bureau, that these employees are subject to the same standards, but a couple of loopholes that I noticed are that employees at these centers are not subject to drug tests or that because of time lags, people who undergo background investigations now might not start work for six months, meaning that they could potentially develop criminal records in the interim period. Can you address these issues?

RG: I’m not familiar with the specifics when contractors are involved.

SRM: What are the greatest challenges for the 2010 Census from your perspective?

RG: I’m glad you asked that because what we’ve been reporting on is much bigger than fingerprints. That’s certainly an issue, but the Bureau has other things they need to be concerned about as well. Speaking positively, the GAO has a high risk list, and we put the Census Bureau on this list in March 2008 because of weaknesses in the Census Bureau’s IT management, problems with the handheld computers, the difficulties they were having in coming up with the total cost of the decennial census, the fact that they did not conduct a full dress rehearsal, and on top of all that time was running out. And we put the decennial census on our high risk list because it’s a critical statistical program for the nation. Using March 2008 as an anchor point, we have seen that the Bureau has made a lot of progress in terms of risk mitigation. There is certainly a lot more work to be done but we are also encouraged by a lot of the improvements that we’ve been seeing. Certainly it was important to have a president appointed and senate confirmed Director (Robert M. Groves), so it’s certainly important that the top leadership is now firmly in place. We’re encouraged by some of the advisors that Dr. Groves has brought in who have experience from the 2000 Census. And we’re also encouraged by the fact that the Census Bureau acknowledges that they have a problem. The first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that you have one. But some of the areas that still concern us: IT management, requirements and testing plans have not been finalized, it’s difficult to track progress because of vague metrics, and some of the IT systems face tight implementation time-frames. Of all the IT systems, the one that we’re most concerned about is the paper-based operational control system (PBOCS).

SRM: Can you elaborate on that?

RG: That was the program that was put in place when they abandoned the handheld computers for non-response follow-up. So PBOCS basically controls the office workflow. There’s a lot of work to be done in terms of nailing down requirements and testing in the short time remaining. Basically, they have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it before it needs to go live.

SRM: There was a Census employee named Bill Sparkman who was murdered about a month ago. Is your office involved in that investigation?

RG: No, not at all.

SRM: Do you have any comments on the recent decision for the Census Bureau to sever its ties with ACORN?

RG: The Bureau just needs to make sure that it has adequate guidance so that it can make a determination as to who they should partner with and who the shouldn’t.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Keep Up The Good Work Dr. Groves!

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

At Dr. Robert M. Groves’ confirmation hearing to become the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, it was reassuring to hear a career statistician and manager discuss his vision for a Bureau that was in great need of reform. However, at that time it was only natural to worry that Groves was simply a man of words who needed to get past what could have been a controversial confirmation process. Four months after making many promises to change the Bureau, Dr. Groves has proven that he follows through with actions.

Despite GOP partisans stalling Dr. Groves’ nomination over concerns that he would bring his political views to the 2010 Census, Dr. Groves’ has proven to a level-headed, fair, honest, transparent, and decisive leader. As he stated yesterday at his first major press conference, he is constantly trying to be persuaded to enter the political fray but fights every day to maintain his independence. Dr. Groves’ rejection of political overtures is what will make his tenure different than those of past Census Bureau leaders.

An excellent Census Bureau director must have superior statistical knowledge, superb management skills, and an ability to answer honestly to both politicians and the public. In his first months in this role, Dr. Groves has succeeded in all of these areas. With his decision to terminate the Census Bureau’s partnership with ACORN, Dr. Groves unequivocally proved himself as a leader who put the Bureau and the people of this nation ahead of the Democrats who supported him from day one and the president who nominated him.

Dr. Groves inherited a Census Bureau that was filled with disorganization, mismanagement, and a lack of foresight. Turning this agency around cannot occur overnight, and MyTwoCensus does not place blame on on Dr. Groves for most failures of the 2010 Census. Though his first 70 days in office have been marked by success and progress, there is still much work to be done with April 1, 2010 only six months away.