Bachmann won't fill out all of census; she says it's private

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG
  • Star Tribune
  • June 26, 2009 - 12:07 AM

Rep. Michele Bachmann, citing concerns about government intrusiveness, says she won't fully fill out the U.S. Census form next year, even though that's a violation of federal law.

In a television interview broadcast Thursday, the Minnesota Republican repeated an assertion she first made last week that she will provide the Census Bureau only with the number of people in her household. The other detailed questions, she said, amount to an invasion of her family's privacy.

"I'm saying, for myself and my family, our comfort level is we will comply with the Constitution Article I Section II," Bachmann told a Fox News interviewer. "We will give the number of people in our home, and that's where we're going to draw the line."

That section of the Constitution created the House of Representatives and specifies that a decennial "enumeration" will be used to apportion the chamber's seats.

Under federal law, it's a misdemeanor to "refuse or willfully neglect to complete the questionnaire or answer questions posed by census takers," punishable by a fine of up to $5,000. However, the Census Bureau notes that it is not a prosecuting agency and that refusing to answer its questions is not likely to result in a fine.

Bureau spokeswoman Shelly Lowe said Bachmann is "misreading" the law because "it's mandatory to answer the questions."

In her interview, Bachmann said that "Americans are being compelled to give this information" in violation of the Constitution. She added: "I'm not encouraging Americans not to fill out the census."

Questions about Americans' household incomes and commuting times are intrusive, said the Sixth District congresswoman. "These are very intricate questions that are being asked of the American people, and I think it's time as a lawmaker that we come together and start looking out for the American individual and their privacy rights, as well."

All Americans will be asked next year to answer questions about their name, sex, age, date of birth, race, ethnicity, relationship and housing tenure.

A small percentage will be sent what is called the American Community Survey, a far more detailed set of questions that is conducted periodically and will be, in effect, melded with answers from the short census form. As with the short census form, it is mandatory to answer that survey, according to the Census Bureau.

Those questions delve into such things as income, citizenship, disability and educational attainment and appear to generally reflect questions asked in previous censuses on the now-canceled long form.

"I am just not comfortable with the way this census is being handled ... with the questions that are being asked," Bachmann said.

Concerns about ACORN

Bachmann also has said she also fears that ACORN, the community organizing group that came under fire over its voter registration efforts last year, will be part of the Census Bureau's door-to-door information collection efforts.

For months, she has been criticizing the group, which has become a high-profile Republican target.

ACORN (Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now) is one of 40,000 organizations nationwide that are working with the Census Bureau to promote the census, said Nick Kimball, a spokesman for the Commerce Department, the bureau's parent agency.

"They're getting no money from the Census Bureau, and it's incredibly misleading to insinuate that ACORN will be going door to door, collecting information. It's simply not true," he said.

In her comments Thursday, Bachmann also linked the census to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

"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," she said. "I'm not saying that 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."

Bachmann spokesman Dave Dziok said calls to her office about the issue have been generally supportive. "In all honesty, all the comments have been from people who share her concerns."

He said Bachmann has nothing to add to her televised comments. "She said what she said and that's that," Dziok said.

Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184

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