BOZEMAN, Mont. - The state is warning residents of Gallatin County against misleading "imitation census” mailers sent out by the Republican National Committee - the committee that leads the U.S. Republican Party – polling voters on their opinion of President Donald Trump and soliciting money.
Gallatin County residents began receiving the mailers, which are labeled as the “2019 Congressional District Census,” in late September.
The mailer and its enclosed letter has caught the interest of multiple national new outlets, including ABC News and The Washington Post.
Gallatin County is one of only four counties in the state to receive a false census in their mailbox in the last year. A “nearly identical” lookalike census was sent to residents in Missoula, Lewis and Clark, and Jefferson Counties in May, according to the Montana Department of Commerce.
The mailer refers to Bozeman specifically and appears to address the voter by name. While it’s unclear who is receiving the mailers and why they were targeted, many of the people Montana Right Now spoke to who had received them were registered Republicans.
The false census asks voters for $25, $100, and even as much as $1,000 in support of Trump’s reelection campaign.
The mailer says that if the recipient doesn’t have the funds to donate, they are encouraged to pay $15 to process the so-called “census.”
"In the last few years, we've seen a lot of things like this, where it's not illegal but it definitely is not in the spirit of things, I think,” says Bozeman resident, Connor Harbison. “The nice thing is, we can change laws. So, maybe call your state legislators and say, 'We don't like this.'"
While there is a federal law preventing lookalike censuses from non-governmental groups, it could be much stricter.
It’s not the first time a confusing mailer has been sent out in Montana, according to Emilie Ritter Saunders, Director of Communications and Public Relations for the Montana Department of Commerce.
“We had a ‘census’ like this happen in May and, according to media reports, this happened during the 2010 census, as well,” Saunders said. The Republican National Committee also sent out the mailers in May, but it’s unclear if the group was responsible for the 2010 mailers.
And while it may not be the first time this kind of tactic has landed a misleading flyer in Montanan’s mailboxes, officials worry this case could cause devastating consequences, especially in a key census year for the growing state.
"Counting everyone in Montana is critical, because it determines the state's share of federal funding over the next decade,” said Saunders. “Montana's a relatively small state and every dollar matters. And [the 2020 census] determines whether Montana will get another representative in Congress."
"Especially with a state like Montana that's growing so much population-wise, economically,” Harbison said. “I think it's important to have more voices in Congress for the people here."
The Montana Department of Commerce reminds you that it is always free to take a census. Censuses are not partisan, and will not ask skewed questions like the ones seen on the Gallatin County mailers.
They will also be postmarked by the U.S. Census Bureau.