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How Dark Money Helped Republicans Hold the House
Posted on Dec 23, 2012
By Olga Pierce, Justin Elliott and Theodoric Meyer, ProPublica
To fund the work, the Republican State Leadership Committee used its previously dormant nonprofit arm, the State Government Leadership Foundation. Such dark money groups are increasingly popular because they are allowed to keep secret the identity of their donors. Federal tax law permits them to do this as long as they pledge that politics is not their primary focus.
Flush with anonymous donors’ cash, the Foundation paid $166,000 to hire the GOP’s pre-eminent redistricting experts, according to tax documents. The team leader was Tom Hofeller, architect of Republican-friendly maps going back decades.
“Our team would be happy to assist in drawing proposed maps, interpreting data, or providing advice,” wrote Chris Jankowski, the head of both the RSLC and State Government Leadership Foundation, in a of introduction to North Carolina legislators. The letter was disclosed as part of the North Carolina lawsuit.
“We are engaged in a number of states and believe we are playing a meaningful role in helping draw fair and legal lines that will allow us to run competitive elections in 2012 and in future cycles,” Jankowski added.
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Jankowski, representing both the RSLC and the Foundation, declined to comment.
Because Hofeller’s team was paid with dark money and the redistricting process is so secretive, it is hard to know the full extent of its activities. In Wisconsin, the team provided technical assistance to an aide to Rep. Paul Ryan as he drew new districts that favored Republicans. In Missouri, Hofeller was the sole witness called by attorneys representing the Republican legislators who drew the maps there.
From then on, two parallel redistricting processes unfolded in the state.
Through the spring and summer, legislators in charge of redistricting traveled the state holding public meetings at local colleges, soliciting comment and proposed maps from citizens — though the Republicans on the committee would not produce draft maps themselves.
“We are not here to answer questions. We are not here drawing maps,” state Senate redistricting committee chairman Bob Rucho told the crowd at a hearing in Durham. “What we are here for is to basically hear your thoughts and dreams about redistricting.”
But that input had little influence on the districts that were eventually drawn.
Instead, the real maps were being produced behind the scenes by a team that based its operations at Republican Party headquarters on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. Armed with advanced mapping software, Hofeller and others crafted districts that would virtually guarantee big gains for the party.
Hofeller did not attend or read transcripts of any of the public meetings, according to his deposition. Hofeller did not respond to requests for comment.
A mysterious state dark money nonprofit that sprung up just in time for the process, called Fair and Legal Redistricting for North Carolina, hired a technician to operate the mapping workstation day-to-day, and another Republican mapping expert. The group did not respond to our requests for comment.
State-based nonprofits have been a vehicle for Republicans to funnel anonymous money into their map-drawing operations in a number of states, including self-proclaimed nonpartisan groups in Michigan and Minnesota.
Republican state legislators tasked with redistricting frequently visited and consulted with the mapping team, according to depositions. Even Art Pope, the most influential conservative donor in the state, was appointed “co-counsel” to the legislative leadership and allowed in the room to give direct instructions to the technician.
“We worked together at the workstation,” said Joel Raupe, the technical expert paid by Fair and Legal Redistricting, in a deposition. “He sat next to me.”
Pope, who is a lawyer but does not actively practice, was made co-counsel to the state legislature, offering his services pro bono. Now, because he was technically a legal adviser to the state, he says any information about his involvement in the redistricting is privileged.
(The New Yorker had a sweeping profile of Pope last year, detailing how he has used his fortune to dominate North Carolina politics.)
North Carolina’s Republican incumbents in Congress pushed for a so-called “10-3 map,” the majority they hoped to win in the state’s delegation.
Hofeller, the mapping expert, delivered. His maps kept most of the districts from being competitive — or even remotely winnable — for Democratic candidates.
A key part of the redistricting strategy was to push minority voters into three districts. Republicans insisted their maps were “fair and legal,” necessary to conform to laws protecting minority voting rights, although according to a well-known voting rights attorney, the opposite is true.
But federal voting rights law “doesn’t require a jurisdiction to pack blacks in districts,” said Laughlin McDonald, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project. “If you tried to pack minority voters into a district, that would arguably be a violation.”
In two of those districts, African-American incumbents been already been winning by large margins for years. Republicans’ maps added yet more African-Americans to the districts, what’s known in redistricting parlance as “packing.” As Hofeller wrote in an email about one of the districts, the plan was to “incorporate all the significant concentrations of minority voters in the northeast into the first district.”
A third district was 120-mile long, and sea monkey-shaped, connecting pockets of African-Americans from three different, distant cities. Republicans justified it on the basis of a common media market.
The maps were designed to “segregate African-American voters in three districts and concede those districts to the Democrats,” says Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina, a nonpartisan public interest group that joined the lawsuit against the new maps.
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