Mar 9, 2014
How Dark Money Helped Republicans Hold the House
Posted on Dec 23, 2012
By Olga Pierce, Justin Elliott and Theodoric Meyer, ProPublica
In 2012, Democrats won the three districts by more than 70 percent of the vote. Another effect: the surrounding districts were much more Republican.
Rucho and other Republican legislators had presented the maps as advantageous to Democrats. Indeed, registered Democrats actually outnumbered registered Republicans in seven additional districts beyond those that were clearly slated to be Democratic.
Emails show Republicans decided to make that fact a major talking point.
But the stat was misleading, as the Republicans’ own data indicates. An internal analysis of one of Hofeller’s later drafts (code name “Blue Horizon 3”) obtained by ProPublica shows that those seven allegedly “competitive” districts would have been landslide wins for John McCain in 2008, and for Republican Senator Richard Burr in 2010.
In addition to his pay from national Republican groups, invoices show Hofeller billed North Carolina taxpayers $77,000 for his services.
The Republican maps are still under threat by suits filed by Democrats and the NAACP. The lawsuits are headed to the state Supreme Court. But a flood of contributions tied to the RSLC have lowered the risk of the maps’ being overturned.
While judicial elections in North Carolina are nominally nonpartisan, it was common knowledge that Republicans held a 4-3 majority on the court. One of those Republican incumbents was facing a tough challenge in 2012, potentially throwing the whole redistricting result in jeopardy.
Justice Paul Newby was running for re-election against appellate judge Sam Ervin IV, grandson of the famous North Carolina senator who investigated Watergate. With a few weeks left until the November election, Newby was trailing Ervin.
But then, in the final stretch, Newby was the beneficiary of a flood of late spending that can be traced back to the Republican State Leadership Committee.
Once again the contributions were funneled through homegrown groups. With only a few weeks to go, the RSLC gave more than $1.1 million to a group called Justice for All NC. Campaign finance filings show Justice for All NC in turn gave nearly $1.5 million to a super PAC running pro-Newby ads, the NC Judicial Coalition.
Most of the money spent by the super PAC went to pay for hundreds of airings of a jingle ad featuring lines like, “Paul Newby / Justice tough but fair / Paul Newby / Criminals best beware” set to infectious banjo music.
The spending didn’t end there: and Pope’s fingerprints were also on the race. Two dark money groups affiliated with Pope — the state-based Civitas Action and Americans for Prosperity — spent another $300,000 on radio ads and mailers supporting Newby. Pope’s company also gave to the RSLC in the run-up to this fall’s elections.
Pope says he gave money to Americans for Prosperity for years before the judicial race even came up, and that he was not involved in the decision to run pro-Newby ads.
“I’m Republican, I support Republican groups,” Pope said. “But just because you support something doesn’t mean you’re responsible for all they do.”
It was an unusually large amount of outside spending for a judicial race. The outside pro-Newby groups had spent more on the race than the two campaigns combined.
In the end, Newby eked out a 52-48 victory, preserving the court’s Republican majority.
When the groups contesting the maps called for Newby to recuse himself from redistricting litigation, lawyers for Republican legislators argued that because the campaign ads were paid for by “independent” groups, they did not jeopardize Newby’s impartiality.
On Monday, the state Supreme Court rejected the motion for Newby to recuse himself.
“I’ve got no control over who contributes to an ad. I have no control over who endorses me,” Newby — who did not respond to a request for comment — told a local TV station on the eve of the election. “You’ve got to put your blinders on like lady justice.”
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