Gerrymandering: Corporate-Sponsored Redistricting Spreads, Threatening the Voting Process
Every time I read another story about secret, corrupt corporate influence on our politics I get a little bit more depressed. This one by Pro-Publica about buying redistricting is a doozy. There is the usual Koch brothers front groups with which we are all familiar, but this is a new low:
Fair Districts Mass, which says it’s advocating better representation of minorities in and around Boston, is another window into how money can move through the system. The group describes itself as "citizen-funded." But it also sought permission from state election officials for unlimited corporate funding. Donations “can include corporate contributions,” the group’s website announces. “Better yet,” the site notes, “we are not required to file reports regarding donations or expenditures.”
The group says its proposed maps would lead to better representation of Latinos and African-Americans.
“Minorities are very underrepresented in Massachusetts politics,” said Kimball, the group’s executive director. “We’re here to change that.”
But minority groups say Fair Districts' proposed maps would not likely help them. (See our interactive feature showing the group’s maps and our analysis.)
“I don’t see a person of color getting elected in this district, if that’s the goal,” said Alejandra St. Guillen, executive director of Oiste, looking at one of the maps Fair Districts has touted as helping Latinos and African-Americans. Oiste has been fighting for increased Latino representation and civic participation in the state for more than a decade.
“Even though the numbers might look as if that might be favorable to communities of color,” St. Guillen said, “if you look at voting patterns, it actually wouldn’t be.”
Others from Massachusetts have said the proposals made by Fair Districts Mass wouldn’t help them at all. At a town hall meeting in Lynn, which would be cut out of its historic district along Boston’s North Shore by the proposal, labor unions, the city's chamber of commerce and politicians from both parties converged on the town hall, urging that the board not adopt a plan that would carve out Lynn.
Lynn's Latino business owners are "very proud to be a part of the North Shore," said Frances Martinez, executive director of the North Shore Latino Business Association. "Our business owners decided to come here because they know this is a place to stay and grow for their families. Please keep the district together."
What Fair Districts’ proposals would do is hurt the traditional pro-labor and Democratic incumbents in the area. For instance, Lynn’s notably pro-union congressman, John Tierney, would effectively be drawn out of a seat—a finding included in the group’s own research.
Fair Districts can raise unlimited, undisclosed cash for its efforts, thanks to an innovative argument it made to state election officials.
This strategy had its roots in a lesson learned 20 years ago by a Republican redistricting guru named Dan Winslow. During the 1990 redistricting cycle, Winslow twice sought permission from state election officials for a group called the Republican Redistricting Committee to accept unlimited corporate donations without having to disclose them.
At the time, Winslow argued that the group didn’t have specific political aims and would also provide redistricting resources to minority groups.
Each time, the board refused to exempt the organization from campaign finance laws on the grounds that a group with "Republican" in its name and Republican politicians as leaders could not credibly claim to be independent.
Last year, a lawyer in Winslow’s firm filed an almost identical request to accept unlimited corporate donations, but this time for a group that left "Republican" out of its name. The state agreed to his request. The group he was filing for? Fair Districts Mass.
He insists that he just wants to open up the political process. Sure he does.
And naturally, Democrats are implicated too. The story tells the tale of Florida's Corinne Brown joining up with corporations against the wishes of every minority group, including the NAACP, in Florida. And in California, Democrats worked with big money to protect their own districts from the fairer
It's yet another assault on the machinery of democracy by the big money interests. Yes, gerrymandering has always happened. But I'm not sure it's been bought outright before.
Update: And then there's this.