Last week, Rep. Michele “I’m not a kook” Bachmann (R-MN) boasted about breaking the law in refusing to complete the 2010 Census. The Census is the perfect boogeyman for Bachmann in that it unites her conspiracy theories about the Obama administration with her monomaniacal determination to crush the community organizing group ACORN, which is one of over 30,000 partner organizations helping to promote the 2010 Census among the people it reaches.
On Fox News this morning, Bachmann repeated her determination to break the law. She also suggested that the Obama administration could use the Census data for nefarious purposes — including the imprisonment of Americans in concentration camps:
BACHMANN: If we look at American history, between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the census bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations, at the request of President Roosevelt, and that’s how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps. I’m not saying that’s what the Administration is planning to do. But I am saying that private, personal information that was given to the census bureau in the 1940s was used against Americans to round them up.
There are many things wrong with Bachmann and host Megyn Kelly’s so-called analysis: First, both women were shocked that the Census would ask for people’s telephone numbers. However, that information is not required by law, and is used only to contact recipients who have incomplete forms.
Second, Bachmann is confusing the 2010 Census and the American Community Survey (ACS), a long-form survey sent out to one in 40 households (0.0028 percent of the American public) each year. The Census, sent out once every ten years, asks only about one’s age, race, and the type of home one lives in. The ACS, started in 1996, collects more detailed data used to distribute more than $300 billion in federal funds to local communities.
Most importantly, the questions that Bachmann is so concerned about — questions she suggests might somehow lead to internment — are not new questions (not to mention they frequently overlap with information given to the IRS every year). Census questions on race have been asked since 1790; home language since 1890; rent since 1880; and income since 1940. The Census has asked what kind of heating fuel heats Americans’ homes since 1940.
Finally, it’s a federal crime for any Census worker to violate the confidentiality of the Census form, punishable by a federal prison sentence of up to five years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.
A Census official contacted ThinkProgress to clarify that, contrary to what some media outlets report, ACORN will not have any role in collecting Census responses. ACORN is simply one of thousands of partners who have agreed to help promote the fact that the Census bureau will soon have many job openings.