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 ‘Washington’

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.

 

The $23,000 Totem Pole Debacle

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Yesterday, I blogged about how  the Census Bureau paid $20,000 to construct a 2010 Census totem pole that is now being shipped from Alaska to Washington DC for more than $3,000.

This leads to many questions:

1. What other art work has the Census Bureau commissioned? (Isn’t this the job of the National Endowment for the Arts?)

2. How much money has the Census Bureau spent on art projects?

3.  How much money did it cost to make the totem pole video that is on YouTube that (before I blogged about it)  received only 42 total views and still only has 217 views?

4. Who are Deni Luna/Gutacetla — the people who are  responsible for this video? Is it the same person as on this web site? Was the bidding process to make this video competitive? Were the Tinglit Raven Clan compensated for their part in the video? If so, how much money?

5. Why would the Census Bureau commission Tommy Joseph, an artist from Sitka, Alaska, to design a totem pole to commemorate an action taken by people of Noorvik, Alaska — two places that are approximately 1,500 miles apart from each other?

Steve Jost of the Census Bureau answered my previous questions about this by writing the following:

The image you posted is not that of the 2010 Census Totem.  You can see the totem in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ny0-29Ig-FY

Since you have prejudged the value of this important promotional effort before knowing anything about the cost, I’m doubtful the following will be of much solace to you.

In early 2010 while plans were being made for the first enumeration in Noorvik, Alaska, one of the oldest native organizations in the state made a significant gesture. The Alaska Native Brotherhood passed a resolution supporting the Census and forming the creation of a totem pole to mark this significant event.  Our Seattle Region put together a plan to commission the art, and have it travel Alaska and Washington State tribal events for several months  to promote participation in the 2010 Census.  The totem pole is a storytelling icon steeped in the culture and traditions of the Alaska Native and Northwest Pacific Coastal peoples. It is an immediately recognizable symbol to the native people throughout America’s largest state.

The art was commissioned at a cost of $20,000.  The cost to have it travel across the country for permanent display at Census is $3,111.   We believe strongly that this has been a very effective promotional investment that symbolizes the Census Bureau’s constitutional mandate to ensure a complete count of all tribal lands, especially the 564 Federally recognized tribes.  The response to the Census Totem encouraged us to find a permanent home for it here at our headquarters along with other historical Census artifacts.

I would venture a guess that the total cost for the Totem project is less than the cost burden the Census Bureau has incurred to complete the search of your list of 26 explicit profanities that might have been found in any emails regarding the 2010 Census of 10 senior staff at the Census Bureau over several years.  I understand we have found just two emails responsive to your request which refer to news accounts which happened to have one of the words on your list.

Dear Ms. Potter and Staff:

Under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, I am requesting
copies of all memos, documents, e-mais and reports that directly discuss
the 2010 Census, including ESA correspondence, e-mail, records, etc. from
the office of Dr. Robert M. Groves and the office of Steve Jost, as well as
the Office of the Secretary, the CIO and Administration from the time that
Mr. Jost took over until the present.

As you probably already know, I run MyTwoCensus.com, the non-partisan
watchdog of the 2010 Census. My work has also appeared on MotherJones.com,
governingpeople.com, and other publications.  Since this is a
non-commercial request and the release of these documents will serve the
public interest (because analyzing these documents is likely to contribute
significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of
the government), I am requesting that all fees be waived.

I am also requesting expedited processing of these documents under the
clause on your web page that states I can do so if this information is
“urgently needed to inform the public concerning some actual or alleged
government activity.” With the 2010 Census just around the corner, and
recent reports by the Associated Press and other organizations that
language translations have been inadequate and sub-par, this request
deserves your prompt attention.

If you deny all or any part of this request, please cite each specific
exemption you think justifies your withholding of information. Notify me of
appeal procedures available under the law. If you have any questions about
handling this request, you may telephone me at any time at XXXXXXXXX.

Sincerely,

Stephen Robert Morse

Fri, Feb 26, 2010 at 6:06 PM

Dear Mr. Morse,
To document our conversation this morning you have clarified your request
FOIA 10-099 to collect records from:

1.) The Office of Dr. Robert Groves
2.) The Office of Steven Jost
3.) The Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA)
4.) The Department of Commerce’s (DOC) Office of the Secretary
5.)  Chief Information Office (CIO)
6.)  Administration

and you are requesting the following information:

-Copies of all memos, documents, e-mails and reports that directly discuss
the 2010 Census, specifically problems, trouble areas, or cover-ups
regarding the following:
a.) Money
b.) Software
c.) Fees
d.) Contracts/ Contractors (operational glitches, problems with
test-runs)
e.) Technology
f.) Status Updates
g.) Reporting to Dr. Groves on major/minor operations
h.) Regional Directors reporting/ status updates
i.)  Hiring/ Firing
j.)  Personnel Incidents
k.) Human Resources Incidents
l.)  Disputes with Congress
m.)Responses to negative media coverage

Our Office will continue processing your request with all practical speed.

Respectfully,

Anita M. Molina
Office of Analysis and Executive Support
Freedom of Information Act and Information Branch
US Census Bureau
8H026B

P Save Paper –  Please consider the environment before printing this email

More to come should this saga continue…



Associated Press: Detained immigrants may help bring in census money

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

This news got drowned out yesterday but it’s prety important and interesting:

TACOMA, Wash. – Paulo Sergio Alfaro-Sanchez, an illegal immigrant being held at a detention center in Washington state, had no idea that the federal government would count him in the census.

No one gave him a census form. No one told him his information would be culled from the center’s records.

But counted he was, along with other illegal immigrants facing deportation in detention centers across the country — about 30,000 people on any given day, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement.

By the time the census delivers the total tallies to the state and federal government, most of the immigrants will be long gone. But because the population snapshot determines the allocation of federal dollars, those in custody could help bring money to the towns, cities and counties in Texas, Arizona, Washington and Georgia where the country’s biggest and newest facilities are located.

“I think the irony, if there’s any irony, is that the locality is what’s going to benefit, because you have a detention center in a particular city where people have been brought from different parts of the region, and that community will benefit,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, an organization that has pushed Latinos to participate in the census.

This census brings a twist, though. For the first time, states have the option of counting people in detention centers and prisons as residents of their last address before they’re detained, worrying some local lawmakers who say cities and counties that host detention centers could lose money.

“Detention centers and prisons should probably count where they are located, that’s where resources would be required,” Rep. Sanford D. Bishop, D-Georgia wrote in a May letter to the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the census. Bishop represents Stewart County, Georgia, population 4,600, where the nation’s largest detention center housed a total of 14,000 people between April 2007 and March 2008. (more…)

Transcript from most recent Census Bureau press conference now available…

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

Click HERE to read the transcript and/or watch the video from last Monday’s briefing at the National Press Club. Stay tuned for analysis of the transcript on Monday, particularly focusing on the failures of the paper-based operations control system (PBOCS) that Dr. Groves and reporters have discussed…

UPDATE: MyTwoCensus Investigation: Census Bureau’s lack of photo IDs for employees and use of cheap black canvas bags as “uniforms” aid scammers because impersonating a Census Bureau enumerator is all too easy

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

UPDATE: FOR THOSE WHO READ AN EARLIER VERSION OF THIS PIECE, SEE THE UPDATE  PRESENTED NEAR THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE.

On Sunday, I discovered an alarming piece of news from Washington state: Census Bureau polo shirts and black canvass bags were on sale at a local Goodwill store. As Steve Jost, the Census Bureau’s Associate Director of Communications wrote in a blog post yesterday, “Census workers will be easily identifiable: Each will have an official government badge (identifiable by the seal of the Census Bureau) and a black canvas census bags.” This should raise red flags, because by giving out these materials (that were subsequently donated) the Census Bureau is actually enabling fraud to take place. The other way that the Census Bureau has enabled fraud to take place is by failing to give its 600,000 door-to-door workers photo IDs. In a day and age where photos can be printed instantly on an office computer, this is ridiculous. The Census Bureau’s ID cards used by these employees are flimsy and extremely easy to replicate.  Yesterday, I questioned the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office about this, and received the following DENIALS from the Census Bureau:

E-mail from Stephen Robert Morse of MyTwoCensus.com: It came to my attention that  polo shirts with 2010 Census logos and black 2010 Census canvas bags have appeared in thrift shops and on Ebay – presumably these were leftover partnership materials. As you said, there are two ways to identify Census workers – by their black bag and their name badge. I am concerned that people, particularly the elderly, may be duped by scammers.  I have two questions: 1. Why, knowing that black canvas bags are used by enumerators, did the Census Bureau distribute black canvass bags with 2010 Census logos as partnership materials?  2. Why did the Census Bureau choose not to use photo identification for official Census workers? I worry about this because it is extremely easy for criminals to replicate the ID badges.

E-mail back from Michael C. Cook,  a Senior Marketing Specialist at the Census Bureau: A search of Ebay by Census staff found only Census 2000 shirts.  There are no 2010 enumerator bags or back packs currently on Ebay.  The child’s drawstring backpack for 2010 and the enumerator shoulder bag share nothing in common, not size, not logos, not shape, not dimensions, other than the color black.   If a member of the public is not certain of the identity of a census employee, they may ask for a photo ID, such as a driver’s license, or a phone number for the local census office to call and confirm the individual’s employment.

Now, this is truly a great way to dodge the questions I asked. Fortunately, I was also able to get Mr. Cook on the telephone and he said that the Census Bureau couldn’t make the photo IDs because “it had to do with the volume and the fact that there is a short amount of time between the time we identify the workers, to the time we hit the street — it wasn’t cost effective to take photos.” So the Census Bureau has no problem spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on ads, but has no budget to authenticate its workers’ identities in picture form to protect people from scammers…

*Note: My one mistake in this investigation was not taking a screen capture of the black canvas 2010 Census bag that was being sold on EBay. For all I know, the Census Bureau Public Information Office could have purchased it in the time before they responded to my query. Nonetheless, most Americans wouldn’t know that Census Bureau employees only use black bags. And despite this, there is still a 2010 Census tote bag on EBay that the Census Bureau PR team scouring the internet failed to notice. This time, I took a screenshot:

I’m not saying that scammers even need Ebay or thrift stores to obtain these materials. In fact, the Census Bureau’s partnership specialists have handed millions of them out for free! Did you get any Census Bureau swag? If so, let us know in the comments section!

Here is a photo of the all-too-easy-to-replicate canvas bags and non-photo IDs used by actual 2010 Census enumerators:

UPDATE: A READER JUST SUBMITTED US A PHOTO OF A BLACK CENSUS BAG THAT WAS FOUND ON EBAY…IT LOOKS AMAZINGLY SIMILAR TO THE 2010 CENSUS BAG. IN FACT, I AM 99.99% CERTAIN THAT THE PERSON WHO LISTED IT ON EBAY PUT IT UP AS A CENSUS 2000 BAG IN ERROR. TO ME, IT APPEARS TO BE A 2010 CENSUS BAG…ANY RESPONSE TO THAT PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE?

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.

Chaos at Eastern Washington Census Office

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

From the Tri-Cities Herald in Washington state (which was my local newspaper when I worked the grape harvest at Pacific Rim winery):

4 census managers announce resignations

By Kristi Pihl, Herald staff writer

Most of the managers at the Kennewick census office quit last week, but the interim manager said the vacancies shouldn’t affect completing the local 2010 Census.

Ford Carlberg, interim local census office manager, said the office had four resignations last week. He said he couldn’t discuss it further because it is a personnel issue.

However, he said, the local office is on schedule with the 2010 Census.
Dave Donaldson of Finley, who was an assistant manager at the Kennewick office, said he, two other assistant managers and the office manager quit last week.

Donaldson, who was in law enforcement for 22 years, said he has been a supervisor before and had never experienced the lack of support and concern for employees that he did with the regional census center in Bothel.

Donaldson said he enjoyed working with the other employees at the Kennewick office, and felt like they were doing a good job. But the local office would be given last-minute changes to procedures, sometimes without enough time to implement them, he said.

The regional census center was concerned about the numbers but not about quality and doing the job right, Donaldson said.

Donaldson said he hopes the local census work isn’t negatively affected by the resignations.

Carlberg said the census has a practice of training others in the office to take up tasks if someone is unable to continue. In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau has regional technicians, including Carlberg, who are trained to fill in at needed positions.

Now that the deadline to return the census forms by mail has passed, officials are set to begin follow-up work in the region on May 1 with about 1,200 employees, also called enumerators, Carlberg said.

Currently, the office is hiring and training those enumerators, he said. Training likely will be during the weeks of May 3 and May 10 as the office gets a better idea of what will be needed.

“We don’t know yet what the specific workload will be,” Carlberg said.
The mail-in response rates provide an estimate, but the official data from the national processing center won’t be available until the end of the week, Carlberg said.

Benton County has a preliminary participation rate of 73 percent as of Monday with the cities of Kennewick at 70 percent, Richland at 75 percent and West Richland at 76 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Franklin County, the participation rate was 71 percent as of Monday. Pasco had a participation rate of 71 percent, which already is 2 percent more than the overall 2000 Census participation rate for the city.
The Kennewick office staff is dedicated, Carlberg said. “We will get the number right,” he said

Read more: http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2010/04/20/983127/4-census-managers-announce-resignations.html#ixzz0liuodnsx

MyTwoCensus Investigation: Dumb Decision # 7485839: Translation Services Contract Expired August 31, 2009

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Though the mainstream media hasn’t picked up on it, Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves acknowledged at the Google Press Conference on March 24 that there have been translation errors during the 2010 Census process (see below transript).

I went so far as to have experts from Cornell and MIT prove that the Burmese translations were wrong. I also filed a FOIA request to find out about the 2010 Census translation contract with Diplomatic Language Services, a firm based in Virginia. Yesterday, the Census Bureau gave me a partial reply to my Freedom of Information Act request. In this document (click here for the full FOIA translation services response), I learned that the Census Bureau’s language translation contract ended on August 31, 2009. Now, this is extremely problematic because this did not leave time for all 2010 Census language issues to be resolved. What this document lacks is one key feature: The price tag for these (sub-par) services. The document makes it clear how much money it costs per word for translations yet in never makes mention of the total amount of money paid to Diplomatic Language Services. t I inquired today with the FOIA officials to determine what this figure is. Stay tuned for updates!

Seattle fortune cookies hold census message

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

From the Seattle Times:

The U.S. Census has launched a unique way of urging people to be counted: Tsue Chong Co. of Seattle is inserting five different messages urging census participation into 2 million fortune cookies being shipped to restaurants and groceries across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

By Lornet Turnbull

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Census Bureau is partnering with Tsue Chong Co. to create fortune cookies with a message about the upcoming count.

Enlarge this photoDEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

The Census Bureau is partnering with Tsue Chong Co. to create fortune cookies with a message about the upcoming count.

Sporting caps promoting the U.S. census, visitors to Thursday's fortune-cookie rollout watch the cookies being made, then have a taste. Tsue Chong Co. is inserting five different census messages into 2 million cookies

Enlarge this photoDEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Sporting caps promoting the U.S. census, visitors to Thursday’s fortune-cookie rollout watch the cookies being made, then have a taste. Tsue Chong Co. is inserting five different census messages into 2 million cookies

Next time you crack open a fortune cookie, check the flip side. The federal government may have a message for you.

Tsue Chong Co., a fortune-cookie factory in Seattle’s Chinatown International District, is inserting five different census messages into 2 million cookies being shipped to restaurants and groceries across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

Like the usual predictions of wealth, fame and long life you’ll find on one side, the census missives on the opposite side are a bit … well … banal.

“Put down your chopsticks and get involved in Census 2010,” reads one message. “Real Fortune is being heard,” reads another.

It’s all part of a broader effort by the Census Bureau to spread the word about the upcoming population count on April 1. The nation’s 112 million households will begin receiving forms in the mail beginning in late March.

The decennial count helps allocate more than $400 billion a year in federal funds to state and local governments for programs such as public housing, highways and schools.

Census results help determine political boundaries as well as the number of representatives each state will send to Congress. Because Washington’s population has steadily grown, the state could pick up a 10th congressional seat after this year’s count.

There’s great financial motivation: Each uncounted person means a loss of about $1,400 in federal money per year, according to the Census Bureau.

Bessie Fan, co-owner of the family-run cookie and noodle factory, Tsue Chong, called it a “great thrill to partner with the census for such an important effort.

Live-blogging a conference call with Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves…

Monday, December 14th, 2009

10:00 – pretty sure the census bureau dropped the ball on this one because i called back in and the line is dead…either the call is over or more likely the census bureau/call center made some sort of error…

9:55 – KNOCKED OFF THE CALL…did it go dead? my line is still working fine…come on!

9:52 – Question: Why don’t you mention single, unattached people under age 30 as a hard-to-count group?

9:31 – 134 million addresses in the USA. As of now, they are 2% points high, compared to 5% high in the 2000 address…there were more duplicates then.

9:29 – go in pairs, with escorts, in high crime areas (for census enumerators)…

9:28 – safety in america: FBI NAME-CHECK…ALL APPLICANTS UNDERGOING FINGERPRINTING…on criminal history check, any convinces for major crimes such as grand theft, child molestation…etc…”if there are convictions of less serious crimes then the applicant can be hired if they don’t pose a risk to the american public”  – With so many people OUT OF WORK who don’t have felonies, why would you hire felons????

9:26 – Over 3.8 million people are being recruited for 1.2 million through 1.4 million people. 700,000 people working for the largest operation, Non-Response Follow Up from May through July 2010.

9:21 – Complete Count Committees forming…who ensures that there is bi-partisan representation on these 9,100 committees (37 in states). But are they bipartisan and independent?

9:20 – 135,000 partner organizations with the 2010 census…here’s one who’s not a partner anymore: ACORN

9:18 – 3 large processing centers open

9:17 – Grovesy talks about the ad campaign that’s getting started. Starting enumeration in Alaska in January. In March, most of the US population receives their forms. April 1 is Census Day (and April Fools Day…ah)…people should return their forms by this day. Otherwise the door-knockers will come knock knock knocking…some talk of reapportionment. In April 2011 the state-redistricting data for local/regional races is distributed.

9:16 – Grovesy’s giving us a quick history lesson about the Census….founding fathers yadda yadda…yawn

9:15 – Dr. Groves is in da house so to speak for the second operational press briefing (shouldn’t we have more of these?)

9:15 – 2010 Census PR Man Stephen Buckner is on the line…

9:13 – We are still standing by…this hold music is now reminiscent of terrible elevator rides.

9:07 – Kind of enjoying the jazz rendition of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer…on second thought, take as much time as you need to start this call.

9:05 – Come on Grovesy…I’m hungry for answers. (Still waiting for call to begin…)

8:59  – Call should begin shortly…

** CENSUS BUREAU MEDIA ADVISORY **

Census Bureau Director to Provide Update on
Status of 2010 Census Operations

What:         U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves will brief the media on the status of 2010 Census operations. Groves will provide an assessment of the Master Address File, which serves as the source of addresses for mailing and delivering more than 130 million 2010 Census forms next March. He will also provide  updates on outreach activities and other logistical operations under way.  The briefing will include a question-and-answer session.

When:        Monday, Dec. 14, 9 – 10 a.m. (EST)

Where:        National Press Club, 13th floor
Fourth Estate Restaurant
529 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20045

Members of the media may also participate by telephone. (Please dial-in early to allow time for the operator to place you in the call.)

Keeping Track of Snowbirds in the 2010 Census

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Here’s an important case study from the Detroit Free Press in Michigan about counting “snowbirds” in the 2010 Census (Click HERE for full piece):

Tips on how to fill out the residency information on 2010 census forms.

That’s the message from officials with state and local governments and area agencies on aging, who are trying to educate snowbirds about the importance of making sure they are counted as Michigan residents when census forms are delivered to households in late February and March.

Lt. Gov. John Cherry, who is heading the state’s census count effort, said the state estimates about 200,000 snowbirds were missed or not counted as Michigan residents in the 2000 census. He said the uncounted snowbirds contributed to the state’s loss of a seat in Congress and about $2 billion in federal funds over this decade.

Population counts also affect federal dollars that come to the state for hospitals, schools, senior centers, public works projects and emergency services.

“We have a better understanding of what Michigan will lose,” said Paul Bridgewater of the Detroit Area Agency on Aging. “That’s why we’re working harder this year to minimize the loss of the past.”

Billions in funding relies on snowbirds

Rosanne and William Bowker are among the metro Detroiters preparing to leave Michigan’s cold, snowy winter for Florida’s warm sun.

The Royal Oak couple became snowbirds about four years ago after William retired from Chrysler. The 65-year-olds plan to leave after Christmas for their Ft. Myers campground — complete with its own mailbox — for the next four months.

In past snowbird seasons, their neighbors collected their mail and their daughter sent it to them in Florida. But this season, they are having their mail forwarded by the Post Office.

That means they won’t get the 2010 census form that should hit their Michigan mailbox in March. Census forms are not forwarded by the post office because they are based on the residence, not the person, said Kim Hunter, a census bureau media specialist in Detroit.

Rosanne Bowker admitted she never thought about the census form. But after learning that an estimated 200,000 Michigan snowbirds were missed or not counted in the 2000 census, costing the state a congressional seat and about $2 billion in federal funds, she wants to be counted as a resident of her home state.

“I didn’t realize how important it was,” she said.

State, local and Area Agency on Aging officials said it’s critical that Michigan have an accurate tally of its population in the decennial count to receive federal dollars that are directly tied to population and to maintain political influence in Washington on issues such as the auto industry, health care reform and the Great Lakes.

Kenneth Darga, state demographer, said Michigan lost a congressional seat in the 2000 census by just 50,000 people.

“If a portion of our 200,000″ snowbirds “would have been counted, we wouldn’t have lost that seat,” he said.