Hidden Money Is Driving Redistricting

Corporations and unions are quietly trying to redraw Congressional districts

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It's the issue too boring to tweet about, the dry-as-a-bowl-of-sand public policy matter that could bring even the liveliest dinner conversation down to a drone of sighs. The decennial process of redrawing the nation's Congressional districts. You mean you haven't been following it all summer?

Turns out you should be. ProPublica is out this morning with the first installment of a broad investigation of the hidden powers – financial and otherwise – that seek to influence redistricting committees in states across the country. Many of their methods are secret, but their aims are clear. For corporations, political groups and labor unions, redrawing district lines can help their favored political parties more easily win, and hold, Congressional seats.

It's not the first time that the issue of how the lines are drawn has led to anger and scandal. Recall the great Texas walkout of 2003.

The best sign that the game is high-stakes may be its secrecy. Both parties are playing, and neither wants you to know much about what they're up to:

The national Democratic and Republican parties are also working to limit disclosures about fundraising for redistricting. Both parties have raised and spent tens of millions of dollars on redistricting through their traditional conduits of money into state politics, the Republican State Leadership Committee and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. And both have been pushing to keep increasing parts of those efforts exempt from disclosure requirements.

Last year, the National Democratic Redistricting Trust sought and was granted permission by the Federal Election Commission to allow members of Congress to solicit unlimited, undisclosed donations for the trust. The group, set up to fund lawsuits that inevitably spring up during redistricting fights, argued that redistricting is not a primarily political activity. Legislators doing the same fundraising, but directly for their parties, would be violating McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws. The trust is currently funding the Democratic legal response to Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting.

The participants are phantoms, existing on paper for the purposes of swaying decisions about the makeup of Congressional districts, but performing little other work. An example from California:

An early participant in the state’s redistricting process was the California Institute for Jobs, Economy and Education, which submitted proposed district maps and testified before the redistricting commission.

But there is little evidence of the institute’s existence. It has no website and has published no scholarly research. The institute first shows up in public records, registered as a corporation in California in May 2011, just after the redistricting process had begun. It is registered with the same street address and suite number as Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, a law firm that specializes in campaign finance and lobbying law.

If the material seems too dense to bother with on a weekend morning, well, that may be what the people who are spending millions on this quiet lobbying would like you to think.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.