House Subcommittee Chair Demands Probe of Census Bureau

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - The U.S. Census Bureau is supposed to be nonpartisan, so what's up with its sponsorship of a symposium aimed at Democrats?

Rep. Dan Miller (R-FL), the chairman of a House Census subcommittee, is asking that question, demanding a federal investigation into why the U.S. Census Bureau sponsored the event, along with other corporate donors - allowing its name and logo to be used.

Three Census Bureau officials attended the symposium, called "Advocacy in the Next Millennium." It took place last Saturday in Los Angeles and was hosted by Tavis Smiley of Black Entertainment Television (BET), who also happens to be a prominent Democrat.

The event was listed on the official Democratic Party convention schedule.

"I thought my staff was joking when they told me what the Census Bureau did," said Miller in a statement. I couldn't believe it. But, this is no laughing matter. The census has been politicized by the Clinton-Gore administration beyond my wildest imagination. The Census belongs to the people, not to any political party," Miller said.

"Any agency, but particularly one that claims it is above politics, should not be promoting political advocacy at any political convention. This activity is clearly partisan and casts a dark shadow on the trust and integrity of the bureau."

House Census Subcommittee spokesman Chip Walker said Miller plans to write a letter to Justice Department officials, demanding that an investigation "be conducted immediately to see if there are any violations of federal law by misusing taxpayer dollars for political activities."

The Census Bureau was identified as a sponsor of the symposium, alongside Microsoft, Oldsmobile and other corporate donors. The agency's official logo was displayed on the invitation.

Many prominent African-Americans, most of them Democrats, spoke at the Saturday symposium. The speakers included NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and Reps. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) and Maxine Waters (D-CA).

Subcommittee spokesman Chip Walker said, "The purpose of the event was to present to the Democratic Party issues that it must address on behalf one of its most loyal constituencies. So, this is clearly an event that the bureau should have had a hands-off approach to. Instead, the bureau embraced it, and that is very disturbing."

Census officials said they made no cash contributions to the event, which was designed to mobilize African-American voters in the fall election. They also said they send officials to the symposium because they it considered it a routine community outreach.

"We do thousands of meetings and participate in rallies to promote census awareness all year long. We regret the perception. We are not a partisan organization and we hope no one misconstrues our role there," Census spokesman Steve Jost said in a statement.

Even before the symposium took place, Miller's subcommittee had scheduled a hearing on census issues, to be held when Congress reconvenes next month.

"This will certainly be one of the issues under consideration," Walker said.